The Whole Megillah (TWM): Tell us about the start of Jewish Fiction.net — the why, how, and when.
Nora Gold (NG): I recognized the need for a journal like Jewish Fiction.net through my experience as a writer. My first book, Marrow and Other Stories, which came out more than a decade ago, found a publisher easily, and then went on to win one of the Canadian Jewish Book Awards and was also shortlisted for a national prize. But by the time I had finished my first novel, the landscape had changed dramatically due to the crisis in the publishing industry. It quickly became obvious that there were very few venues for publishing first-rate Jewish-themed work, and I grew concerned that, unless something was done about this, the work of many excellent Jewish writers would be lost. So two years ago I created Jewish Fiction.net to provide a publishing space for first-rate, talented contemporary Jewish writers who are not yet well-known, and to help them disseminate their work to the wide international audience that they deserve. Just last week Jewish Fiction .net celebrated its second birthday with a festive, lively event at the Toronto Jewish Book Festival, including readings by eminent writers George Jonas and Morley Torgov, and myself.
Jewish Fiction.net is currently the only English-language Jewish journal, either online or in print, devoted exclusively to publishing fiction. So we are gratified to be able to make this contribution to Jewish literature and to the Jewish world at large.
TWM: What made you decide to do a purely online venue?
NG: We never really considered establishing a print journal; the wonders of online technology are what initially triggered the idea for Jewish Fiction.net. It is a real thrill to publish an issue of our journal and know that within seconds it will have reached the thousands of people on our mailing list, as well as being immediately available to anyone anywhere on the globe who wants to read it. So far we have received over 25,000 visits from readers living in 92 countries, and this number is constantly growing.
There is also another advantage to an online journal: It is less expensive to produce, which means that we have been able, from the outset, to make Jewish Fiction.net available to our readers free of charge. This is important because we feel that Jewish literature belongs to the whole Jewish people, and we do not want a financial barrier to impede anyone from reading our stories. High school students, college students, adults on fixed incomes, unemployed adults — everybody can enjoy the fabulous fiction in Jewish Fiction.net without financial strain.
That said, an online journal is not free to produce. Jewish Fiction.net subsists entirely on donations from its readers (American and Canadian donations are tax-deductible), and we hope that the continued generosity of our readers will allow us to continue on this model.
TWM: What do you look for when evaluating submissions?
NG: Given the mandate and title of our journal, Jewish Fiction.net, the stories or novel excerpts we publish have to be Jewish-themed. But beyond that, our only criterion is quality.
TWM: Your advisory council is impressive. How did you assemble this team?
NG: We are very proud of our distinguished Advisory Council, which includes Alice Shalvi, Ellen Frankel, Michael Kramer, Thane Rosenbaum, Joseph Kertes, Linda Lipsky, Nava Semel, Norman Manea, and Steve Stern. Some of these people I already knew as colleagues or friends, and invited them to join us; others sought us out. It was amazing what a buzz there was about this journal even before it was officially launched. Writers, publishers, academics, editors, and translators somehow heard about us and contacted me to express their excitement about this initiative.
TWM: Same question about your manuscript reviewers.
NG: Same question, same answer. Some of them we approached; others approached us. We are very honoured by the calibre of the individuals on our editorial team. They are discerning, thoughtful, and knowledgeable people who believe in what Jewish Fiction.net is doing, and give serious consideration to every manuscript that comes before them. All submissions received by our journal are assessed using blind review process and are read by at least two reviewers.
TWM: On average, how many of your submissions come from North America? Israel? Europe?
NG: The great majority come from the United States. We could easily fill this journal with nothing but American Jewish stories, but of course this was never our intent. We strive, insofar as possible, to publish a journal that reflects the experiences of Jews from around the world. For this reason, Jewish Fiction.net is not only the product of the submissions we receive, but also of the assiduous outreach we conduct with writers outside North America. We are delighted that, in our first 21 months, we have published over 90 stories or novel excerpts (all never before published in English), written on five continents and in ten languages: English, French, Spanish, Serbian, Russian, Romanian, Turkish, Croatian, Yiddish, and Hebrew.
Regarding Hebrew, we feel a particular commitment to support Israeli authors, so we reserve at least two spots in each issue for fiction translated from Hebrew. In terms of other Jewish languages, we seek to also include in each issue one Yiddish story, though unfortunately we don’t always manage to find one. As for Ladino, we are very pleased that our upcoming issue will include our first piece originally written in this language.
TWM: Are there particular ways you’re looking to expand your reach, your audience, your scope?
NG: Regarding expanding our reach and our audience — Like everyone, we make use of the media (both the traditional kind and social media, including blogs like this one), as well as personal and professional networks and word-of-mouth. Jewish Fiction.net has been very fortunate so far in drawing the attention of the traditional media. Within months of our launch, articles were written about us in The Forward, The Jerusalem Post, and The Jewish Week, and more recently there have been articles in the British Women’s Voice, and in Hadassah Magazine.
With reference to expanding our scope — As alluded to in the answer to the previous question, one way to think about expanding our scope is in terms of the number of countries and languages represented in Jewish Fiction.net. We already have an international network of publishers, translators, authors, readers, and academics who help us by suggesting authors in other countries, and also by sometimes connecting us to them directly, and this network is constantly expanding.
TWM: How do you determine the success of Jewish Fiction.net?
NG: As a former professor who has conducted research, I assess the progress of Jewish Fiction.net using both quantitative and qualitative measures. Quantitatively speaking, we can evaluate our success by numbers: the number of readers we have, the number of submissions we receive, the number of donors supporting our journal, the number of languages and countries we include, etc. In terms of these sorts of quantitative criteria, the success so far of Jewish Fiction.net has far exceeded our expectations.
Evaluating our success in qualitative terms, we also see evidence of the impact and success of our journal. We receive a lot of feedback from both readers and writers, and the response to Jewish Fiction.net so far has been exuberant. Readers have written to tell us that our stories have made them laugh, or cry, or think, or remember, or have led them to feel more closely linked to other Jews or Jewish experiences around the world. Authors have written to say that Jewish Fiction.net “was urgently needed” and “fills a void,” and one writer called our journal “a landscape changer” in terms of the international Jewish literary scene.
Finally, qualitative success also refers to the quality of the fiction we publish. In addition to the first-rate but not yet well-known writers whose fiction appears in our journal, we have been honoured to publish such literary luminaries as:
S.Y. Agnon, Ruth Almog, Aharon Appelfeld, Yossi Avni-Levy, Marcelo Birmajer, Orly Castel-Bloom, Daniella Carmi, Kim Chernin, Jasminka Domas, Andrew Furman, Avirama Golan, Shira Gorshman, Gail Hareven, Pamela Jenoff, George Jonas, Gabriel Josipovici, Yoram Kaniuk, Grigory Kanovich, Abraham Karpinovich, Judith Katzir, Alan Kaufman, Gordana Kuic, Mario Levi, Savyon Liebrecht, Mira Magen, Norman Manea, Aharon Megged, Edna Noy, Peter Orner, Yehoshue Perle, Nessa Rapoport, Thane Rosenbaum, Chava Rosenfarb, Judith Rotem, Nava Semel, Clive Sinclair, Steve Stern, Morley Torgov, Zvi Vapni, Lara Vapnyar, Elie Wiesel, Natan Zach, and Nurit Zarchi.
This impressive quality of writing, and writers, we have been able to attract in our first 21 months is, to us, one of the greatest proofs of our success.
TWM: Is there anything in particular you’d like to share with The Whole Megillah readers?
NG: Yes. One other feature of Jewish Fiction.net is its high level of inclusiveness and diversity, something of which I am particularly proud. For years I have been deeply concerned about the divisions, divisiveness, and polarizations within the Jewish world: between the different streams of Judaism, between religious/secular, left/right, Ashkenazi/Mizrahi, and Israel/Diaspora, to name just a few. So in Jewish Fiction.net we have made a point of publishing fiction by authors who are secular and religious (“religious” encompassing all streams of Judaism), right- and left-wing, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, old and young, female and male, economically privileged and disadvantaged, community-affiliated and community-alienated, LGBTI and straight, and from Israel and the Diaspora. It is our hope that, in this way, Jewish Fiction.net can help bring Jews together in spite of the differences between us. We all have a common language as Jews, and Jewish literature belongs to all of us. So Jewish Fiction.net is a place where all Jewish voices can be heard.
All are welcome at Jewish Fiction.net! So share our journal with your friends and your family. And above all, enjoy the wonderful stories in the latest issue!