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Monthly Archives: March 2019

How the Book Signing Went

yeshiva girl with dogs

I have discovered that three out of four writers can stand for two hours at a book signing event, and I am the fourth writer. I did stand for the short presentations, where each of us described our books, though I had to lean on random pieces of furniture while the others spoke, and then I almost tripped myself when it was my turn. For the rest of the time we were set up at four small tables, side by side, though, again, I was the only one actually sitting at my table, with everyone else sort of floating nearby. I chose the table with a Picasso-like picture of a girl with brown hair, because it looked like I felt, and sat behind a copy of Yeshiva Girl set up in a Lucite holder. It occurred to me that I should have made some kind of display – two crocheted dragons, maybe, like the YA Fantasy writer, or a blow up of the cover photo on the book, like the memoir writer – but, too late. All I had was me.

I was the newbiest of the newbies there, because the fantasy writer had been doing signings for her book since 2016, and the other two were classroom teachers, but I found that as long as I was able to sit down, and people could come over to me to ask their questions or tell me their stories, I did really well. I’ll have to practice my standing-and-speaking skills, though, for the future. People seemed to actually be interested in the premise of my book, which surprised me. I walk around assuming that no one will be interested in anything I have to say, though, of course, desperately hoping that they’ve been waiting all their lives just to meet and hear from me.

Each person I met had a story, or a thousand stories, to tell and I was awed by them and curious about them, and a little bit overwhelmed, as in, who’s going to notice my star in the midst of such a starry sky. I met a local humor columnist, who bought my book, and we talked about wanting to write mysteries, and the books we’ve read, and writing inspirations, and I had to be careful not to geek out too much and ignore the rest of the potential readers in the room. I met one woman who wanted to read my book, but was afraid it would be too painful, though she encouraged her friends to read it, and talked to me about the importance of people feeling safe to speak up and tell their stories. And there was a woman who’d gone to a tiny catholic school in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, way back when, and had plenty of stories to tell about the experience. And another woman who had worked for a Chassidic-run company and felt her otherness acutely.

I’d only started to get nervous two nights before the book signing event, and the anxiety only became acute that morning, with an internal voice telling me that it would all turn to shit, and I was completely unprepared, and I didn’t have the right clothes or makeup, and I would fall into a deep depression after the inevitable and complete failure.

But I did it! I signed books! I stood in front of strangers and presented my book! I didn’t hide under my bed – the way I wanted to – or pretend to be someone I’m not.

I sold four books and signed five (my aunt came with her own copy, and she stayed for the whole two hours for moral support! Yay Aunt Debbie!). And the woman who ran the event, Robin, one of the owners and the superstar event coordinator at Dolphin Books in Port Washington, NY, asked me to sign two extra copies for the store. Here’s hoping I get more chances to try it again, and next time bring one or both of the dogs for moral support, or to scream at people to buy Mommy’s book.

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“Let’s go, Mommy!”

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“Buy my Mommy’s book!”

I want to thank the other authors at the event:

A high school history teacher/coach (Billy Mitaritonna, Last of the Redmen: Memoir of a St. John’s Walk-on) who wrote about the power of perseverance, and said that the secret was in how his coaches and his father encouraged and supported him no matter how many times he failed. He said that his students were the ones who told him to write his memoir, to share his story with others because it had been so inspiring to them.

Then there was the Dragon Girl (Elana A. Mugdon, Dragon Speaker: The Shadow War Saga, Book One), who was brave beyond my capacity to imagine. She dressed as the protagonist in her young adult fantasy series, wearing a long white wig, in pig tails, a corset, and leather armor. Her protagonist is the only non-magical person in her world, and yet she is the heroine of the story.

The fourth author was a graphic designer (Beth Costello, The Art of the Process: establishing good habits for successful outcomes) with a workbook to help people through the process of design. She had the confidence of a practiced teacher, and the social media skills to have a roomful of supporters waiting to hear from her and buy her book (which meant that I had an audience too!).

I could have used a vat of chocolate frosting in the aftermath of the event, to soothe my frayed nerves, but as soon as we got home the girls needed to go out to pee and that helped with the depressurization process. They squealed their excitement at having their humans back home and raced around the yard with their famous author slash pooper scooper Mommy, and then we settled in on the couch to watch something silly and romantic on television. Overall a successful day.

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“Can we watch something else?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

 

 

Watching Roots

 

One day in February, the Sundance Channel advertised that it would be replaying the original miniseries version of Roots, for Black History Month, and I realized that I’d never actually seen it. I’d seen little clips here and there, but I was too young to watch it the first time around, and I’d never made a point of finding it on video or DVD later on. So I set the DVR to tape every episode, and then made sure that the episodes wouldn’t be erased until I erased them (the DVR generally saves things for two weeks and then they magically disappear), because I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get through all of it.

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“I’ll help you, Mommy!”

I knew Roots would be hard to watch, but Mom’s good friend from high school, Olivia Cole, won an Emmy for her role in Roots, and I’d watched everything else Olivia had done on TV, but not this. Mom, of course, had seen Roots when it ran the first time, but she was ready to see it again, if only as a tribute to Olivia, who died a little more than a year ago.

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Mom and Olivia

We watched an hour at a time, because I couldn’t handle any more than that, especially when Kunta Kinte was on the slave ship travelling to America. I felt like I was being beaten, and I could almost smell the crowded bowels of the ship, and feel the chains on my wrists and ankles, and chains, like a yoke, around my neck. I felt powerless and triggered and complicit, as if just by watching the horror on the screen I was making it happen. Even more awful was listening to the language of the white men as they discussed their “cargo,” as if the young men were animals. Words like “herd” and “buck” were used constantly. And of course, the “N” word. They talked about the girls as “belly warmers” for the crew to take to bed overnight. I watched one girl jump off the ship, in the middle of the ocean, rather than remain in that dehumanizing world. I wanted to jump with her.

I forced myself to keep watching, though, taking a day or two off between each hour, partly because I needed to see Olivia in her role, and that came later in the series, but also because I needed to watch all of the minutes before and after Olivia, to understand where she fit in.

The moment that shows up in all of the clips is of Levar Burton, as a young Kunta Kinte, being whipped, and refusing to call himself by his “new” name, Toby. The scene was even more powerful in context, because it was clear that the intention was to take his self away from him, not only his language, his home, or his freedom, but his sense of himself as an individual with his own thoughts and his own name.

 

It took me two weeks to make my way through the whole miniseries, because each time there was a seeming respite from pain, some damned white person had to go and screw it up. There were some elements to the story that felt too easy, too perfect: characters made out to be too noble to be human, or events working out Forest-Gump-like so that this one family experienced all of the highs and lows known at the time about slavery. But the hardest parts, for me, were the endless rapes.

Some men seem to take rape lightly, and I use the present tense advisedly, despite the #MeToo movement and the wisps of awakening that came with it. She’s not dead. You can’t even see any bruises. So why is it such a big deal? But the people who made Roots in the 1970s seemed to understand. Rape is the soul destroyer. It’s the violence that goes past your skin and invades your body so that there’s no safe place even inside of yourself.

I keep thinking back to the early episodes of the miniseries, on the slave ship, when the young black men fought to be free, risking their lives against their captors, but the one woman who escaped her chains jumped over the side of the ship, in the middle of the ocean, with no hope of survival. She wasn’t fighting to survive; she was fighting to make it stop, to make the violation stop, and to take back the only thing she had left: her life.

Olivia was wonderful, by the way. She played Mathilda, the wife of Chicken George, Kunta Kinte’s grandson. She had an oracle-like quality to her in the miniseries, and in real life too: the straight-backed wise woman who knows when to pause for dramatic effect. It’s interesting that her character was never raped, or at least it wasn’t told as part of her story, because she was able to maintain her sense of self in a way that other women through the course of the saga were not, and that rings true.

The hopeful ending to the story, when Kunta Kinte’s descendants ride their wagons to a piece of land of their own, is iconic: this is an American family, a family of pioneers discovering their own land and building their lives from scratch. All through the miniseries, the voice overs introducing each episode made it clear that this was the story of an American family, rather than a story of slavery. That message resonates at this moment in our history as a country, when we need to be reminded that being American is not about where we came from, or the color of our skin, but about the freedom to start over and make a new life, despite everything.

We tend to focus on the freedom, instead of on the “everything” that still needs to be overcome, individually and communally. There are so many more stories to be told, about the “everything” that we all need help to overcome.

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Cricket is worried about “everything.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

p.s. The Book signing event went well, and I will tell you more about it next week!

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The girls are still grumpy that they didn’t get to go.

The Bookstore Event

 

The bookstore signing event is coming up on Saturday March 9th from 2-4 pm at the Dolphin Bookshop and Café, in Port Washington, on Long Island, and the promotional materials have been sent out (see below). Mom also made up her own poster, just for my book, and put it up around town. Fingers crossed there will be a good crowd and I won’t be too terrified.

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“You’ll be okay, Mommy.”

Mom is doing an amazing job as my agent, calling around to get the bookstore signing in the first place, asking permission to put up posters, getting the local library to order a few copies, and talking the book up all over the place. I would like to think that this is the job she spent her whole life training for, but that might be a little bit narcissistic of me.

My expectation is that the bookstore event will be a lot of schmoozing and signing books, not a reading, but I marked out a few sections of the book to read, just in case. I have a lot of questions about how to sign the book, though. I assume it should be something more than just signing my name, and something less than a three page soliloquy, but I’m not sure where it should fall in that spectrum. A lot will probably depend on if the people who come to the event are strangers or people I already know.

I think I’ll be leaving Ellie at home this time, even though her presence would be a comfort to me, because Cricket needs her more than I do. I can’t even imagine the panic Cricket would be in if we all left without her. No amount of treats would make that bearable. When I imagined Ellie as an emotional support dog. I didn’t realize she would turn out to be Cricket’s Emotional support.

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Cricket needs a lot of emotional support

I’m a little bit uncomfortable that the book signing event is on a Saturday, given that the book is called Yeshiva Girl and religious Jews don’t go to bookstores on the Sabbath, but then again, maybe this will be one more way to reach out to a new audience that wouldn’t ordinarily read about religious Jewish life. I haven’t met the other three authors, so that will also be something to look forward to, and maybe our very different audiences will cross over and provide each of us with new readers. We’ll see. Wish me luck!

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“Good luck, Mommy!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

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