1. Hope of Israel is available in Kindle!
2. Oxford Writers Group, a critique and support group for aspiring fiction writers in Oxford, MS is going to have its first meeting at Off Square Books on August 9 at 7pm.
3. I'm ready to send off A Notable Occupation to the agents who requested to see it a few weeks ago. Crossing fingers!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
This past weekend the Historical Novel Society held it's fourth annual conference. I posted about the experience a couple of days ago, but today I'd like to discuss in more depth the panel I was on: Jewish Historical Fiction.
It was Laurel Corona who organized and then moderated the panel. Her non-fiction book about Jewish resistance to Nazis in Lithuania, Until Our Last Breath, won the 2009 Christopher Award and her forthcoming novel, The Shape of the World, concerns the Convivencia, a time of cooperation and coexistence among Iberia's Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
The panel also included Mitchell James Kaplan, whose By Fire, By Water, a novel about the Inquisition, won the 2011 Independent Publishers Award, Michelle Cameron, author of The Fruit of Her Hands about the wife of renowned medieval scholar Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg and a forthcoming novel about the Babylonian exile of the Jews, and Maggie Anton, author of the popular Rashi's Daughters series.
Laurel asked us to define Jewish historical fiction. Michelle Cameron opened with a statement about how there are certain themes that speak to the Jewish experience, primarily that of being an outsider in society. In The Fruit of Her Hands, the main character, Shira is an outsider as a Jew living among Christians but also because she is an educated woman, which makes her an outsider among other Jewish women and Jewish men. Michelle also spoke of how unlike Christian fiction, Jewish fiction does not seek to promote a religious agenda. All of us on the panel agreed that a Jewish historical novel must have Jewish content and historical content. It was also generally agreed that the author does not necessarily have to be Jewish. Likewise, just because an author is Jewish does not make his or her book a work of Jewish fiction. That settled, Laurel asked us what the mission of our work is. This is where it got interesting.
Michelle Cameron said she was not in the business of proselytizing and Mitchell James Kaplan agreed with her. Maggie Anton, however, said that she saw her books as a way for secular Jews to become more committed to the tradition and for already committed Jews to learn more about Talmud and be reaffirmed in their faith. Mitchell James Kaplan spoke about how his novel might educate Jews and non-Jews about Jewish history that is not centered on the Holocaust. He added that he wasn't sure he would always write about Jewish history, but as it was his heritage it came easily as a subject. For Laurel and myself, neither of us raised Jewish, the answer was different. Laurel felt a deep connection with Jewish traditions and people while writing Until Our Last Breath. Her forthcoming novel concerns Judaism, but her previous three do not. Laurel felt it was important to portray moments in Jewish history that did not focus on persecution. We all of us agree with that sentiment.
I've written three novels with Jewish content, but like Mitchell James Kaplan and Laurel Corona, I don't see myself exclusively writing about Jewish history. I find Jewish history a treasure trove of interesting stories that also provide a different perspective on familiar events. For example, Hope of Israel is a Jewish perspective on Cromwell's England and Legend of the Dead concerns the first Jewish community in Manhattan in 1654 as well as providing a Jewish perspective on King Philip's War in New England from 1675-1675. Finally, A Notable Occupation is a Jewish perspective on the American Revolution while also highlighting the roles of patriot Jews such as Aaron Lopez and Samson Meares and loyalist Jews like Isaac Touro. I discovered in the audience a fascinating writer named Pamela R. Winnick who is working on a novel about the Philadelphia and New York Jewish communities during the American Revolution.
Pamela and I agreed that the Jewish contributions to American history are often underrepresented by popular media and school textbooks. So in answer to Laurel's question about my 'mission' I suppose it is an attempt to reinsert Jews back into American history. But my bigger idea is to debunk the myth that the United States was founded as a Christian nation by Christians. Even a superficial look at our history reveals thousands of Native Americans and Africans who labored to build the colonies, but also to defend them, and ultimately to wrest them from England to form a new nation. While many Africans and Natives converted to Christianity, they retained a good many of their tribal traditions making the Christianity of American different from the Christianity of Europe. In addition, the Christian beliefs of the Founding Fathers are questionable at best. Anyone hoping to build an argument on America's Christian origins from that quarter stands on very shaky ground.
Towards the end of the session, Laurel asked us who our audience is. Maggie unequivocally defined hers as "Jewish women". Mitchell and Michelle spoke of their many Jewish readers, but mentioned their hope that their novels would reach a wider audience. I mentioned that most of my readers were not Jewish and that I'd love to have feedback from Jewish readers on Hope of Israel.
Consider reading one or more of the books displayed here and let us know how you think it contributes (or not) to Jewish fiction.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I just got back from an amazing four days in San Diego. What a beautiful city!
The tall ships are part of the San Diego Maritime Museum. The photos of the ship's aft and of the mast and rigging are of the HMS Surprise, which we learned was used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The tall ship in front of the San Diego skyline is the Star of India, a passenger ship that brought immigrants from England around Cape Horn to Australia and New Zealand. The photo of the smaller sailboat is taken from the ferry that goes from San Diego harbor to Coronado Island (which is really a peninsula). The sand of Coronado's beaches shines as if it is full of gold dust.
I met some wonderful writers and agents at the conference. In the photo I am standing on the right. From the left are Laurel Corona (The Four Seasons, Penelope's Daughter, Finding Emile), Michelle Cameron (The Fruit of Her Hands), and Mitchell James Kaplan (By Fire, By Water). Along with Maggie Anton (the Rashi's Daughters series) we formed a panel to discuss Jewish historical fiction.
I'm not sure we agreed how to define Jewish historical fiction, but we did agree that it is important for both Jews and non-Jews to understand Jewish contributions to history and for authors to move beyond writing about Jews as just victims. As Maggie Anton said, historically there were some happy times for Jews.
Also at the conference I had the pleasure to talk to so many wonderful authors including Kathryn Johnson (The Gentleman Poet), DeAnna Cameron (The Belly Dancer), Ann Parker (Silver Rush Mystery Series), Alanna Lucas (In the Silence of the Night), Brigitte Goldstein (Dina's Lost Tribe), Judith Koll Healey (The Rebel Princess), and Christy English (The Queen's Pawn, To Be Queen), Teresa L. Watts (teresalwatts.com), Pamela R. Winnick (pamelarwinnick.blogspot.com), and historical fiction blogger Heather Rieseck (themaidenscourt.blogspot.com). Not only are they excellent writers, they are warm, funny, and interesting people.
I learned a lot from the agents who attended the conference. First I must mention Jennifer Weltz from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. She gave an engaging keynote address about why historical fiction matters to her and why it is essential for authors to build supportive communities not only with each other, but with the other stakeholders in the industry.
After the keynote, Jennifer moderated a panel of editors who talked about selling historical fiction. This also was very instructive. Heather Lazare from Crown Publishing spoke about author's creating a good voice. "I can fix a bad book. I can't fix a bad voice." Shana Drehs from Sourcebooks made the point that crossover historical fiction is a consideration for editors. She mentioned that many blockbuster general fiction books like The Help can be considered historical fiction. Charles Spicer from St. Martin's Press mentioned that marquee names help the reader immediately get a sense of place and time and this is especially key for debut authors. However, all of the panelists agreed that a marquee name alone is not enough. Again, the voice needs to be compelling and the story needs to be strong. Deni Dietz advised authors to use new technologies such as Google alerts when their name or book title was mentioned online. This was part of a larger discussion about authors needing to take on the marketing challenge through social media, book signings, conferences, and other ways of actively reaching out to their readers.
I was also fortunate to speak with Marcy Posner from Folio Literary Management, Kevan Lyon from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, Deni Dietz from Five Star Mysteries, and Scott Eagan of the Greyhaus Literary Agency. These editors and agents are troopers. Each day they listened to pitches, gave advice, and explained the business to new authors. Their dedication to writing is impressive. It is exactly the kind of thing Jennifer Weltz was talking about when she mentioned supportive communities. The agents and editors who spent hours in consecutive one-on-one meetings with conference attendees truly demonstrated how community benefits everyone in this business.
Finally, I could not leave off without commending the leadership of the conference chair, Richard Scott, and the others on the Board of Directors: Alana White, Sarah Johnson, Ann Chamberlin, Mary Burns, Roni Coates, and Jane Kessler. The conference's success was in large part due to their hard work.