January 2021:Readers' favorites, a long prompt, and a bonus recipe for the new year

Dear Friends,

Happy 2022! I hope you are healthy and looking forward to many things in the new year. December ended up being quite a rollercoaster for me. Scroll down for book recs, a new Literary Modiin event, two recipes and more!


Brief writing update: I made some good headway on my current story-in-progress, and I can see the end (of draft one) in sight. My current word count is nearing 12,000 words, so it will have to be pared waaay down! It’s another (new) Jeremiah story, this one told from his father’s point of view.


ICYMI, I had three published pieces in 2021: Rock of Ages” (a new Jeremiah short story in JewishFiction.net); “Growth Hacking” (flash fiction, The Maine Review); and “Lessons from our Backyard Bat Mitzvah” (essay - the anniversary of which was this past weekend, Jewish Women’s Archive).


Who knows what the coming year will bring in terms of publications, but my writing goals for 2022 are simple: keep writing and revising.


On the personal front: I had a bad biking accident at the beginning of December. Nothing broken, thankfully, but my face and body took a beating. Stitches in a bunch of places and 11(!!) hours in the ER. Fortunately, I was with my riding partner, there other people were around, and my amazing family and friends took good care of me. Happy to report that I am back to riding, now with a super-strong helmet. (I was wearing a helmet, but the new one will provide better protection if I should ever going flying over the handlebars again. Let’s hope it won’t be put to the test!)


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Recommended Reads

I read 81 books in 2021 (the same as 2020)! A few weeks ago I asked for your favorite reads of 2021. Here are the results:



Thanks to all who participated! I'm especially excited to see so many books featured by Literary Modiin in the top 16: Menachem Kaiser's Plunder, R.L. Maizes' Other People's Pets, Avner Landes' Meiselman: The Lean Years, and Lori Banov Kaufmann's Rebel Daughter. You can see all 160 books recommended by your fellow readers here.

Here are my top three recommendations for this month:


You Are Not What We Expected by Sidura Ludwig: I adored this collection of interlinked stories, set in a Jewish community in suburban Toronto. Many of the stories center around Isaac Levine, who has returned from Los Angeles to help his sister care for her motherless grandchildren. Other stories deal with marriages gone wrong, parents and children, aging relatives, all told with a deft humor and compassion. Readers of this newsletter will find much to admire in these stories, and much that is familiar. You Are Not What We Expected was recently awarded the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature in the fiction category, and I wholeheartedly agree with the jury’s comment about the collection: “storytelling with a heartbreaking comedic sense of timing… Ludwig’s short-clipped understated prose is by turns surprising, touching, funny, beautiful, and sad.” Highly recommended! Watch Sidura discuss her book at Literary Modiin’s December event.


The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: I aspire to write characters like Amor Towles, each one delightful in his or her own way. It’s no surprise this was the top choice of readers this year. The novel follows three young men and one boy who set out in search of a fresh start: Emmett and Billy want to find their mother who left them when they were young, and Duchess and Woolly are hunting for a stashed wad of cash. Adventure ensues. As the Washington Post puts it: “Gorgeously crafted . . stylish, sophisticated storytelling . . . The novel embraces the contradictions of our character with a skillful hand, guiding the reader forward with 'a sensation of floating – like one who’s being carried down a wide river on a warm summer day.'”


Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead: Great Circle is a sprawling, epic novel, centered on the dual stories of a fictional female pilot, Marian Graves, and a modern-day actress, Hadley Baxter, who is to play Marian in a movie. The level of detail and research is impressive; readers journey to prohibition Montana, Los Angeles, with stops in Alaska, Seattle, wartime London, a German POW camp, the South Pacific, and finally on a pole-to-pole round the world flight during which Marian's plane disappears. Again, no surprise that Great Circle was a Readers’ Choice winner, not to mention Booker Prize finalist. I liked this blurb from the Boston Globe: “Shipstead's writing soars and dips with dizzying flair . . . Many authors attempting to create an epic falter at the end, but Shipstead never wavers, pulls out a twist or two that feel fully earned, and then sticks the landing. An expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world.”


Story of the Month: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone (X-R-A-Y) by Patricia Bidar. I love the voice and the final reveal in this flash fiction piece, which takes place in my old stomping grounds (but miles away from my own experience)!


Events & Classes

I have an in-person event this month at the Palace in Modiin, a local assisted living facility (rescheduled due to my accident). I don’t have anything else scheduled until March, so if you're in a book club, please consider The Book of Jeremiah for a future selection. I'd be happy to Zoom in!


Literary Modiin’s January author event: Join me on Sunday, January 9 at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern, to hear from Julie Orringer (The Flight Portfolio), Caroline Goldberg Igra (From Where I Stand) and Allison Schachter and Jordan Finkin, translators of Fradl Shtok’s From the Jewish Provinces. Very excited for this one! Register here!



Missed a Literary Modiin event? Watch any of them here.

I’m also looking forward to two classes this month: Flash Fiction Festival Day this coming Saturday, which I’ll join after Shabbat is over here, and later this month a one-week generative class with One Story. Great prompts and exercises, great community!


Prompt of the Month: Mad Libs

This is a fun one, which I’ve used in my current work-in-progress. Take a sentence that you love, and break it down by paying attention to the content words. Then swap in your own content words, changing the meaning of the sentence but preserving its grammatical structure. (For a much better explanation and lesson on this, check out Matt Bell’s recent newsletter on sentence structure). For some reason, I chose a very complicated, long sentence to play with, from Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir, I Am I Am I Am (p. 155): “She rests her cheek against the woolen nap of his coat and breathes there, picturing the molecules of him, his scent, his skin, his cloths, his hair, drawn down into her lungs, along the pathways and tributaries of her bronchial tubes, her alveoli, dissolving there into her bloodstream and being carried away, sporing and spinning into the most secret junctions of her self.


My main character is male, so my mad libs looked something like this: He [verb] his [noun] against the [adjective] [noun] of his [noun] and [verb] there, [gerund] the [noun] of him, his [noun], his [noun], his [noun], his [noun], [verb phrase] into his [noun], along the [noun] and [noun] of his [adjective] [noun], his [noun], [gerund] there into his [noun] and being [verb phrase], [gerund] and [gerund] into the [adjective] [adjective] [noun] of his [noun].


My resulting sentence isn’t exactly one to one of the original, but that’s okay. Does it work? You tell me: “Overcome, Abe enfolds Jeremiah into a bear hug of an embrace, resting his head along his son’s shoulder, inhaling his essence, the faint whiff of lavender and cypress from his recently laundered tee shirt, his graying goatee, his heft and height, his Jewish soul on this beloved American soil, awash with gratitude at being alive, pride in his grandnephew’s bravery, affection flowing through his bloodstream and energizing the crevices and capillaries of his aging body.”


Recipes of the Month: Tomato Pepper Bisque (Soup) & Herbed Balsamic Chicken

Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with two yummy recipes (a bonus one for 2022).


Tomato Pepper Bisque (Soup)

After my bike accident, my friend Rachel was one of the first people who stopped by (well, not exactly stopped by, she came all the way from Jerusalem), bringing with her the most delicious tomato soup ever, and it is now my new comfort food. Turns out the original recipe is our friend Jay’s (a former professional chef), so it’s no surprise that it’s delish. I’ve made it twice since then, and I ought to double or triple the recipe because my family laps it up so quickly I barely get to have more than one or two bowls. Enjoy!


Ingredients:

10 medium sized very ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 TBSP tomato paste

2 stalks celery, diced small

1 red pepper, diced small

1 green pepper, diced small

1 large onion chopped

Leaves of 4 basil sprigs, chopped

1 box 15% cream (~250 grams)

Plenty of salt and pepper


Instructions: Sautee onion, peppers and celery in butter until onions are golden. Add tomatoes and cover. Cook until tomatoes are decomposed. Add a cup of water if tomatoes weren’t ripe/wet enough. Add the tomato paste and mix in, followed by the basil, salt and pepper. Blend with immersion blender until smooth. Cook a bit more, and then add the cream. If you’re not serving the soup right away, add the cream when you warm the soup up.



Herbed Balsamic Chicken

My favorite new chicken recipe! I’ve adapted it from Kosher by Design (which I’ve had for years but somehow never noticed this simple, delicious recipe).


Ingredients:

2 big handfuls of whatever fresh herbs you have in the house or in the garden. I used parsley, basil, nana (spearmint), sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme, all of which is growing in my pandemic victory garden)

1/4 c balsamic vinegar

1/4 c olive oil

2 TBSP grainy dijon mustard

2 chickens, cut into 1/8ths

Salt & pepper


Instructions: Mix all the herbs, balsamic vinegar, oil, mustard, salt & pepper in a food processor or use an immersion blender and pulse until you have a coarse (very green) paste. Spread over the chicken and marinate for 3-4 hours or overnight. Bake uncovered at 350 F/ 175 C for 1 1/2 hours.



Stay healthy and safe out there, people. See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!