Fan mail: the way to make an author’s heart go pitter-patter

I haven’t been posting much this month because I’ve been very, very busy. Thank G-d, in a good way. After failing to write any fiction for a couple months, I wrote three short stories – bang! bang! bang! – and a few teensy other projects besides.

I had the kids home with me on Friday because of the Mid-Winter Vacation many Jewish schools stick between semesters. I was a bit under the weather and had to shop AND cook for Shabbos because I’d been too tired after painting with the kids and taking them to a museum on Thursday to do the grocery shopping then, as I usually do.

The exhaustion! The squabbles! The noise! It was ugly.

And then I opened up Inyan magazine and saw this:

Fan mail for The Perfect Shabbos

Instantly, all was better.

An interview with author Batya Ruddell

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing with you another interview. In this post, you’ll meet the funny, talented Batya Ruddell. For those of you who read Binah Magazine or Hamodia, her name will certainly be familiar. Batya is one of the foremost writers in the Hareidi world today, and her work is beloved both by readers and other writers. Next week, she’ll be presenting at the Jerusalem Writers’ Conference, and this week, she’s answered a few questions for me via email.

RK: How long have you been writing? First, as an amateur, and then professionally? 

BR: I think I was writing in the womb!! Seriously, for as long as I can remember I’ve had a pen in my hand. Writing was always my passion but a botched attempt at getting into Journalism school (I knew NOTHING about politics or current events, LOL), led me down a different path to a career as a pediatric and neonatal intensive care nurse. I worked in this field for almost three decades before switching tracks to my initial dream a few years ago and becoming a professional writer. 

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Writing for Children: not for those who want glory, fame, or big bucks

Last week’s Hamodia/Inyan Magazine had an article by one of my favorite columnists, Rabbi Fishel Schachter entitled “Guided by Tale Winds.” While today Rabbi Schachter is well-known in the Torah world for essays and presentations for adults about the weekly Torah portion, parenting, and other subjects, he first gained popularity as a rebbi and storyteller to students in Jewish day schools.

Rabbi Schachter explains in the article that one of the adults in his audience told him many years ago that he had to choose between teaching grown-ups or kids — and he indicated that the natural choice for a man of Rabbi Schachter’s talent and intelligence was to teach adults.

Turning to his own rebbi for guidance, Rabbi Schachter asked if teaching kids was really beneath him? Were all the silly voices and so on undermining his stature?

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Background on my new story: “Just Perfect” (or why I believe we all live in a Magical Reality)

This week, Hamodia‘s Inyan Magazine published my new short story (and it’s actually for adults!), entitled “Just Perfect.”

The original version of the story was explicitly a piece of fantasy, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I transformed the story into an example of magical realism rather than fantasy in order to address the concerns of my lovely and knowledgeable editor at Hamodia. 

In the original version, then called “Easy as Pie,” the transformation of Libby’s life occurred after she bumped into a little old lady who offered her a slice of peach pie at a party. The pie made Libby’s life–well, just peachy. But my editor felt the little old lady was a little unbelievable. Could I cut her? The only problem was that her brief appearance at the beginning and the end of the story explained the wacky events in between.

I wracked my brains for a way to ditch the old lady but save the rest of the silliness. There had to be an explanation for it, after all. I did a bit of experimentation and research. Finally, I decided that maybe Libby should just pray–and then G-d answers.

Even after I found my “magically real” solution, I initially balked at making the change. It was an elegant solution, so my reaction puzzled me. I had to think about it a lot, and I think my conclusion is worth sharing. Continue reading

I hit a double!

Let’s see if we can bat Mrs. Klempner into home plate!

For the first time, I’ve had two stories published in one week. For some writers, this is nothing, but for me, it’s a real accomplishment. The first story appears in the October 22nd Binah BeTween; the second, in the October 24th Binyan. I just turned in another piece to Binyan yesterday. G-d willing, you’ll find it in print in about a month.

Establishing myself as a career writer as opposed to a hobbyist is a big struggle, and sometimes I feel like I’m floundering around a bit. It’s been comforting the last couple weeks to touch base with other writers, some of whom ARE making a bit of money. So I’m chugging along, praying for success. Not big name, big money success, just enough to cover a medium-sized chunk of day school bills. Is that so much to ask?

I’ve been spending a lot of time this week on career-building activities, trying to solicit writing gigs, adding onto my Goodreads page, hunting for an agent for the novel that I’m STILL revising, that kind of thing. I’m planning a writing workshop that I’m hoping to test out in December. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sharing a new story, a suspenseful sci-fi short story for adults, with my writing group. With a little Heavenly assistance, I’ll be able to sell that one, as well.

I’ve also been revisiting the whole issue of self-publishing, or possibly, starting a small press through one of the POD publishers, which some people have found to be a successful model. A little creative thinking might make the difference in me being able to do what I love vs. drop writing and having to find a decently paying job.

Ooops. I’m hyperventilating again. Too many visions of desk jobs dancing through my head.

Wonderful reads this weekend

I had one of those weekends where I spent a lot of time enjoying magazines. On Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night), I got my Winter 2011 edition of The Mulberry Tree (the official magazine of St. Mary’s College of Maryland), and it included a tribute to the late professor Alan Paskow. Dr. Paskow’s wife, Jacqueline, was my French professor for several semesters and the couple was notable not just for their intellectual brilliance, but for their kindness and dedication to their students.

The Mulberry Tree article excerpted a talk Dr. Paskow had given shortly before his retirement from SMC, entitled “On Writing an Academic Book.” I’m finding that I identify with a lot of what Dr. Paskow says in it about the process of writing his 2004 book book, The Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation. Take this:
Alan Paskow, professor of philosophy
“One of the first things I experienced in beginning my work was a periodic reminder that no one had asked me to write it…One of the most difficult tasks in writing the book was to suppress thoughts about how it would be received, even whether it would be received at all. I would think: No one will publish this thing.”

This is precisely the thought that has run through my head about the novel I’m supposed revise (and which I keep finding excuses not to). It’s really a great comfort to share your most recent existential crisis with someone you really admire, and even more a comfort to know that he was able to persist, completing his book and successfully publishing it. Here’s a link to Alan Paskow’s book. I think it’s out of print, so if you want to get your hands on it without spending a lot, your best bet is probably borrowing it from a university library.

(The book addresses the idea of why fictional characters and even images of people that appear in paintings affect our emotions, even when we are fully aware they are not real. Personally, I think this quality of art is a defense of both the arts and arts education. Dr. Paskow concludes, interestingly, that the fictional subjects of works of art achieve a sort of quasi-reality that allows us to interact with them. While at first glance, such an assertion seems peculiar, think about the legions of Harry Potter and Twilight fans who talk about the characters as if they are personal friends of theirs and dress in costumes appropriate to the books. Or think about the Cornelia Funke book Inkheart and the story “I Remember the Future” by Michael Burstein.)

The other interesting read this weekend was an outstanding profile of Gadi Pollack in the Inyan Magazine (HaModia) for Parshas Vayeishev. Most people are more familiar with Mr. Pollack’s artwork than his name. Here’s a link to some of the books he has illustrated.

The article in Inyan detailed how Mr. Pollack integrates his artwork and his spiritual life in an inspirational way. I recommend picking up the article while last week’s magazine is still on the shelf.