The Writing Business VII

I have a confession of sorts to make. I spoke to the agent who is working with me on Faust in Love, and he is going to have me sign the contract with a traditional publisher in September… In the meantime I need to set up a website of sorts for my book… but I am going to have to pay in two installments the money to set it up. There is one piece of good news, though: Simon & Schuster is still the publishing house that is slated for me. My agent assures me that at least the 1st installment (of 3 installments) of what the contract promises me will be available in September… I am only sad that the amount of money is not coming sooner… I hope that does not sound greedy.

As for The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah; and (surprisingly) Poor Folk, my other agent is discussing plans for a traditional publishing house looking at them. He has mentioned HarperCollins, but he has also mentioned local bookstores. I must admit that it hurt some to have to pick between Poor Folk and Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. Yet to have one of my 4 Bible According to Eve series plus one of my books of short stories published would be a great thing.

One thing I did not succeed at that will have to be on the back burner for a while: my 2-book-set for adolescent girls: Grace; or, in Search of the Leviathan; and The Cycle of Ahriman. None of my children or adolescent books seem to be publishable. This disappoints me a great deal… because in its way I love Grace as much as The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah.

It occurs to me that yesterday I wrote a poem–for Robin Williams, of all people–when I said that “I” can never really exist in my books, that the two exceptions are Discovering Wonderland (the 1st book of the 6-book-set I hope to write) and a children’s novel Jeanie and the Gentlefolk. Annie in Discovering Wonderland is me, and her troubles with her father the echoes of the problems I had with mine. Though her fantastic adventures had nothing to do with her life, Jeanie is given my middle name (Jean) for a first name, and there is a sense in which I identify with her. I don’t know why I admit this much… Only that I hope I shall get all of these books written… and published…

A Belated Lament for Robin Williams

I

I Mourn for Robin Williams,

Whose life was suffused in all his acting parts.

By contrast, as a writer,

I am the missing part in all my books,
Save two: my collection of Days of Awe

And Jeanie and the Gentle-Folk.

In those books I am searching for—

Something.

II

I am no Robin Williams,

For Whom Each Part is Him

Whether the Kind and Wise Teacher;

Or the Doctor Disguised as a Clown;

Or the Divorced Father Who Loves His Children;

Or the Criminal at the Photo Shoot;

Or the Liar who saved a Ghetto’s Hope;

Or the Demented Kiddie-Show Host.

All these parts to a man full of Life

Though the Illusion that he controlled

The Dark Within ended in Suicide.

III

No, I am somebody

Who the Truth hides from,

And I am always searching—

For something, I know not what.

IV

My Unfinished Books,

The Days of Awe and

Jeanie and the Gentlefolk

Stretch back to childhood

but can’t find adulthood.

V

Though I cry for Robin Williams—

As I suppose every watcher of

Dead Poets’ Society did—

I wonder if I, too, am caught in the Dark.

Nonna’s Diary and the Holocaust

I got to page 200+ of The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister.  I will finish the book tomorrow.  The book is under 300 pages and I can usually read 100 pages a day… on Tuesday I hope to get back to The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History. However, back to Nonna: I found out that Nonna—who was Russian—was put in the part of the concentration camps reserved for Russians and Ukrainians.  Although Jews had a “special” place, so did other groups…  I think I had heard that Poles, Ukrainians and Russians had ended in concentration camps, but I had never seriously thought of it. I do not mention all this to diminish the Jewish tragedy… only because I am discovering that it was not the only tragedy. I had heard about the gypsies and the mentally and physically disabled, but I never thought of other ethnic groups that Hitler hoped to liquidate in the end…

I don’t know how I missed it: Stalin’s son Yuri died trying to escape from a concentration camp. Apparently, Hitler had a nephew the Russians captured and Stalin’s son Yuri was captured by the Germans. Neither side was willing to make the trade for the close relative of the other side without “more.” Yet Yuri tried to escape. To an ordinary leader–whether a President or a king–Yuri’s attempt to escape would have been an act of heroism. Stalin was purely indifferent. And presumably Hitler’s nephew died in the Gulag Archipelago with people Stalin had gathered up for forced labor camps analogous, almost, to the concentration camps.

Anyway, back to Nonna. What is odd about the book is that it goes into great detail the happier times that came before the camps… even Stalin had not been able to crush the domestic joys of this family that Hitler did… no, though Nonna was the lone survivor, she did record the happier times in her childhood before the camp that she and her family were sent to. This has the effect some of Anne Frank’s diary has: of creating an oasis of brightness in the darkness of what happened to Anne and most of the people who were hidden with her.

            Moreover, I hope Rabbi Pepperstone will let me write a speech or have others read the books I have read so I can at least lead a discussion on my books about children who lived and died in the Holocaust… I know that the fates of adults matter, too, but there is a particular tragedy that 1.5 million children died in the Holocaust.

Though unrelated to Nonna’s tragedy, there is some other things I would like to use with a group dealing with the Holocaust. One of them I have mentioned before–the music of Theresienstadt. However, one thing I would like to have us read and then watch as a group is a book that was made into a Robin Williams film, Jacob the Liar. It is about a man who falls into the position of everyone in a Jewish ghetto believing he has a radio, which of course he does not have. However, he cannot tell them the truth that he does not have one because if they realize the good news they keep getting from whom isn’t true, it will destroy all their hopes of salvation. For all that it was fiction and about the Holocaust I really liked it… it was a profoundly hopeful film… tragic, but hopeful.

            I want to something meaningful for the Holocaust… maybe extending no further than my own synagogue, but still… I wish I could make all the Jewish knowledge I have—not just the Holocaust knowledge—I have accessible to other Jews…

New Years’ Day

I am ashamed to say I slept late on this January 1, 2023. I got up at 11:00 AM, realizing to my horror that my lunch was going to have to be a supper: I had planned to fix a “Melt-in-your-mouth Chuck roast” beginning at 7:00 AM. However, the damage was not irreparable. I fixed the crockpot, put the onion and green pepper in the bottom. Then I cut the meat in half and put the meat in the crockpot. Next I mixed the sauce for the roast and poured it on top. After that I turned the crockpot on high and put the timer on 7 hours. Eventually I gave the recipe (below) five hours… and then I read part of Heidi (in all I read pages 21-36 of a 98-page version of it). I also listened to some music while writing a letter to a cousin and a Journal Entry in my COVID-19 Diary. However, eventually I went to the kitchen, took the meat out of the crockpot; poured liquid out of the crockpot into a pan and added cornstarch and almond milk to it for gravy; and boiled some rice. When it was all cooked, it all went into the dining room, with a loaf of Cranberry Pumpkin Bread and Carbonated Apple Cider. So we had our post-Christmas banquet: I had COVID-19 Christmas Day and so we celebrated on this, January 1, 2023, New Year’s Day. Here is the recipe for the meat; I put the recipe for both the bread and the meat on a different day when I made the bread–Friday, I believe. So here it is:

Melt-in-Your-Mouth-Chuck-Roast

Ingredients

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) Italian stewed tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup no-beef broth

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 teaspoons prepared mustard

Powdered garlic

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 large onion, halved and sliced

1 medium green pepper, halved and sliced

1 celery rib, chopped

1 boneless beef chuck roast (2 to 3 pounds)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

Recipe

1.  Mix first10 ingredients. Place onion, green pepper and celery in a 5-qt. crockpot; place roast over top. Pour tomato mixture over roast.

2. Cook, covered, on low until meat is tender, 5-6 hours.

3. Remove roast.

4. Boil Rice.

5. Strain cooking juice.

6. Mix cornstarch and almond milk until smooth; stir into cooking juices.

7. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes.

8. Serve roast and rice with gravy.


Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

This year I did little for Chanukkah and nothing for Christmas–even my Christmas cards have not been sent, though finally I wrote the notes in them and stamped and addressed them and they are ready to go. Part of this was because for a while I had COVID-19. Anyway, I found a way to compensate: I have two Cranberry Pumpkin Breads in the oven, admittedly using dried cranberries instead of fresh or frozen ones.

On New Year’s Day, January 1, 2023, I shall have a New Years’ dinner. On that dinner I shall make a roast using (among other things) almond milk for the gravy and rice for the side dish. With that in mind, I shall put the recipes for the Cranberry Pumpkin Bread and the Roast (the instructions for the rice are on the bag) with the admission that the drink is some carbonated apple cider I am saving for the occassion.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Ingredients

3 and ¾ cups all-purpose flour

3 cups sugar

4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 can solid-pack pumpkin

½ canola oil

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed

1 cup chopped walnuts

Recipe

  1. Turn oven to 350.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. 
  3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, pumpkin and oil; stir in dry ingredients just until moistened.
  4.  Fold in cranberries and walnuts.
  5. Spoon into two greased 9x inches loaf pans. 
  6. Bake for seventy to eighty minutes.
  7. Cool for ten minutes.

Here is the recipe for the roast–but I shall not make it until January 1, 2023:

Melt-in-Your-Mouth-Chuck-Roast

Ingredients

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) Italian stewed tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup no-beef broth

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 teaspoons prepared mustard

Powdered garlic

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 large onion, halved and sliced

1 medium green pepper, halved and sliced

1 celery rib, chopped

1 boneless beef chuck roast (2 to 3 pounds)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

Recipe

1.  Mix first 10 ingredients. Place onion, green pepper and celery in a 5-qt. slow cooker; place roast over top. Pour tomato mixture over roast.

2. Cook, covered, on low until meat is tender, 5-6 hours.

3. Remove roast.

4. Strain cooking juices, reserving vegetables.

5. Transfer juices to a small saucepan; skim fat.

6. Mix cornstarch and water until smooth; stir into cooking juices.

7. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes. 8. Serve roast and vegetables with gravy.

I am hoping for a good New Year’s Dinner this coming January 1, 2023.

The Writing Business VI

Well, I signed the contract. It was with Simon & Schuster, and the terms were good. I should get a lump sum of money (there will be 3 plus a percentage of the royalties) soon. I find myself imagining the things I will do with this “windfall”. Some of them are obvious: medical bills, student debts, and credit card bills. Then I may buy some new clothes (I haven’t gotten any new clothes in ages). Before I do all this I should have a meal out and maybe go to the book store. Maybe I will go to the Spice Merchant…

I am hoping that I can take a trip with Aunt Clara or Cousins Zsuzsanna or Renee to New Orleans… Years ago I went there because of Hurricane Katerina. Yet I would like to go there as a tourist… I would especially like to go there during Mardi Gras. For all that I am not Catholic, I find the city and its aura fascinating. I remember trying to write a book about it: The Ghosts of New Orleans. It was not much of a book. Yet I still fantasize about writing a book about New Orleans. I think of the Louis Armstrong song,

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that’s where you left your heart
And there’s something more
I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans…

As I do I imagine that beyond finishing The Ghosts of New Orleans, I could write another book of novellas: Gumbo: Three Jazz Novellas or Gumbo: Four Jazz Novellas. I forget what one of them is about, but the names of the stories are: “Willow Weep for Me”; “The Ancient Persimmon Tree”; “A Bracha said for Gumbo” and (possibly) “Daisy.”

In the meantime I have other projects. More: I have another contract on the way from a 2nd agent I have. He should be getting back to me next week. I am hoping that it will be all four books of The Bible According to Eve, with a contract for each individually. I am also hoping–and it may be in vain–that the publisher will be with HarperCollins.

Wish me further good luck.

The Writing Business V

Well… good news! One of my two agents has gotten me a contract with Simon & Schuster (for Faust in Love). It includes a plan of paying in installments, the first one being–I believe–when I am supposed to have signed on January 2, 2023. I sent the contract to a friend of mine with a law degree just to make sure there aren’t any bugs… but I think this is it: I will get four lump sums and a percentage of the royalties. I won’t give the exact amount, but I believe that this money marks the threshold of my being financially independent, and that next year–God willing–I will take in the delights (I speak this without irony) of paying taxes. To be a “burden” to society (not to mention one’s mother) is a terrible thing, and this being the first book sold is a wonderful thing because it means nobody can question my place in society now.

My other agent will call me next week, to offer me up several options for my 4-book omnibus The Bible According to Eve… I do not know if it will be as lucrative as Faust in Love left me, but I have high hopes. This second agent has copies of Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth and Poor Folk–but I suspect it will be some time before there is any consideration of publishing them… a 4-book set is already a hefty tomb to sell.

I know I shouldn’t brag–it is gosh to flash money around, whether it be a fortune or a pittance. Still, I am hoping I shall go to New Orleans with Aunt Clara or one of her daughters once all of my bills are paid. I went to New Orleans once before but it was not a pleasure trip… I hope to go again some day. Of course, a lot depends on Mom’s health… she has been having troubles lately and I don’t want to leave her behind if she is ill…

I and Thou: On Martin Buber

It has been a long time since I read Buber’s I and Thou, and yet I find myself thinking about him. In this book, Buber suggests that there are varieties of relationship between man and man; and man and God. There is the relationship in which the person relates to another man (or even God) as an “it”. Then there is the formal relationship of a business partner or school teacher (Sie). It is respectful but diffident, and prohibits the personal. Finally, there is the personal relationship between close friends, between lovers, and between God and those willing to let him in (du). There are different places where these relationships are “right”: not every friend is a close friend, and not every object a person relates to his a human being or even an animal. However, without that key “du” relationship, a person is empty.

Buber insists that a person finds God in relationships formed with other people. Wherever 2 people is, the 3rd is God. He came to this conclusion in part because he came to the serious belief that mysticism could be selfish. Once when he was into mysticism, a friend came to see him. Busy with his meditation, he sent the friend away. And the friend committed suicide. From then on he came to the conclusion that one must always be aware of the people around him.

I think Buber’s philosophy deserves consideration… particularly the insistence on relationship between man and man to God… yet I wonder if Judaism itself would be impossible without prayers and meditation. Of course, I admit that I am not big into the second… I have tried it and never figured out how. However, if a person skipped out on prayers directed to the One who is inside you and throughout creation… then their part of God shrinks… there is a story in the Talmud, where an evil man became so evil that he disappeared. If only that had happened to Hitler or Stalin. Yet those who are that evil are punished forever in the afterlife… Perhaps their existence was to complete their torment in the ends.

The point is that the very evil shrink what is Godly in them to nonexistence, and then receive their soul’s punishment afterwards. Yet it is not simply by saying their is no God that a person becomes evil, but by doing Godless acts. And Godless acts involve those with whom we should relate to as “Sie” and “du.” I believe even an animal can be a “du” and that the holiest people are those who have finally achieved a “du-du” relationship with God, in which they act for God and God shines through them. This is not to say that the just do not suffer, by the way. It is to say that God shines through the just… that is why the rare soul that achieves “union with God,” a Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi shines through with their love an compassion. Buber’s philosophy helps us understand this.

A Jew on Christmas Eve

At my computer on this Christmas Eve I am listening to Chris Botti’s “Impressions.” It is melancholy, and I feel its aura of sadness… I think the root cause of my sorrow is merely seeing a book I didn’t like the looks of by an author I thought I did… rather shallow on my part, I suppose… I won’t mention the book titles to damage the book I still want to read or cause people who side with the book I don’t like to write me off as a loser.

Mom is Christian and has set up her plastic tree… it is a small tree, and despite being plastic, a pretty one. Unfortunately, I did not get any meat or other condiments for Christmas Day… so we shall have latkes tomorrow… and our “Christmas meal” will be had on January 1. I guess it doesn’t matter–neither Mom nor I care a lot about Jesus’ birthday… Tomorrow I mean to finish a book called Great Cats, and this week I mean to read The Wolverine Way and pamphlet 1 of Great Epics of India: The Puranas.

I wish I could convince myself that I had enough time afterwards to read Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book. Perhaps I shall, before picking up and finishing The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History. After it I shall read The World of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman. Then I will move on to either my further research for A History of Frances Westin Williams or my research for Tales of the Firebird… both are pressing, because I want Mom to see to see A History of Frances Westin Williams before her dementia becomes too pronounced for her to get much out of it, and I want Tales of the Firebird to be written and published while it can do some good in the War in Ukraine. Both books will take a fair amount of research beyond what I have done.

In this last year Uncle Charlie died… Mom has been developing dementia for a while… Yet I believe that as long as I live, God lives in me. Despite the melancholy of Chris Botti’s trumpet, I believe I can be happy.

Our Continuing Pandemic

Having had COVID-19 myself–however mild a variant– I think about a subject that I think should concern all of us. Covid-19, though we have a vaccine, still is a major killer in America and abroad. We should encourage those who know us to get their first doses or any boosters which they haven’t gotten… but we should also worry, for moral and self-interested reasons, about the disease striking the people of the 3rd World–Brazil, Mexico and India being top of the list for places where COVID-19 has hit in a big way. Really, what happens there is sadder than even the deaths in America, because during the height of the pandemic–though it is not really over even yet–they had no way of protecting people from COVID-19: they could not isolate themselves and they had little access to the vaccine. That is why the United States and other rich countries should send the vaccine to Mexico, Brazil and India…

Though we should all bear in mind that even though it lingers, COVID-19 is a temporary thing, particularly if the vaccine is spread across the world. A similar virus in many ways, Influenza hit the world in 1918 and 1919 and during it’s height it felled 25 million people including 650,000 Americans. More, it was not until years after it hit that the cure was discovered. As with COVID-19, more people died because of misinformation containing a false optimism. Yet to quote the old saying, “This too shall pass” and eventually the disease disappeared…Yet as suddenly as it hit, it disappeared, leaving memories in places like Katherine Anne Porter’s novella Pale Death, Pale Rider.

Yet though “this too shall pass” we must not wait passively while people die…bearing in mind that “no man is an island unto himself” and that the sooner COVID-19 is dead in these countries the sooner the whole world is safe. More, though, there is a moral imperative that transcends national boundaries: we must all make sure that the fight against COVID-19 continues until the last case of COVID-19 is cured. And we must write letters to our representatives telling them that “we do not want to let those with little access to medicine who live abroad to be allowed to suffer and die.”