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September 2020 newsletter: the southern hills, a new virtual author event, and a refreshing treat

Dear Friends,

I hope you are staying healthy and that you managed to have a decent summer, despite everything. While we missed seeing family and friends in the US this summer, I DID get a lot of great reading in.

Brief writing update: After a year and a half hiatus, I’ve delved back into my novel draft. Wish me luck! I’m signed up for an intensive “big picture” novel workshop* in October, for which I can submit up to 200 pages! (I completed a first draft of about 75,000 words back in 2016, but haven’t worked on it much since then. My goal now is to get through an entire second draft.) As for the two short stories I started since March, the new Molly story is about 85 percent of the way towards a first draft, and the other one is around halfway, both on hold until I submit my 200 pages on September 15…

Other good news from the last month:

  • My lyrical essay, Snapshot of the Southern Hills, was published last week by the online literary journal Atlas & Alice. Hooray! If you haven’t seen it yet, have a look to see how I spend my Tuesday mornings. (As a result, I often don’t get any writing time on those days, but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make). I learned what a lyric essay** is in an essay-writing class taught by E.B. Bartels last year through GrubStreet.

  • Speaking of classes, I took another excellent one with Ilana Blumberg earlier this month. Writers: try to take a class with Ilana if you can!

  • I had the honor of meeting with three synagogue book groups this month, including Temple Sholom of Chicago, where a weekly study group has been discussing (and psychoanalyzing) Jeremiah chapter-by-chapter. This still blows me away - so grateful and humbled!

Recommended Reading

I’ll say one thing for COVID-19: I’m now nine books ahead of my (self-imposed) challenge to read 60 books this year. Here’s the list of the 49 books I’ve read thus far in 2020. For this month, I’m happy to highly recommend:

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips - This beautiful, gripping debut novel was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, and it’s easy to see why. The book follows the lives of various characters and communities in the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia in the wake of a kidnapping. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece, and I’m in awe of the author. We had a great discussion about it in my local book club.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - Perhaps the most important book I’ve read thus far in 2020, Just Mercy is Stevenson’s account of his work as a lawyer defending the poor and wrongly condemned. To quote one of the reviews, it’s “a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.” The book is heartbreaking (but unfortunately not surprising), and was named one of the most influential books of the decade by CNN. Thank goodness for people like Bryan Stevenson, a true hero.

Crosscurrents and Other Stories by Gerry Wilson - I ached for the characters in this beautiful debut story collection. From an aunt left to pick up the pieces and raise her niece after her sister's death, to a divorced couple headed to meet their first grandchild and the young couples struggling with illness or tragedy, each character is deftly drawn. Wilson’s stories give us the highs and lows of the moments that make up a life: relationships, parenting, aging, love, grief, and every emotion in between. (Each time I read a Press 53 book, I am humbled to be in this company. Here’s the recording of a July event I took part in with Gerry and Shuly Cawood).

Story/poem of the month

Baikal: Thanks to an email from NYT Cooking, in which the food editors sometimes mention other things they are reading, I came across this excellent story by Lindsay Starck in New England Review. I love the structure and the content!


  • After a busy summer, I don’t have any events scheduled until December. If you know of a book group interested in discussing The Book of Jeremiah, I’d love to connect!

  • Literary Modiin’s September Author Event is coming up in a few days - Sunday, September 6 - at 8 pm Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Register here to get the Zoom link. This was supposed to be an in-person event back in March, but now that it’s virtual, I’m thrilled that people from all over the globe can attend. Our event features an all-star lineup of Israel-based writers: Janice Weizman (author of The Wayward Moon), Evan Fallenberg (author of The Parting Gift; Light Fell; and When We Danced on Water), and Joanna Chen (poet, essayist, and translator), together with Yonatan Berg (author of Frayed Light).

Monthly Writing Prompt

Lost and found (h/t Ilana Blumberg): Choose a period in your life (i.e. college, early parenthood, the last six months…) and make a list of things lost and a second list of things found during the period. Pick one from each list, and write a story about them!

Recipe: Watermelon & feta salad

Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. As far as fruit goes, this has been my summer of watermelon. I’ve even been successful at growing a couple small ones in my corona victory garden. I think of this watermelon & feta recipe as very Israeli or Middle Eastern, though I have no idea if it is. My version is simple: chunks of watermelon, crumbled feta, and fresh sprigs of nana (mint), and voila, a refreshing treat. Optional additions: thinly sliced red onion, olives, a splash of balsamic vinegar or olive oil, or all of the above. I serve this when friends are over, but it’s also my go-to midday snack (or sometimes lunch). Enjoy!

See you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more, and shana tova to those celebrating!

*Here’s more about the big picture novel-writing class I’m taking with Amy Wallen and David L. Ulin.

**A lyric essay, in E.B.’s words, is one that “focuses on the language…and makes an important point but is also…beautiful and lovely to read, sort of like a long prose poem.”

As always, if you’ve read (and liked) The Book of Jeremiah, please leave a brief review on Amazon or wherever you purchase books online. Thank you!


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