Year of the Book | Need a Critique Group?

yiddish_writers_basel

A group of Yiddish writers: Bialik, Ben Ami, Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Yankev Abramovich (Mendele) (Source: Benny’s Post Cards)

When I announced 2017 as The Year of the Book, among those The Whole Megillah readers who wanted to participate, two write picture books. I suggested we form a critique group. Within the two weeks, we’ve shared and commented on at least eight books between the three of us.

So I began to wonder whether other readers are also interested in forming “virtual” groups. In particular, perhaps fiction (MG, YA, adult) or creative nonfiction (MG, YA, adult).

Why a critique group? If you’ve never participated in one before, having another set of eyes read your manuscript can give you new insights into your work. Reading someone else’s manuscript helps that author and it helps you. You may become inspired by what someone else wrote or you may see issues you have in your own writing.

Why a Jewish critique group? Because you don’t have to explain why you place your characters at Camp Mishigas, why your characters lament the Holocaust, or why your characters struggle with Jewish identity.

Just comment below and I’ll try to match you up, depending on the response I get.

 

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2016 National Jewish Book Awards Announced by Jewish Book Council

2016 NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCED

Book of the Year Awarded to

Israel by Daniel Gordis

Rose Tremain Wins Fiction Category for

The Gustav Sonata

Michael Chabon Awarded

JBC’s Modern Literary Achievement Award

New York, January 11, 2017 – The Jewish Book Council announced today the winners of the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards, now in its sixty-sixth year. This year’s winners include the Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year, which is awarded to Daniel Gordis’s Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (Ecco), described by Jewish Book Council’s reviewer as “a new history of Israel [that] should become a standard for years to come, perhaps even a classic.”

Michael Chabon is the winner of JBC’s Modern Literary Achievement Award for his general contribution to modern Jewish literature, including his most recent work, Moonglow (Harper), described by Jewish Book Council’s committee as “a moving panorama of Jewish experience. Chabon serves up his colossal tale of darkness and light in fabulous language, as befits this modern fable.”

Three additional novels took top fiction honors, including Rose Tremain, winner of the coveted JJ Greenberg Fiction Award for The Gustav Sonata (W. W. Norton & Company),  recently listed by Lit Hub as one of their “10 Overlooked Books by Women in 2016”; Lauren Belfer, the first recipient of the Debby and Ken Miller Book Club Award for her work And After the Fire (Harper), which has inspired conversations across the country; and Gavriel Savit, winner of the Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction for Anna and the Swallow Man (Knopf Books for Young Readers).

French bestselling author Marceline Loridan-Ivens wins her first National Jewish Book Award in the Krauss Family’s Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir category for But You Did Not Come Back (Grove Atlantic) and Stanley Moss wins the inaugural Berru Award in Memory of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash in the category of Poetry for Almost Complete Poems (Seven Stories Press).

The Barbara Dobkin Award in Women’s Studies winner is The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate (CCAR Press), co-edited by Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr and Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf and the Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award in Scholarship is presented to Benjamin R. Gampel for Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392 (Cambridge University Press).

Please see the full list of winners and the finalists in 20 National Jewish Book Award categories below.

The winners of the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards will be honored on March 7, 2017 at a gala awards dinner and ceremony to be held at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. The program will be hosted by Abigail Pogrebin, author, most recently, of the forthcoming memoir My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew (Fig Tree Books). The reception and dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.—to buy tickets, please call 212-201-2920.

If press is interested in attending the awards ceremony, please contact Evie Saphire-Bernstein at the Jewish Book Council at evie@jewishbooks.org.

Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting Jewish interest literature. With over 280 touring authors each year, over 1,000 book clubs, over 1,100 events, its newest annual print publication, Paper Brigade, the National Jewish Book Awards and the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, and a vibrant digital presence, JBC ensures that Jewish interest authors have a platform, that readers are able to find books on topics across Jewish life that may interest them, and ultimately have the tools to discuss those works with their community.

In 2017, JBC is pleased to add to its roster of activities a new partnership with the Natan Fund to present the Natan Book Award. The Natan Book Award at the Jewish Book Council supports and promotes a breakthrough book intended for mainstream audiences that will catalyze conversations around Jewish life and community in the 21st century. Submission guidelines and details can be found at www.jewishbookcouncil.org/awards/natanbookaward.

About the National Jewish Book Awards: The National Jewish Book Award was established by the Jewish Book Council in 1950 in order to recognize outstanding works of Jewish literature. As the longest-running North American awards program of its kind in the field of Jewish literature, the National Jewish Book Awards is designed to recognize outstanding books of Jewish interest. In addition to the above-mentioned winners, awards are given out this year in fourteen categories.

A complete list of the 2016 National Jewish Book Award winners and finalists follows and additional information is available at www.JewishBookCouncil.org.

2016 National Jewish Book Award Winners and Finalists

Jewish Book of the Year

Everett Family Foundation Award

Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Daniel Gordis

JBC Modern Jewish Literary Achievement Award

Michael Chabon is the winner of JBC’s Modern Literary Achievement Award for his general contribution to modern Jewish literature, including his most recent work, Moonglow (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers).

American Jewish Studies Celebrate 350 Award

Winner:

Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food (Columbia University Press) Roger Horowitz

Finalists:

Who Rules the Synagogue?: Religious Authority and the Formation of American Judaism (Oxford University Press) Zev Eleff

The Salome Ensemble (Syracuse University Press) Alan Robert Ginsberg

Anthologies and Collections

Winner:

Makers of Jewish Modernity: Thinkers, Artists, Leaders, and the World They Made (Princeton University Press) Jacques Picard, Jacques Revel, Michael P. Steinberg, Idith Zertal, eds.

Finalists:

Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker (Createspace) Edward C. Bernstein

Love, Marriage, and Jewish Families: Paradoxes of a Social Revolution (Brandeis University Press) Sylvia Barack Fishman

Have I Got a Story for You: More Than a Century of Fiction from the Forward (W. W. Norton & Company) Ezra Glinter

Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir

The Krauss Family Award in Memory of Simon & Shulamith (Sofi) Goldberg

Winner:

But You Did Not Come Back (Grove Atlantic) Marceline Loridan-Ivens; Sandra Smith, trans.

Finalist:

In the Darkroom (Metropolitan Books) Susan Faludi

Book Club Award

The Debby and Ken Miller Award

Winner:

And After the Fire (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Lauren Belfer

Finalists:

Two She-Bears (Schocken Books) Meir Shalev, Stuart Schoffman, trans.

Beauty Queen of Jerusalem (St. Martin’s Press) Sarit Yishai-Levy, Anthony Berris, trans.

Children’s Literature

Winner:

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) Debbie Levy; Elizabeth Baddeley, illus.

Finalists:

Dreidels on the Brain (Dial Books) Joel ben Izzy

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Dutton Books for Young Readers) Adam Gidwitz

Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice Myra H. Kraft Memorial Award

Winner:

Changing the World from the Inside Out: A Jewish Approach to Personal and Social Change (Shambhala Publications, Inc.) Rabbi David Jaffe

Finalists:

The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods (Flatiron Books) Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz

The Heart of Loneliness: How Jewish Wisdom Can Help You Cope and Find Comfort (Jewish Lights Publishing) Rabbi Marc Katz

Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting (Flatiron Books) Danya Ruttenberg

Debut Fiction Goldberg Prize

Winner:

Anna and the Swallow Man (Knopf Books for Young Readers) Gavriel Savit

Finalists:

The Yid (Picador) Paul Goldberg

The Beautiful Possible (Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Amy Gottlieb

Education and Jewish Identity In Memory of Dorothy Kripkeo

Winner:

Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations (Jewish Lights Publishing) Mike Uram

Finalist:

Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities (University of California Press) Aaron J. Hahn Tapper

Fiction

JJ Greenberg Memorial Award

Winner:

The Gustav Sonata (W. W. Norton & Company) Rose Tremain

Finalists:

Carry Me (Schocken Books) Peter Behrens

Charlotte (The Overlook Press) David Foenkinos

History

Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award

Winner:

The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Uri Bar-Joseph

Finalists:

Dreams Deferred: A Concise Guide to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Movement to Boycott Israel (Indiana University Press) Cary Nelson, ed.

East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” (Knopf) Philippe Sands

Holocaust

Winner:

Holocaust, Genocide, and the Law: A Quest for Justice in a Post-Holocaust World (Oxford University Press) Michael Bazyler

Finalists:

The Holocaust in Croatia (University of Pittsburgh Press) Ivo Goldstein and Slavko Goldstein

A History of the Grandparents I Never Had (Stanford University Press) Ivan Jablonka; Jane Kuntz, trans.

Lessons of the Holocaust (University of Toronto Press) Michael R. Marrus

East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” (Knopf) Philippe Sands

Modern Jewish Thought and Experience

Dorot Foundation Award in Memory of Joy Ungerleider Mayerson

Winner:

Never Better!: The Modern Jewish Picaresque (University of Michigan Press) Miriam Udel

Finalist:

Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History (Jewish Publication Society) Zev Eleff

Poetry

Berru Award in Memory of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash

Winner:

Almost Complete Poems (Seven Stories Press) Stanley Moss

Finalists:

Two Worlds Exist (Orison Books) Yehoshua November

Go On (Parlor Press) Ethel Rackin

Scholarship

Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award

Winner:

Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392 (Cambridge University Press) Benjamin R. Gampel

Finalists:

Clepsydra: Essay on the Plurality of Time in Judaism (Stanford University Press) Sylvie Anne Goldberg

The Zohar: Reception and Impact (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) Boaz Huss

Sexuality in the Babylonian Talmud: Christian and Sasanian Contexts in Late Antiquity (Cambridge University Press) Yishai Kiel

Sephardic Culture

Mimi S. Frank Award in Memory of Becky Levy

Winner:

Extraterritorial Dreams: European Citizenship, Sephardi Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press) Sarah Abrevaya Stein

Finalists:

Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392 (Cambridge University Press) Benjamin R. Gampel

Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece (Stanford University Press) Devin Naar

Women’s Studies Barbara Dobkin Award

Winner:

The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate (CCAR Press) Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf, eds.

Writing Based on Archival Material

The JDC-Herbert Katzki Award

Winner:

Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece (Stanford University Press) Devin E. Naar, Stanford University Press

Finalist:

Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392 (Cambridge University Press) Benjamin R. Gampel

Young Adult

The Posner Award

Winner:

On Blackberry Hill (CreateSpace) Rachel Mann

Finalists:

Anna and the Swallow Man (Knopf Books for Young Readers) Gavriel Savit

Another Me (Tundra Books) Eva Wiseman

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2017 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced by Association of Jewish Libraries

2017 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED

Winners of the annual Sydney Taylor Book Award were announced by the Association of Jewish Libraries today. Named in memory of Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, the award recognizes books for children and teens that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.

GOLD MEDALISTS

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers category. This delightful biography of the Supreme Court Justice teaches children that dissent does not make a person disagreeable, and can even help change the world. The grab-your-attention illustrations help explain the text.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly, published by Dutton Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Older Readers category. Part fantasy and part adventure, this is the tale of strangers who become friends while on a quest to save thousands of volumes of Talmud. The beautiful illuminations reflect the medieval flavor of the book.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit, published by Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Teen Readers category. Anna is left alone in 1939 Krakow when the Nazis take her father away. She meets the mysterious Swallow Man who is able to speak “bird,” and travels with him in the forests of Poland, where they spend four years hiding and eluding capture. This is a haunting story that may be allegory or folktale or perhaps both.

SILVER MEDALISTS

Four Sydney Taylor Honor Books were also recognized. For Younger Readers, the Honor Books are Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson with illustrations by Edel Rodriguez, published by Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House, and A Hat For Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love written by Michelle Edwards with illustrations by G. Brian Karas, published by Schwartz and Wade Books/Penguin Random House.

Dreidels on the Brain written by Joel Ben Izzy and published by Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House, and A Poem For Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, published by Viking Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, are the Honor books in the Older Readers Category.

In addition to the medal winners, the Award Committee designated ten Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2017.  More information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award and a complete listing of the award winners and notables can be found at www.SydneyTaylorBookAward.org.

Winning authors and illustrators will receive their awards at the Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries, to be held in New York City in June. Gold and silver recipients will also participate in a blog tour during February.  For more information about the blog tour please visit www.jewishlibraries.org/blog.

THE 2017 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCED BY THE ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH LIBRARIES

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz with illustrations by Hatem Aly
(Dutton Children’s Books/Penguin Random House)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House)

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Younger Readers

Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy
by Richard Michelson with illustrations by Edel Rodriguez (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House)

A Hat For Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards with illustrations by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz and Wade Books/ Penguin Random House)

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Older Readers

Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy
(Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House)

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of the Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (Viking Children’s Books/Penguin Random House)

Notable Books for Younger Readers

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer with illustrations by Deborah Melmon (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Gabriel’s Horn by Eric Kimmel with illustrations by Maria Surducan (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Not This Turkey by Jessica Steinberg with illustrations by Amanda Pike (Albert Whitman & Company)

On One Foot by Linda Glaser with illustrations by Nuria Balaguer (Kar-Ben Publishing)

The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat by Barbara Bietz with illustrations by John Kanzler (August House)

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld with illustrations by Peter McCarty (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House)

Notable Books for Older Readers

The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Scholastic Books)

Irena’s Children: Young Readers Edition: A True Story of Courage
by Tilar J. Mazzeo and adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell (Margaret McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster)

The Ship to Nowhere by Rona Arato (Second Story Press)

Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer (Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House)

No Honor or Notable Books were designated for Teen Readers in 2017.

For more information contact: Ellen Tilman, Chair

Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee Association of Jewish Libraries chair@sydneytaylorbookaward.org

www.SydneyTaylorBookAward.org

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Author’s Notebook | Bruce Ashkenas, Shadows of Shame

shame-04-2The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come up with the idea for this book? Why this story? Why this timeframe?
Bruce Askenas (BA): I got the idea for Shadows of Shame, the story of a Jewish reporter in New York, because I worked with the records of the German American Bund at the National Archives.  In 1980 I was a young archivist when my boss asked me to describe a collection of Nazi records, which had been sitting on shelves since just after Pearl Harbor.  So I rolled up my sleeves and began wading through box after box of Nazi Bund records.  The actual idea for Shadows came from a Chicago newspaper clipping I found telling of a local reporter posing as a German immigrant to join the Bund.  I mulled that over for a year or so while I went through the records and decided that if I was going to write about the Bund as a story and not history, I would have to move the setting to New York, the national headquarters of the Bund, where fascinating and horrifying things were happening.

There was so much interesting stuff going on in New York in 1938 and 39 that I had my plot all set by the time I started writing.  The most intriguing happening was the George Washington birthday rally at Madison Square Garden in1939, including an attempt on the American fuehrer’s life by a young Jewish man, which I describe in my penultimate chapter,  Also, I knew the city (my mother grew up there) and the most interesting historical figures were from New York, like Tom Dewey, who I used in my plot.  New York City it was.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing it? Your greatest satisfaction?
BA: My greatest challenge was learning how to write while I was doing it.   I finished my first draft on February 22, 1989, the fiftieth anniversary of the GW birthday rally.  I think I was the only one in the world who remembered the date. Shortly thereafter began a tumultuous period in my life.  In the next six years I went through divorce, remarriage, divorce, remarriage, and moving twice.  And, oh yes, I lost my manuscript in the second move.   I was bereft, but at the end of that period, settled in a new home with a new wife and a baby on the way, I began to write again, working on some new ideas for YA books.

At the end of ten years I’d produced three books, all with Jewish protagonists, each one progressively better in quality of writing.  And then I found my lost manuscript, packed up in a box in the bottom of my filing cabinet.  I began to read it.  The writing was awful, 300 pages of awful, but the story was good.  So I started to rewrite.  And it got better and better and better, until I had something I could be proud of.  If I hadn’t lost the manuscript and gone on to practice my writing in young adult books, I might never have learned how to write a decent sentence.  I did have some help. My third wife was an English professor for thirty years and a good writer herself.  If I hadn’t had the good sense to marry her I might still be a lousy writer.  My greatest satisfaction is talking to my wife about books and writing.

TWM: How did you conduct research for the book?
BA: For the first draft of Shadows of Shame I did all my research at the National Archives, using the original documents from Record Group 131:  Records of the Alien Property Custodian.  The records of the German American Bund and several smaller German groups were part of this record group, as were some records from seized Italian groups.  I worked on these records, taking notes of their content and location, which were very important for the guide I was preparing.  At the time I was doing this, the 1980s, archivists did not have computers.  There was one computer in the main office of the division which was used mainly for word processing.  Archivists were encouraged to use this machine to familiarize themselves with the new technology, which is how I got to write the first several chapters. But there was no money in the budget for expensive machines for workers.  I wrote my guide copy on a big Remington typewriter from the 1950’s.  An expense was Write-out, which came in inch and a half white bottles, complete with a small brush applicator to erase any typing errors, of which there were many.  I took notes on that typewriter for the book, especially after I bought my own computer to use at home.  By the way, I still have that old Remington, in my home office.  In the 1990s everyone at the Archives got laptops, and the old typewriters were deemed disposable.  I took mine home rather than see it go to scrap.

For subsequent drafts I used my manuscript, typewritten notes, and Wikipedia for such research as still needed to be done.  I mentioned earlier that I had the plot complete before I started writing.  It held up marvelously well and any research I had to do for later drafts were mostly setting. A friend who grew up in New York lent me a book of historical maps of the city, which proved invaluable.

TWM: How did you find your publisher?
BA: I found Acorn Publishers through Reedsy, a service which provides a meeting place for authors, illustrators. editors, designers, and other book professionals.  I felt Shadows was good but I wanted someone with an editor’s eye to go over it. I was willing to pay for a professional opinion.  I picked Shelly out of a line-up of editors.  She was experienced, she was affiliated with a small publisher, and she was located in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I’d been to writing seminars at the University of Virginia so I was familiar with her home town.  She began work and soon I was getting comments and compliments about my writing. Now don’t get me wrong, Shelly was not afraid to  criticize, It took two months for her to edit and me to rewrite, but when we were finished I had something publishable.  And then Shelly revealed that she had told her colleagues about my work and they wanted to see it.  And that’s how Holly and Jess invited me to join the Acorn family.

TWM: This is your first novel for adults. Why the shift from YA?
BA: Shadows is my first novel for adults but, as I said earlier. it is also the first novel I wrote.  Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, it is also the first one I found a publisher for.  My three YAs were self-published , not because I thought they were bad, in fact they’re quite good, but because I started writing late in life and didn’t  want to waste any more time in putting them before the public.   As I said before, I feel I cut my writing teeth on the YAs, and Shadows wouldn’t be as good as it is without them,  As to why I wrote for young adults after the disappointment  of losing Shadows, I felt it would be easier.  Boy, was I wrong.  Writing for children (I squeezed a picture book in there) and young adults is as hard as writing for adults.  The research is the same and the writing, while maybe not as sophisticated in terms of language, has to be sharp and to the point.  Kids are not dummies.

TWM: How has your work at the National Archives in Washington helped (or hindered) your writing?
BA: Back in college I tried to write short stories, science fiction mostly.  A cousin of mine became publisher of Analog, my favorite SF magazine, about this time.  I couldn’t wait to send the editor a story, but he didn’t like it and gave me no encouragement.  I decided science fiction was not for me.  I kept writing into the beginning of my career at the National Archives, when life got in the way:  marriage, a son, trying to get ahead at the Archives.  If my boss hadn’t come up with the Nazi assignment I might have never started writing again.  But it wasn’t until I retired (after 33 years) and started my three YA books that I became an author.

TWM: Do you belong to a writer’s group?
BA: I have many friends who are writers.  The first organized group I attended was the old Jewish children’s book conferences which were held in the Fall at the 92nd Street Y in New York. They were organized by Barbara Krasner, who now is responsible for The Whole Megillah and many other book-related enterprises.  I don’t belong to a formal writers group other than my Acorn family, a bunch of Acorn authors who stay in touch, and my own family—my wife who is almost finished with her YA novel, my twenty-four year old daughter who wrote a memoir of her transgender experience complicated by schizophrenia, my brother who writes business books, and my sister-in-law who edited and contributed to a collection of women’s reactions to death and the saying of Kaddish.

TWM: Which authors inspire you?
BA: The first adult books I read were Exodus by Leon Uris and Hawaii by James Michener. I was eight years old and felled by a disease called dystonia which left my legs twisted and shaking.  I couldn’t go to school but I could read.  I read those two and many others over and over.  I read Reader’s Digest condensed books I found in my mother’s nightstand.  I developed a lifelong love of science fiction.  My favorite book of all time is The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.

TWM: What advice would you give to writers who typically write for younger readers and now want to reach adult audiences?
BA: My advice for writers of fiction, whether writing for children or adult, is to follow your heart and then follow your story. Don’t cage your imagination.  Children are not dummies, as I said previously.  Neither are adult readers.

TWM: What’s next for you?
BA: In the future I am planning on publishing one of my YAs with Acorn.  Aglow in the Bronx:  A Christmas Fable is a Christmas story told by a twelve-year-old Jewish boy.  I hope it will be out in late November 2017.  I am also seven chapters into Pins and Needles. a historical ghost story, where the main ghost so far is a sixteen-year-old girl who dies in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  She’ll be joined in a later chapter by her younger brother, who dies in battle in WWI.  The main live character from that point will be the brother’s wife.  I don’t know how far I’ll go with it but I’ve got historical events lined up for the wife to get involved in through the 1950s when we meet her again as an old lady, and the title character in the first of my YAs, Auntie’s Ghost.  I see the two ghosts acting as a kind of Greek chorus.  Who knows?  It could be a series.

About Bruce Ashkenas

bruce-ashkenasBruce Ashkenas had a full career at the National Archives where he worked describing records, including those of the German American Bund, which were seized as enemy records upon United States entrance to World War II.  The background of Shadows of Shame lies in those years when he daily read the intensely anti-Semitic words of the Nazi Bund.  Mr. Ashkenas has also written three young adult novels, Auntie’s Ghost, Sick Street, and Aglow in the Bronx.  He lives in Fairfax, Virginia with his wife, daughter, and dog.

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Books I Read in 2016 | Books to Read in 2017

bookshelf-2Inspired by this Quivering Pen post, I decided to compile a list of the books I read in 2016. It may be understated since I did not keep a record. I would also like to state my reading intentions for 2017. I list them below.

List of Books Read in 2016

Review books:

  • The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, by John Boyne
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
  • Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations, compiled by Eli Rubenstein with the March of the Living
  • We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler, by Russell Freedman
  • The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window, by Jeff Gottesfeld
  • Because of Eva: A Jewish Genealogical Journey, by Susan Gordon
  • Dreams Are Forbidden, by Danna Banki
  • Anne Frank: Heroic Diarist of the Holocaust, by Hope Lourie Killcoyne
  • Survivors Club, by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat
  • Max, by Sarah Cohen-Scali
  • Esfir Is Alive, by Andrea Simon 
  • Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage, by Tillar Mazzeo and adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell

Craft and Pedagogy:

  • The Emotional Craft in Fiction, by Donald Maas
  • Get Published in Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting and Writing Better, by Allison K. Williams
  • Crafting the Personal Essay, by Dinty Moore
  • Writing with Power, by Peter Elbow
  • A Writer Teaches Writing, by Donald M. Murray

Memoir, other Nonfiction, and Fiction:

  • Safekeeping, by Abigail Thomas
  • The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
  • Louis Bamberger, by Linda B. Forgosh
  • The Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy
  • Finding Mr. Rightstein, by Nancy Davidoff Kelton
  • The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
  • On the Fringes of History: A Memoir, by Philip D. Curtin
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander
  • Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher (a must-read for anyone in academia)
  • Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories, by Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
  • Shadows of Shame, by Bruce Askenas (interview to come soon!)

Children’s Books:

  • Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jamey Christoph
  • Stone Angel, by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Katie May Green
  • One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Flower Girl Wore Celery, by Meryl E. Gordon and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
  • The Sundown Kid, by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler
  • Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy, by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Edel Rodriquez

Some books I intend to read in 2017

  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Dubliners, by James Joyce
  • Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Townie, by Andre Dubus III
  • Chasing Portraits, by Elizabeth Rynecki
  • Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin (a -re-read)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  • Books from the National Yiddish Book Center’s Great Jewish Book Club

Question 4U

What’s on your list? What did you read in 2016 and what do you want to read in 2017? Any books you recommend?

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | December & Year-End 2016 Report

Once the fall semester ended and I graded student portfolios, I devoted myself to sending out poetry written since July.

Here are my December statistics:

Poetry: Submissions to 21 journals (Honeysuckle Chapbook Contest, Gravel, Jewish Literary Journal, Rust + Moth, Foundry, Rattle, Cincinnati Review, Whale Road Review, Ninth Letter, Agni, Outlook Springs, Redivider, Manhattanville Review, Wherewithal, Bitter Oleander, Diode, Noctua Review, Passages North, Bennington Review, Literary Mama, The Literary Review), one acceptance (Rust + Moth), three withdrawals of an individual poem, and five rejections (Phoebe, Sugar House, Minerva Rising Chapbook Competition, Diode, Boxcar Review).

According to Emily Harston’s Submit Publish Repeat, it’s all about the numbers.

Creative Nonfiction: I began work on a new piece, finally.

Fiction: I have a draft of a new short story that desperately needs revision.

Academic: Submitted revision of a peer-reviewed journal article. Now we just have to wait and see.

Children’s: New idea for a middle-grade novel that came to me one night during insomnia. Revised my dance marathon picture book and will send it back in early January to the editor who requested the revision.

Book Reviews: I’ve caught up on children’s Holocaust book reviews (3) and one genealogical memoir for the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Holocaustkidlit.com: I’ve been inputting ten books a day into my site database. An estimate culled from the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database is about 1100 titles published 2002-present, so that’s what I’m aiming for.

Big plans continue for Winter Break

I plan to revise a novel in verse, a YA historical novella, and draft an academic paper for Northeast MLA in the next two weeks before I return to campus. At the same time, I have two children’s books (one Holocaust-related) to review for Jewish Book World.

2016 Statistics

Here they are:

Poetry: Acceptances 9; rejections 52

Creative Nonfiction: Acceptances 2; rejections 4

Fiction: Acceptances 1; rejections 8

I’m not sure what to make of these numbers. I only sent out one short story in 2016 and really only one creative nonfiction piece. Sent out a lot more poetry. It would seem to me that maybe I ought to invest my time in creative nonfiction in 2017. I have an idea for a new short story that won’t require travel. The revision of my current short story WIP does require travel.

Question 4U: How is your writing going? Have you determined any specific submission strategies? How did your 2016 go?

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Make 2017 Your Year of the Book

bookshelfJoin me and The Whole Megillah in making 2017 The Year of the Book. Join a community of emerging and established writers of Jewish content. Share your goals and progress, your challenges and satisfactions. Whether you write for adults, kids, or somewhere in between, isn’t it time you got that book written and sent out into the world?

Let’s make this easy. There are no rules, no word count thresholds to hit. Just commit to a book project by commenting to this post. Update us weekly, monthly, quarterly—whatever interval makes sense to you.

Here’s my overly-ambitious personal plan for books in 2017:

  1. Revise and find a home for my Holocaust-related YA novel in verse.
  2. Revise and find a home for my Holocaust-related YA novella.
  3. Find a home for three PB bios.
  4. Write a new PB (just came up with it during last night’s insomnia).
  5. Write a new MG book (came up with this idea during a previous bout of insomnia).
  6. Finish and submit my proposal for an academic book about dance marathons.
  7. Find a home for my poetry chapbook, Chicken Fat.

I’m revving up all cylinders to have at least one book “sold” by December 31, 2017.

Who’s with me? Who wants to come along on this Year of the Book journey?

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