I appeared on the TV show Press:Here this morning talking about ebooks and my checkered past. Scott McGrew of NBC, Mike Krey of Investor's Business Daily, and Jon Swartz of USA Today were my interlocutors. What do you think?
Let me generate some envy among my friends. While they're heading to Baltimore for four days of schmoozing, drinking, and carousing at Bouchercon, the world’s largest crime fiction conference, I am getting ready to spend a day meditating and praying and fasting. Let them eat (don’t say that word to me tomorrow) their hearts out.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starts this evening and the fasting that goes with it is supposed to encourage introspection, I guess. The rules are tough in one respect – no liquid or food from sundown tonight till darkness tomorrow – but reasonable in another: the young, elderly, nursing, pregnant, or sick are absolved from fasting. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a tea addict. The hot green liquid fuels my writing engine. Part of being an addict is craving. The other part is a physical reaction when your addiction goes unsatisfied. I qualify on that score, too. If I don’t have tea, I end up with a whopper of a headache. An iron band closes around my forehead, while the top of my head is used as an anvil by an invisible blacksmith. Several years ago a rabbi-friend told me that God doesn’t want me writhing in agony during services. So once or twice tomorrow, I’ll swallow a couple of Excedrin, a dry cocktail of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine.
Living amidst the riches of Silicon Valley requires a level head and good balance. (One daughter had her locker next to a classmate’s whose father made more than $250M in salary and bonus in a single year.) Otherwise, one would spend all his time bursting with envy. An underestimated factor in garnering Silicon Valley wealth is luck. There used to be an eTrade billboard on 101 that said, “Someone will win the lottery. It just won’t be you.” Exactly. In the middle of a wall in my office, I have a piece of framed parchment with a quote from the ancient sage Ben Zoma. In Hebrew it asks, “Who is rich? The person who rejoices in what he has.” I keep trying to remember that as I watch my savings evaporate. I have my family, friends, colleagues, writing, and more – despite the confounded stock market, I need to rejoice more. A worthy resolution for year 5769 on the Jewish calendar, don’t you think?
May you all be sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year.
Mark Terry, my fellow Inkspot blogger, asked a couple of weeks ago what advice you would give to your 15-year old self. "Groundhog Day" builds a movie around a similar theme -- what if you could keep repeating your life till you got it right?
Apparently, the film has great appeal to Jews, Christians, and especially Buddhists. A 2003 New York Times article, reports that Angela Zito of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University tells her class that "Groundhog Day perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape."
On top of everything else, the movie resonates for me as a novelist. Writing gives me just the opportunity that Bill Murray gets in "Groundhog Day." I can live in my fictional world and keep going back over and over what's happening till I get it right. Draft 2 is closer than the first draft. Somewhere around Draft 8 I usually get it the way I want it. When rewriting, I live in an alternate reality where the premise of "Groundhog Day" comes true. It's all part of the continuing cycle of suffering which we writers try to escape.
I went to last night's Giants game to see Barry Bonds hit a home run or two. A failed mission. Between innings, the scoreboard had a quiz. Who is first baseman Ryan Klesko's favorite actor: A) Tom Hanks, B) Mel Gibson, or C) Jim Carrey? Then on came a video of Mr. Klesko in which he declared for B. The entire episode was sponsored by Hebrew National Kosher Hot Dogs. I have to say that seemed a little incongruous to me, given MG's anti-semitic rant of last year. But I guess it's not for me to make sense of it. After all, Hebrew National's famous slogan is "We answer to a higher authority."
As noted the other day, my wife, with some assistance from #2, #3, and #4, got the house ready for Passover while #1 and I gallivanted around L.A. Anything with wheat, corn, yeast, etc. had to go. The pantry shelves, garage, and fridge look spic and span. Then last night seventeen us were over for a Seder and feasting.
I've been told Passover is the world's longest continuously celebrated holiday. Of course, the holiday celebrates freedom, the Israelites' escape from slavery in Mitzrayim, which is usually translated as "Egypt." Mitzrayim more literally means a "narrow place," a place where one is confined, constricted, imprisoned, or enslaved. Last night we said prayers for people who, like the Israelites in Egypt, do not enjoy freedom today. At the same time, thinking more figuratively, we ourselves can find ourselves constricted by a desire for money, an unpleasant job, a health condition, a bad story outline, and on and on. So during this Passover week, I'll be thinking about how to free myself from any narrow places I've managed to wedge myself in.
I've donated money to the National Yiddish Book Center which gathers and saves Yiddish books from around the world. Doing a little to save a millenium of rich culture should be reward enough in itself. Still, receiving the Center's quarterly Pakn Treger (i.e., Book Peddler) is a welcome lagniappe. The latest issue carries a transcript of an interview from last December with Allegra Goodman, author of Total Immersion, The Family Markowitz, Kaaterskill Falls, Paradise Park, and Intuition. It's not too much of a stretch to call the last of these, her most recent, a mystery. You know, there are some people who are so far out of your league that you can't be envious of them. Such is the case with Ms. Goodman who had a story accepted by Commentary on her first day at Harvard.
I laughed aloud when I read this question and her answer:
Q. You have four kids now. How does one remain a writer with four kids?
A. This is one of the deep questions of my life.
Certainly, writing a novel does give us writers the chance to create a fictional universe. That's almost like playing God, isn't it? Here's what Ms. Goodman says about that: "The writer struggles too much to be like God, that's the problem. It's just too hard for us...."
January 1 does not really feel like the beginning of the new year to me. To me the new year seems to start with the rush and the flurry of a new academic year and the coming of Rosh Hashonah in September. At a party Sunday night I asked friends whether January 1 feels more like the start of a new year or if the beginning of school does. Like me, these friends spent a fair amount of their lives in school and now have kids in school. All said September. Jews in September say "l'shona tova tikatevu." That means "May you be inscribed for a good year." If the Almighty is busy inscribing our fates for the coming year in a master ledger, who am I to argue? For me, the real new year is in September, and we're four months into the 2006-07 academic year or year 5767 on the Jewish calendar.
Still, not to overdo the New Year Scrooge business, I do want to wish everyone out there a Happy New Year. Nothing wrong with celebrating. Cheers!
After reading (and enjoying) Dot Dead, a customer at Bob & Bob, a Jewish bookstore in Palo Alto, said to the proprietor, "I thought you only carried Jewish books." So, is Dot Dead a Jewish book?
The main character is Jewish. So is the murder victim. And for that matter so is the author. Quite a few critics have noted the Jewish flavor of the book. Library Journal wrote, "Add a Jewish mother and a great rabbi to the mix and you can't go wrong." Okay, so there are two more Jewish characters in the book. I still don't think that's enough to make Dot Dead a Jewish book.
I did try to write a book with a Jewish flavor. The central tenets of Judaism are the mirror image of what keeps Silicon Valley a high tech powerhouse. Judaism stands for community, the Valley for individualism. The Valley is all about acquiring wealth through stock options and such. Judaism is for acquiring wealth, too. It's just that wealth is not defined in material terms. Judaism esteems a "tzaddik" or "tzaddekes" (a righteous man or woman). The Valley's heroes are entrepreneurs and CEO's (whose character and ethics are not always above reproach). Part of the story I try to tell in Dot Dead is how Ian Michaels moves, whether consciously or not, from a Silicon Valley value system toward a Jewish one.
When I explained to one friend what I was trying to do, she said that she didn't notice any of that at all when reading the book. Perfect. As Mary Poppins says, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." I wanted to write a fun read, not a preachy Ayn Rand style novel. I especially appreciated what Bookreporter.com had to say. As Joe Hartlaub wrote, "Dot Dead... deals, quietly but effectively, with spiritual and ethical concerns, infusing them into the narrative without overwhelming it." He doesn't specifically mention the Jewish aspect of the book, and that's fine. The Jewish values mentioned above overlap considerably with those of other religions. I certainly did not mean to write a book that would appeal only to Jews.
So what makes a Jewish book in your opinion? Does Dot Dead meet your criteria?