How to be gnarly even if you’re frum–Chareidi Jew jamming on a skateboard

01_ami095I just saw the cover of this week’s Ami Magazine (November 29, 2012), and it just made me feel good all over (and I’m pretty sick today, so that’s an accomplishment). On it, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser is on his skateboard and playing guitar. He looks so frum and like he’s having so much fun. He’s an amazing speaker, by the way, and I think he’s in the States right now promoting his Possible You seminar.

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been hearing about images that break your heart or just make you angry. But this photo warms my heart.

Anybody out there care to share the details of a photo that warms their heart? Please do so in the comments.

My deep dark secret: Withdrawl from deadlines!

Cover 4

Beth Firestone and I just wrapped up our serial, “To the Edge of the Galaxy” in Aim! Magazine. It was a great experience…I learned a lot about writing by working with Beth, as she is a novelist (previously, I’d only published standalone pieces of 1400 words or less) and has spent much more time formally studying writing. She filled me in about creating a story arc, building character development and generally kept my writing coherent and funny. It was also great helping kick off a new magazine and developing a readership with them. We got fan mail! It was amazing knowing that kids out there were reading our work and LIKED it.
What is also great about writing a serial is that you have deadlines. If you don’t meet them, there are real life consequences: angry editors, paychecks that don’t come, readers who no longer trust you. I busily wrote several nights a week for about 6 months to keep “To the Edge of the Galaxy” on schedule with the printer. Now I have no one breathing down my neck about writing…and I’m not getting much done.

I have no shortage of ideas and writing projects to work on. In fact I have today’s ideas and also the ideas I put off writing for the last 6 months because I was occupied with the serial. I think there are a few reasons for my lack of productivity:
1) No deadlines;
2) There are SO MANY ideas, and no editor telling me which one which one is a priority;
and
3) The lure of blogging.
Yes, blogging is taking over my writing life! I write this blog as well as another semi-private one, and I find that it is addictive. I’ve had to cut down to two nights a week (mostly). I LOVE checking the “Stats” and finding people are actually reading what I write! I love that I can’t get a rejection letter. I can write what I want the way I want to without being judged by a senior editor or the marketing department!
But until you get THOUSANDS of page views weekly, blogging isn’t a remunerative profession. And in the end, there’s still no story (with illustrations!) in a glossy (inter)nationally-circulated magazine or an actual book on an actual shelf in an actual bookstore that people can actually buy (which is actually a delightful experience).
I think I’ll be shutting down Google Chrome now and switching to Microsoft Word…

fantasy, sci-fi and the Jewish reader

Thanks to my brother-in-law Joshua, I just heard about a wonderful new graphic novel called Hereville. The subject: an 11 y o Orthodox girl fights trolls. With a little research, I discovered that this is currently the #1 Jewish book for kids being sold on Amazon. This doesn’t surprise me in this least. There is a dearth of fantasy and sci-fi books for Jewish kids out there, but there is certainly demand.

Look at the popularity of Harry Potter novels, Percy Jackson adventures, The Dragonriders of Pern, the Circle of Magic series (by Tamora Pierce), The Blue Sword and other books by Robin McKinley, and all those early Heinleins (in his pre-Stranger in a Strange Land days when he still wrote “appropriate” material). Frankly, kids crave these types of books. Why? 1) Kids and teens want to be experience more than their everyday lives. This is escapism from the discomforts of childhood–bullying, homework, parental rule, etc. 2) Kids and teens are still learning to be comfortable with themselves. They have yet to learn many of their personal strengths and often feel inadequate. Many of them hope their hidden talents will “magically” come out and prove them to be special (maybe they’ll even save the world!), a common theme in many of these books.

Jewish kids are no different in these psychological needs. Some frum parents let their kids read secular sci-fi books, but there are a lot of problems with unrestricted access to them. Many fantasy books incorporate pantheism, animism, and avodah zara. Some (His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman, for example) are outright anti-religion. Others describe magic as an appealing alternative religion (many Tamora Pierce books).

Sci-fi books also frequently espouse atheism or portray Science as religion. Moreover, many frum people are uncomfortable with idea of life on other planets, though it is not clear that this opinion has a sound basis in our tradition. Another big barrier in portraying the future is that Moshiach must come, and most rabbeim hold He’ll arrive by the year 6000 on our calendar. Finally, the rigors of space travel introduce unwieldy elements into narratives about Jewish characters: halachic times, Shabbos, kashrus, etc. all must be dealt with.

I think we’re slowing coming to grips with these issues. I’ve seen some fantasy and sci-fi in the fiction department on Chabad.org. A few years ago, there was a fun adult novel of speculative fiction by David Shapiro called The Promise of G-d, and an anthology called Wandering Stars which is Jewish, though certainly not Orthodox. On the juvenile literature front, time travel has become an acceptable subgenre somehow–there’s The Devil’s Apprentice and Trekking Through Time. In 2009, a blogger described the 2009 Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference at the 92nd Street Y. There, participants were told that among the “in demand” topics was time travel, and that one lecture was about writing Jewish books for the “Twilight Generation”.

There was a piece in HaModia for You set in space last year, and currently the Aim tween supplement to Ami Magazine has a serial with a sci-fi mystery called “To the Edge of the Galaxy.” (disclaimer: I co-author it with Beth Firestone). Ami specifically wanted a sci-fi spin on the serial.

And now there’s Hereville. The reviews I’ve seen are great, and the readers aren’t just religious or even just Jews. Maybe the time for authentically Jewish sci-fi and fantasy books has come. It would be my fantasy come true!



great news!

I haven’t been active on my page for a while, but I wanted to share good news with anyone who drops by.

I’ve been publishing articles on the website www.metroimma.com about parenting small children and connection between real-life and classic children’s books.
The new Jewish magazine, Ami, is now available by subscription at http://www.amimagazine.org/ and on the newsstands in NYC and Chicago…hopefully, it’ll be available in all major Jewish markets soon. I’m co-authoring one of the weekly serials contained in the Aim tween supplement (my co-author is Beth Firestone, known for her novel Candles in my Window). It’s entitled “To the Edge of the Galaxy”. The story follows the adventures of an Orthodox family chosen to colonize a distant planet. I’m hoping all you readers up there will pick up a copy of Ami and try it out!

Additionally, Mishpacha Junior magazine published a story of mine a couple of months ago and expects to publish another soon. I’m really enjoying writing for periodicals and will continue to list my ongoing projects.