Double Dose of Good News!!!

Announcement #1:

I will be publishing a new Jewish sci-fi picture book with Kalaniot Books in the not-too-distant future. I’m feeling very blessed and can’t wait till I can share more about this book and the story of how it came to be. I will tell you this much: it took over a year of submissions before closing this deal, and I feel like it’s a message that perseverance and faith will pay off, even if it’s on God’s timeline, not ours. As soon as we have an illustrator announced, I’ll let you know.

Me, very excited after signing the book contract.

Announcement #2:

Today, Tablet is running a fun little personal essay by moi about a misadventure I had shortly before Passover. It’s about losing things, finding them, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, and how sometimes it’s good to lose things. You can read it here.

The World is Chaos…But You Gotta Keep Writing

There are definitely times when I cannot write. From mid-November till January, I didn’t even try to write–I was ill and then recovering from surgery. I generally take the Hebrew month of Nissan off, first to prepare for Passover, then to celebrate it, then to recover from it. And my husband reminds me that every late fall-early winter I have a slump because I’m sensitive to the diminished sunlight.

However, I’ve discovered that one of the best things I can do for my mental health when things are super chaotic in the outside world is to realize that I have a limited ability to fix the outside world. I cannot halt the war in Ukraine, I cannot shut up antisemites, I cannot save all the women of Afghanistan from the Taliban. I cannot house everyone sleeping on the streets, nor can I singlehandedly stop racism.

I can donate to charity, I can lend a hand to help a worthy cause, I can pray…but if I think about all the war, famine, loss in the world WHEN I CAN DO NOTHING TO FIX IT, then I’m just making myself depressed or anxious with no purpose. It’s not just me–it’s something a lot of creative types struggle with. I think this is especially true because 1) creative types are often very empathic, and 2) creative types need a relaxed mind to produce work. And the saddest part is that when we spend our hours worrying, rather than taking steps to fulfill our goals, we start feeling guilty for being “slackers” on top of everything else.

Directing my energy towards things I can control (or at least partly control) is more productive. And one of those things is my creative work.

I was feeling kinda down and overwhelmed about a month ago, and part of it was the Winter Blahs and part of it was a series of rejections and part of it was outside problems I couldn’t control infiltrating my mind. I’m reminding myself a lot lately that it’s not worth dwelling on what I can’t control (wars, rejections by other people).

The good news is that limiting news consumption (less than an hour of NPR a day) is helping. Getting sleep and exercise is helping. And sitting with a notebook and a pen and brainstorming helps, too.

Thank God, and bli ayin hara, I’m working on two writing projects right now. I’ve got renewed energy and we’ll see if these books come to fruition.

My Review of the Recent Sydney Taylor Bio

When I posted last week, I realized that I failed to post when my review of From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family ran in the Winter Issue of The Jewish Review of Books.

Many readers will recognize Sydney Taylor’s name either from her All-of-a-Kind books or from the award that bears her name, which is used to honor writers of Jewish children’s literature each year. This new biography–by the late June Cummins, completed by her colleague Alexandra Dunietz–describes a woman who contributed not only to writing, but to dance and theater, and whose personal life is illustrative of Ashkenazi Jewish women of her time and place. A particular challenge of writing the review was that the book was not yet completed by its primary author when she died of ALS.

A young Sarah Brenner–later to become Sydney Taylor–appears on the cover of Cummins’s biography.

You can read my review in The Jewish Review of Books here.

DRAMA!

So, it’s been a while since I posted, so I feel like y’all need an update. I was working on my NaNoWriMo project back in November — it was finishing the second half of my 2018 NaNo project — and I was making excellent progress when—

my gallbladder decided to cause me trouble. Like, serious trouble.

Once I realized what was going on (I went to the doctor after the second attack), I spent about a month eating very, very carefully lest I trigger more gallbladder attacks. Then I had surgery, which took about three weeks to recover from.

I’m not really back into a full writing routine yet, but I hope to at some point soon. There are kid reviews up on the PJ Our Way website now, which is fun. Although lots of readers wish the book were longer.

In the meantime, here I am with my new gallbladder, this one outside my abdomen and purchased for me by one of my chevrutas.

Adina at Her Best to Be Offered through PJ Our Way in November!

Here’s me, looking at the PDF with the digital proof of Adina at Her Best‘s PJ Our Way edition. IY”H, the tweenage subscribers will be able to choose Adina as their free book in just a couple weeks.

My husband claims I was smiling like a Cheshire Cat. I think I look happy, not creepy.

I’ve been in a bit of a mood lately, since I’d gotten out of my writing groove over the summer and I have received a slew of rejections (or just been ghosted) recently. But the email from PJ Our Way folks containing this PDF, and some progress I’ve made on other projects the last couple days, is heartening me a bit. Hopefully, I’ll have more good news soon.

To the best of my knowledge, Adina at Her Best is the first middle grade book selected for PJ Our Way that was originally published by a Haredi press. I hope it’s not the last! [EDIT: I just found out that there have been a few of HaChai’s “Fun-to-Read” titles used for PJ Our Way, so I’m not QUITE the trailblazer I thought I was. ;)] The cover is slightly different, the end of the story has been revised. Significantly, we replaced a lot of the Jewy-ist language so people with little Jewish background will still be able to understand what’s going on, and we improved the story so it’s not a White Savior narrative (I mentioned this on the blog a while back, I think).

Share any of your book-related good news (things you’ve enjoyed reading recently, things you’ve written yourself, etc.) in the comments.

On Hebrew psalms and English poems

I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been doing #NachYomi, studying one chapter from the Prophets and Writing sections of the TaNaCh (Hebrew Bible) a day. Right now, we’re in the middle of the Book of Psalms (known in Hebrew as Sefer Tehilim), and as each psalm is written in verse, I’m learning a lot about poetry as we march to the end of the Book (we have about 2 and a half weeks left).

A translation of Psalm 23–probably the most famous psalm to English-speakers

Incidentally, April was National Poetry Month, and I wrote a poem for every day of the celebration. I felt inspired to do so after a spree of poetry reading. Then I spent a chunk of May revising some my April poems. (I actually submitted one of them yesterday. I felt very brave.)

Anyway, I’ve noticed some interested contrasts and comparisons between Hebrew poetry and English poetry, and I thought it might be interesting to explore them.

One trend you see in Hebrew poems is manipulating a particular aspect of the Hebrew language–many conceptually-related words will derive from the same two or three letter root (called a shoresh). A common example is the following: chai, which means “live,” shares a root (chet-yud) with chayim, meaning “life;” chayot, which means “wild animals;” and mechaye, which means “revive.” Additionally, one way to emphasize a word in Hebrew is to double it. Me’od me’od, for example, means not just “a lot” but “very, very much,” and mot yamut means not just “will die” but “will surely die.”

In English poetry, and writing in general, we are discouraged from having the same word appear multiple times, close together, in the same text. Occasionally, it’s used for effect, but it’s one of those things writers usually edit out.

However, in Hebrew, you might see the same word appear several times in just one psalm, if not in its identical form, in a related term which shares the same shoresh. This happens throughout the Book of Psalms, such as in:

  • Psalm 150, which contains 13 words based on the root hey-lamed (“praise”) in just 6 lines.
  • Psalm 130, which contains such lines as verse 5 קִוִּ֣יתִי יְ֭הֹוָה קִוְּתָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י וְֽלִדְבָר֥וֹ הוֹחָֽלְתִּי׃ (“I look hopefully to the LORD; my soul hopes for Him, and I await His word.”) which repeats the root koof-vav, for “hope” just two words apart, heightening the affect.

It’s not just Biblical era poetry which does this, but many Hebrew-language modern poems, as well. The entire phenomenon makes me wonder how much the actual construction of the English language affects poetry written in English.

Noticing the repetitions in Hebrew poems has not led me to introduce them into my English-language creations. However, it has helped me see how a deep theme, image, or symbol, when worked throughout a poem, creates impressions in the reader which enhance both the meaning and the beauty of the text.

If you have thoughts about Hebrew poems, poetry in general, or psalms (from a writerly perspective), I’d love to hear about them in the comments.