Author’s Notebook | The Sundown Kid written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler


Picture book coming in January 2017 – The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat, written by Barbara Bietz, illustrated by John Kanzler, published by August House

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come up with the story? What inspired you?
Barbara Bietz (BB): I was born and raised in California and went to college and grad school in Arizona. My identity is deeply rooted in the Southwest. Many Jewish stories begin at Ellis Island, but not all families stayed in New York. I was inspired by Pioneer Jews by Harriet and Fred Rochlin. I had the opportunity to hear Harriet speak and as she described the brave and bold lives of Jewish pioneers, I got the chills. My response was so visceral and I knew I needed to learn more. I was especially interested in the strong women pioneers who maintained Jewish rituals in spite of great challenges. Their stories humbled me. The Sundown Kid is my love letter to all those families who came before me, who created communities that are thriving today.

When I set out to write The Sundown Kid my heart was really with Mama. How hard it must have been to leave a whole life behind! I flipped the perspective to the boy who wants to help his Mama feel at home in a new place, so he invites their new neighbors for Shabbat dinner. The Jewish value of welcoming strangers is as important today as it was in biblical times. Our differences disappear over a shared meal.

TWM: Was it a conscious choice to use first person? Was there a reason the boy was never named?
BB: Using first person helped me feel the emotional arc of the story and it worked, so I didn’t change it. I thought a lot about the naming the boy but I felt strongly that he didn’t need a name, other than his nickname Little Buckaroo. My hope is that young readers to will connect with a timeless challenge of adjusting to a new home, and see themselves in the experiences of the boy.

TWM: How did you decide to have a male protagonist?
BB: The boy character just presented himself. It’s just the way the story came to me – it wasn’t really a decision.

TWM: Did you have any involvement with the illustrator?
BB: I was so fortunate to be able to communicate with John Kanzler. His art takes my breath away and adds incredible depth to the story. John was very conscientious about being accurate—historically and religiously. He respected my input and I was impressed with his level of commitment to the story. In the end, The Sundown Kid is a collaboration. It is “our” story.

TWM: Do you know what medium he used?
BB: I had to ask John about this. He said, “I work digitally. That is, the entirety of the book exists on my iMac. I Used to paint in acrylics until my daughter (now ten) was beginning to explore my studio as a toddler. So I switched over fully for safety. I developed techniques that created art similar to my painted style to satisfy existing clients. I still miss painting at an easel, however, and hope to return to it someday.”

TWM: How did your manuscript land at August House?
BB: My manuscript was sent to August House by the amazing Chris Barash at PJ Library. I am so delighted that The Sundown Kid is a PJ Library selection. August House publishes mostly folktales, celebrating all cultures. I was thrilled and honored that The Sundown Kid was right for their list.

TWM: What were the greatest challenges with this story? Satisfactions?
BB: The process of publication for The Sundown Kid has been a joy. Everyone at PJ Library and August House has been an absolute pleasure.

barbara-bietzTWM: What do you like to read?
BB: I love all genres of children’s literature. As a reader, my sweet spot is realistic middle grade.

TWM: What are you working on now?
BB: I just finished a middle grade manuscript and I also have two picture book biographies I have been researching. All of these stories are currently spinning in my head, waiting for my attention.

For more about Barbara Bietz, see her website.

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Two-in-One Authors’ Notebook | Oedipus in Brooklyn & Other Stories by Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

oedipuscoveramazon-2Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub. Mandel Vilar Press and Dryad Press, November 15, 2016.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did this project come about?
Ellen Cassedy (EC): Years ago, I began studying Yiddish as a memorial to my mother and quickly found that it became a wonderful home for me within Jewish culture. My first teacher gave me his copy of a book by Blume Lempel.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub (YAT): I grew up in an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva family, surrounded by Jewish languages including Yiddish, and I formally studied Yiddish as an adult. I have been involved in Yiddish culture since the early 1990s as a reader, writer, and translator.
EC: Ahron and I met in a Yiddish reading group. We began reading Blume Lempel’s work and were astounded by what we found.
YAT: We explored Blume Lempel’s stories together and decided we had to translate these splendid stories so that they could reach the wider audience they deserve.
EC: Lempel was born in a small Jewish town in Poland and immigrated to New York just before World War II. She wrote in Yiddish into the 1990’s. She takes up subjects other writers wouldn’t touch—including abortion, the erotic imaginings of a middle-aged woman on a blind date, and even an incestuous relationship between a mother and son. She tells truths about women’s inner lives that I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

TWM: What challenges did you face in translating these stories? What satisfactions? What surprises?
YAT: There were surprises at every turn—in virtually every paragraph, and on every page. Lempel’s prose is so poetic and rich that we had to exercise special care to capture her unique melody.
EC: Her narrations move between past and present, often several places on the same page, from Old World to New, from fantasy to reality. Imagine the conversational matter-of-factness of a Grace Paley combined with the surreal flights of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
YAT: Sometimes we had to accept uncertainty, realizing we wouldn’t be completely certain of Lempel’s meaning even if her text had been written in English. It was immensely satisfying to work with a partner, to be able to bounce ideas off each other, and to know that our interchange would strengthen the final version.
I derived deep satisfaction from immersion in the singular vision of this artist, searching always for the best word, the clearest turn of phrase to capture her meaning in English, the pleasure of moving between languages, and more long term, the joy of bringing her work to wider audiences.

TWM: How did you decide to arrange the stories in this order?
YAT: We kept the stories in the order they appeared in Lempel’s two collections, which were originally published in Israel. Lempel published in Yiddish publications all over the world, and we went looking in archives and libraries for additional stories, a couple of which appear in our book.

TWM: Did you have any favorite stories? Why were they your favorites? (“Yiddish Poet in Paris” was one of my favorites.)
YAT: “The Death of My Aunt” is a haunting portrait of an aging aunt and the love and responsibility felt by her niece. “Her Last Dance” tells the story of a Jewish woman forced to rely on her wits and beauty to survive wartime Paris. Despite its small scale, it evokes for me the work of Irène Nemirovsky and Nella Larsen (Passing). In capturing the desperation of a woman on the edge, it reminds me of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. “Waiting for the Ragman” is particularly rich in its description of life in a small Eastern European hometown, including a loving description of preparation for the Sabbath. “The Invented Brother” captures the poignant emotions of a young girl whose beloved older brother is swept away into revolutionary activity.
EC: I have to mention the title story, “Oedipus in Brooklyn.” Lempel masterfully draws you into the story of a contemporary Jewish mother and her blind son as they move inexorably toward their doom.

TWM: Are there any other Yiddish writers you want/hope to translate?
EC: I’m translating fiction by Yenta Mash (1922-2013), who, like Blume Lempel, experienced many upheavals in her lifetime. She wrote vividly about exile to Siberia, life in the Soviet Union, and the not-always-easy experience of adjusting to life in Israel. It’s a great privilege to be able to translate both of these Yiddish writers. To me, translating Yiddish feels like sacred work.
YAT: I am struck by how much wonderful translation is going on today, and also by how much important work there is yet to be translated. The Yiddish Book Center has initiated a rigorous translation program that has been widely successful. Ellen participated in the program. A recent anthology called Have I Got a Story for You: More Than a Century of Fiction From the Forward edited by Ezra Glinter (Norton, 2016) demonstrates the work of numerous Yiddish translators working today. The anthology also includes one of our translations of a story by Blume Lempel (“A Journey Back in Time”) and a story by Yenta Mash (“Mona Bubbe”) translated by Ellen. I am working on my own poems, a process which includes translating into Yiddish, and my own short stories, which includes translating numerous Yiddish words and phrases that appear throughout. I hope to get back to the translation of other writers in the near future.

About Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub won the 2012 Translation Prize awarded by the Yiddish Book Center for their translation of fiction by Blume Lempel.

ellen2aug2016-2Ellen Cassedy is the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), which won several national awards and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Cassedy received a 2016 PEN/Heim Grant for her work on Yiddish writer Yenta Mash. Visit her website.



yatsmile-2Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of four books of poetry, Prayers of a Heretic/Tfiles fun an apikoyres, Uncle Feygele, What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn, and The Insatiable Psalm. “Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish Songs”, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music, was released in 2014. He was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Jewish, The Jewish Literary Journal, and Jewrotica.  Visit his website.

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | September 2016 Report

L’shana tova, everyone! May your New Year be filled with joyous literary journeys and sweet acceptances.

September proved to be a banner month for sending out my work and for exploring new poetic styles.

Here are my September statistics:

Poetry: At the recommendation of poet Matthew Lippman, I began to follow the blog of Trish Hopkinson. She wrote about a call for poems that started with “If I” for Silver Birch Press. I took a poem I had that asked “What If?” and modified it. I submitted and received an acceptance within the hour. Silver Birch Press posted the poem on October 1, 2016. In September I submitted to 16 journals (Baltimore Review, Agni, Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Redivider, Stillwater Review, Green Mountains Review, Silver Birch Press, Lascaux Review, Third Coast,  Phoebe, A Public Space, Rust + Moth, Third Wednesday, Hermeneutic Chaos, and Harpur Palate) and received two acceptances (Silver Birch Press and Rose Red Review) and two rejections (The Common and New England Review).

Academic journal articles: “No Stone Unturned: Newark’s Grove Street Cemetery” is undergoing peer review by New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. My Northeast Modern Language Association proposal was accepted for the roundtable on Literature and the First-year Experience at the March 2017 conference.

Looking ahead, I’m curious to see how a modified submission strategy by the numbers might increase acceptances. Stay tuned!

Question 4U: How is your writing going? Have you determined any specific submission strategies?



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If I Testimonies, poem by Barbara Krasner (IF I Poetry and Prose Series)

If I Testimonies by Barbara Krasner If I found my cousin, a ringer for my mother, at Warsaw Airport and we traveled together in her lime Peugeot to Zaromb and she showed me where Grandpa lived on F…

Source: If I Testimonies, poem by Barbara Krasner (IF I Poetry and Prose Series)

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Determining the Level of Your Literary Writing | Literary Submission Strategies

MP900341496[1]One of my poems, “Elegy to Aunt Jo,” was accepted today by Rose Red Review. The editor asked for an updated bio and I took that as an opportunity to use Duotrope, a subscription-based literary (and academic) journal database, to determine just what level my writing is at.

I entered Rose Red Review and saw that its acceptance rate is about 15%. I checked out a few other journals that recently accepted my poetry (in rounded numbers):

Then I checked acceptance rates of publications in which my fiction and creative nonfiction have recently appeared:

Should I realistically conclude that I should aim higher with my fiction and not so high with my poetry? Maybe.

According to Allison K Williams, author of Get Published in Literary Magazines (Coriander Press, 2016), you should submit to three journals a bit above your level, three that are a bit below (the safe choices), and four right where you are.  I think in my next wave of sending work out I may play this by the numbers and see what happens.

Question 4U: What are your strategies for sending your work out?

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Take Your Instincts Seriously | A Success Story

Years alightbulb_ideago when I was director of corporate branding for the fledgling but sizable Lucent Technologies, I learned the value of honoring the inkling of an idea. When I had the flash of an idea, I recognized it and took action. I did the same thing with genealogy. I would wake up and just knew who to call, who to write, how to break through that brick wall.

But this approach didn’t always work with my creative writing. But this week that all changed. This week I saw a post on Trish Hopkinson’s blog about a call for submissions from Silver Birch Press. The call requested “If I” poetry and prose. I thought about a poem I’d written a few years ago, “What If?” In it, I wondered what would have happened in my family if there’d been no Holocaust. I revised it last night and sent it in today. Within an hour, I received an acceptance and it will be posted sometime soon.

What if I hadn’t read Trish’s blog? What if I didn’t already have a poem that just needed some tweaking? What if I just dismissed this opportunity?

When an idea comes to you to send your work to a specific market, take it seriously. Maybe it will work out for you or maybe it won’t. But take the risk. Otherwise you’ll never know.

Question 4u: When has your instinct led you to do something with your creative writing? Tell us about it.

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Selected Seats Still Available | The Whole Megillah Online Writing Classes

MP900341496[1]The Fiction I class has been so successful that The Whole Megillah is excited to announce several new classes. Please note that Creative Nonfiction begins September 10:

The Whole Megillah Writing Circle
Receive exclusively Jewish prompts weekly for six weeks and post your writing using these prompts to a private Facebook page for commentary.
Fee: $150
Start Date: October 30

Creative Nonfiction
Use fictional techniques to create compelling nonfiction narrative in this six-week class. We’ll explore memoir, humor, travel, food, nature essays and revision through a combination of weekly readings and writing exercises.
Fee: $300
Start Date: September 10

Picture Books
Through a series of writing exercises, draft a picture book kids will love in this six-week class. We’ll explore the different kinds of picture books, problem solving, language, text vs. illustration, and more.
Fee: $300
Start Date: November 6

One-on-One Revision Lab
Work with me on revising your manuscript—picture book, middle grade, YA, and adult literary—using a technique I’ve perfected in the classroom: Revision Lab. We’ll work together on creating a storyboard of your work that helps you identify scenes to keep, enhance, or delete.
Fee: Depends on the length and complexity of the project
Start Date: Any time

How to Sign Up

Send an email to barbarakrasner (at) att (dot) net.

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