What I’m Reading Right Now: On Moral Fiction

A while back, EriOn Moral Fictionka Dreifus had recommended John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, a slim volume dedicated to writing and literary criticism from the POV that an artist has a moral responsibility to their audience, and that art criticism should in part address how well the creator of a work of art has met that responsibility. The book dates from 1978, and it’s amazing how well it (thus far in my reading) stands up over time.

I’m only about three chapters in, and what strikes me most Continue reading

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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Megillat Esther through the eyes of a 21st century writer, or It’s okay if G-d saves the day if there’s forshadowing

This year, in preparation for Purim, I’ve been rereading the megillah at a class given by my LOR (local Orthodox rabbi). Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve read The Book of Esther, as it’s called in English. We do that every year on Purim–twice! And it’s also not the first time I’ve learned it with this particular rabbi. But it is the first time I’ve read it with commentary, guided by my rabbi, since I officially became an author (whatever that means). And boy, is there a difference.

The Big Literary No-No All Over the Megillah

book of esther theater poland

A Purim Spiel in Poland. Photo shared in the Wikipedia Commons by Henryk Kotowski.

When you’re writing fiction, there is a big no-no that you’re told never to do: rely on deus ex machina. In short: don’t get your characters out of a tight corner by dropping a deity down from the sky to perform an instantaneous rescue. The audience will roll their eyes, at best.

The term originated with actors playing deities in the theaters of Greece. But for a religious writer of a different persuasion in the 21st century, it causes problems. Continue reading

Time to be funny! Turn things upside down! It’s really Adar this time. I promise.

Okay, so for those who have no idea what the title of today’s post means, I’ll clarify:

Don't you wanna dress up for Purim?

Don’t you wanna dress up for Purim?

The Hebrew month of Adar contains the wacky holiday of Purim. The thing is, when there’s a leap year, there’s an entire extra month of Adar–because if you’re going to have a month that comes twice, it might as well as be the one that’s known as the happiest of the year. But there’s only Purim in the second Adar.

After a month of tolerating a giant “SIKE!” the second Adar of 5774 started yesterday. Jewish kids everywhere are going crazy. Continue reading

More about McKee’s STORY: How two of my stories measured up

I’m still reading STORY and have so much to say on its utility that you’ll just have to bear with me for a few more posts on it.

THE GAP

victoria station tube mind the gap

Writer! Mind the gap!

McKee has a theory that the material a story is made of is not words, not paper and pen (or computer) but something he calls the GAP. The Gap develops when a main character acts and discovers that his/her expectations regarding the response s/he’s going to get conflict with the reaction s/he really gets. This discrepancy forces the character to adjust and change.

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How to Provide Books to the Needy

About thirty years ago, a linguistic anthropologist researched children’s literary experiences at home in three communities. In her famous article, “What No Bedtime Story Means,” Dr. S.B. Heath wrote about her findings. She reported that children who have books in their home and use them regularly have better literacy in school. Even if a child had books in the house, they had to be used…it was insufficient to have a beautiful book if it was treasured so much to the extent that it was left on the shelf as a display piece.

When I taught in So. L.A. nearly a decade ago, my students (mostly working class and Latino) often had no books of their own. Many didn’t visit the library unless on a school visit, although there was one in the neighborhood. Many parents, cash-strapped and not functionally literate themselves, chose to spend what little money they had on DVDs and video games. Others had a few books. These had often been received as gifts, and remained on the shelf so as not to be ruined (just as in Dr. Heath’s study). Alternatively, my students had books, but these were often t.v. tie-ins of questionable literary merit. And some of my students had parents who wanted to read, but were each working two jobs to make ends meet. These folks were simply too busy and too exhausted to read a bedtime story. Thus, my students often had very few literary experiences before they reached school.

Contrast this with the average Ashkenazy Jew in America: books cover the walls (content and language varies by religiosity); many books are so well used they have actually been “loved to death” and are in tatters; libraries are regularly visited; newborns are given copies of Baby Faces, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and Blue Hat, Green Hat as gifts long before they can actually hold the books in their own tiny hands.

And people wonder why we are the people of the book?

In steps the wonderful organization, First Book. First Book has partnered with General Mills to distribute free books in Cheerios boxes at selected times of year. Plain Cheerios is a WIC friendly food, so putting them in that particular brand helps them reach their target audience, kids whose families may not be able to afford books, and who may not access public libraries. While these books are printed cheaply, they are high-quality literature. The authors have either won First Book’s annual writing competition for new writers or are established writers themselves…and the illustrations are fabulous.

Here’s a link to this wonderful organization. http://www.firstbook.org/