Writing ethics: Defining your voice by what you don’t write about as much as what you do

Okay, so last week I mentioned how much I admired Nina Badzin’s article for TC Jew Folk, “Things I Don’t Write about on the Internet.”  

I pretty much agreed with her on all points, although I will occasionally get political. (This is pretty much conditioning on my part: no meal shared with my family during the 1980s did not involve bashing of the Republican Party, so far as I can remember. But my memory might be faulty. Not that I’m a Democrat. Currently, my party membership is officially “decline to state.” You can do that in California.) 

Anyway, there was one thing not on Nina’s list I kept thinking about while reading it, and it has haunted me ever since:

I DON’T TELL OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES.

What are “other people’s stories?” Continue reading

Even turtles have to poke their heads out sometimes

What makes Jewish literature Jewish?

In theory, I’m on vacation, make that staycation, with my kids and not posting. However, in the last week, two authors I respect both posted on a topic I’ve contemplated before: what is Jewish literature? Their ideas were both useful and inspirational. It’s worth reading the posts. You can read Libi Astaire’s post here and Erika Dreifus’s here.

On a related note, after a short hiatus, Tablet has started posting fiction again. I’m wondering if the complaints about whether their previous stories were examples of Jewish literature had an effect — both the recent pieces have been translations of Israeli authors.

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

Cold shoulder or pit bulls? On Peter Beinart, the Atlanta Jewish Book Fair and how to act when you disagree with a writer

I don’t often comment on news items, but this one is both Jewish and book-related, so I thought it would be worth mentioning.

Earlier this year, Peter Beinart–blogger and professor–wrote a book blaming the lack of peace in Israel on the Israelis. Even to someone whose politics are somewhat atypical for an Orthodox Jewish American, I found the premise of Beinart’s book both offensive and intellectually flimsy.

Should we set the dogs on ‘im?

This week Atlanta’s JCC hosts 10,000 visitors at its annual Jewish Book Fair. Initially, Peter Beinart was scheduled to appear there to promote his book. But, due to the outrage of many Atlantans who disagree with his public attacks of the Israeli government, Beinart will no longer be welcome to speak at the book fair. Instead, he’s speaking this evening at a different venue. (For more coverage, see here.)

Was this the right reaction? Continue reading

Finding Inspirational Words from Sarah Shapiro–Defining Jewish Writing, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, some of the comments on a post I wrote about defining Jewish writing revolved around the introduction to Sarah Shapiro’s All of Our Lives. I took a workshop with Sarah–who writes, edits, and teaches amazing writing workshops that have inspired many fledgling Jewish writers–and have a lot of respect for her opinions, so I borrowed the book from a friend (thanks Miriam!) in order to more accurately represent Sarah’s opinions here.

Sarah’s essay “The Writer’s I” reflects several of the issues I discussed in my original post. Jewish Writing can be defined by the author’s identity, by its subject matter, or can be considered a completely arbitrary label. She personally feels that “all three are right,” but admits the difficulty in establishing a single definition.

Sarah goes on to say that attempts to identify or define specifically Orthodox Jewish writing are even more complicated. Continue reading