Wednesday, November 25, 2015

7 tricks I’ve learned to conquer my fear of doing interviews


What’s the secret to my success as a writer?

(asks nobody, ever… I know, I know)

Actually, I would say I’m doing okay as a writer.  I’m writing more or less full-time these days, even if it’s not all the kind of writing I love to do.

Shifting identity

I don’t usually offer a peek behind the scenes into my writing life.  However, one of the big shifts of moving to Israel has been transitioning my own identity, from being a homeschooling stay-home mom to a full-time freelance writer.

Over the years, probably the biggest hurdle I’ve cleared as a writer is learning the art of interviewing.  I knew, starting out, that I couldn’t just sell my own words.  Interviews make almost any type of article better and more authoritative.

Why interview?  Being able to interview well opens the door to a richer, more successful writing career in a few ways:

  • You can cover more topics, with experts to make your articles fascinating and well-rounded.
  • You can create Q&As with well-known people in your community and beyond.
  • Even if you’re writing fiction, source interviews will give your stories solid depth and authenticity.

But here’s the thing:  I hate talking on the phone.

Just Pretend

If you’re anything like me, the thought of interviewing anybody fills you with fear – let alone somebody well-known.  To this day, picking up the phone (and nowadays, pulling on my headphones), still fills me with dread.

In her new book, Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson shares some advice she received from writer Neil Gaiman, which says, “Pretend you’re good at it.”

Essentially, that’s what I’ve been doing over the years… except somewhere along the line, the word “pretend” dropped off and I found I really was doing the job.

And you know, it actually started to be kind of fun. 

Watching an interview with an expert on sex and disabilities, a guy in a wheelchair who happened to be Jewish, I thought of a million things I’d love to ask. I sold a Q&A to a Jewish paper in his area. I’d read a book and realize the author hadn’t explained something I wanted to know. I’d watch a TV show and discover that the host was going to be in town on a tour in a few weeks.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why I never run up to people and shout hello (a small story)


I was standing alone in the playground during recess when I spotted my grandfather all the way across at the other entrance to the park. “Zaidy!” I screamed, and started running to meet him, arms out wide though he was not the hugging type.

What was he doing here? Maybe he was coming to take me out of school? Maybe he’d pop me in his car and he’d drive, jerky like usual, the way my brother thought was hilarious. He’d pretend he had a donkey in the trunk, and take me somewhere special, just the two of us.

“Zaidy, hi, Zaidy,” I called, waving my arms frantically. “It’s me, it’s Jennifer!” He did not turn. He could not see me.

My zeidy was a quiet man who didn’t talk much. “Ess gezinteheit,” he’d say when we sat down to eat. My father said it meant, “Eat in good health.” He was the only person I knew who said that. He drank coffee every Saturday morning out of a huge glass mug with PAT on the side, which was not his name. He’d stir it, stir it, ever so carefully, before silently taking a sip. The mug came from the “chute,” the trash where he worked as a caretaker.

I had seen him at his house, drinking coffee. I had seen him at our house, eating barbecued hot dogs in the backyard off my father’s tiny hibachi. I had seen him in Miami, once, drinking coffee in the sun. But I had never seen him at the park before.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

If this is Kislev (so soon?)… this must be the November Jewish Book Carnival!!!

Welcome, welcome!  Only 2 days late and perhaps (as I tediously always say), a couple dollars short.  My excuse?  I have none… just working.  Life on Israel time is so incredibly fast-paced.  I would never have believed that having an extra working day in the week could possibly mean I would feel MORE busy.  Weird how that works. 

So enough about that. 

This is my third time I’ve been lucky enough to host the Jewish Book Carnival, and I’ve received so many terrific submissions from folks who are passionate about Jewish books.  Even if you're not Jewish, you can step inside (okay, scroll inside) and find some great books and writers about books from all over the internet.  I hope you’ll discover a new favourite blog or book today.

What goes on in a Jewish book carnival?

Glad you asked! 

imageHere, you’ll find…

  • Reviews of Jewish books
  • Interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, librarians, etc. about Jewish literature
  • Reporting on Jewish literary events (or the Jewish angle at non-Jewish events)
  • Reflective essays related to Jewish literature, which may include reflections on the process of creating a specific title (this is the one instance in which authors/publshers might discuss one of their own books, in a meaningful and non-commercial way that serves a larger goal)

The Jewish Book Carnival also has a GoodReads page, for discussions and more. Whether or not you’re participating, we hope you’ll stop by, join and take part!

If you want to host a future Jewish book carnival on your blog (and who wouldn’t?!?), contact Heidi at

And now… for the good stuff: 

The posts!

To start us off, Jill at Rhapsody in Books reviewed "The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach" by Pam Jenoff (book link here), a story about what befalls a young Italian Jewish immigrant Adelia (“Addie”) Montforte who arrived in America in 1941, having been sent by her parents to take refuge from the Germans.

Day of Blessings: a fun new book about Jewish prayer


Why wait until kids are older to start explaining the ideas behind Jewish prayers?  I created this book to share a new approach: explaining the series of brachos (brachot = prayers) we say each morning in a way that was clear and kid-friendly, not to mention fun. 

Don’t you love these little wooden dolls??? 

They’re doing something different on every single page of the book!  They’re a great way to get the point across in a way kids can relate to.

What you’ll find inside:

  • Full Hebrew text (with vowels!) of the 15 morning brachot (blessings)
  • Easy-to-read new English translations
  • Light rhyming verses to communicate core concepts
  • Fun, lively illustrations highlighting one key idea behind each bracha
  • Available in Print or Ebook form (Kindle, unlocked and convertible to Epub or any other form you like for reading on screen or device)

Check out the back cover of the book, along with a few sample spreads from inside:






Honestly, I want to share the whole thing with you – but the best way for me to do that is to send you over to Amazon where for the month of November (2015) only, you can buy the Kindle version for an introductory, new-release price of 99 cents.  It’s free to borrow if you have Kindle Unlimited, and as with all my books, the ebook is always free with purchase of the print edition.

I invite you to check it out over here:  Day of Blessings: Traditional Jewish Morning Blessings in Rhyme.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Sunday, November 01, 2015

What does it mean when Hashem makes a promise? Thoughts for Chayei Sarah


Over the last 3 parshiyos since we first encountered the personality of Avraham Avinu, we've seen Hashem making two distinct promises to him: ארץ/eretz and זרע/zera, the land and the offspring. Hashem makes these promises not once, not twice, but... FIVE SEPARATE TIMES.

Yet in each of these three parshiyos, we've repeatedly seen the future of these two promises called into doubt.

Last week, with Hashem's call to kill Yitzchak at the akeida, for instance (a friend pointed out that Hashem didn’t say to kill Yitzchak, but rather to take him up – fair point, but since they brought along wood and a knife, I have to believe that one or both of them probably figured there would be killing going on).

In this week's parsha, there are two themes that threaten those promises: the haggling with Efron over the cave and the desperate search for a wife for a middle-aged, pining-over-Sara Yitzchak.

Now, keep in mind that I’m coming at this story as a writer. 

From the perspective of a writer, it’s lousy if your audience knows the ending ahead of time (or think they do), because you want to be able to throw twists and turns at them. You want to be able to surprise them.

Unfortunately, we’ve been reading the Torah so long, year after year, we think we’re immune to surprises.

Also, it’s written in a way that the surprises aren’t so obvious.  If this was being written today, you'd want to show all the suspense, because there surely is a lot of suspense in this parsha.

To begin with, what’s going to happen with Efron, with the land?  Why is it such a big “balagan” (as we say here in Israel) to begin with?

Good question.

We have to realize that we’re not just talking about any old cave here – this is an inheritance that Avraham will pass along for all the generations. We know this is an important patch of land because we still have it – and cherish it – to this day.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Once upon a time, in Bnei Brak …


Once upon a time, there were two brothers.

Except they weren't really brothers, were they?

No, they were half brothers.

And one hated Judaism.

Yes, he did. 

So much.  So, so much.

Well, okay, don't get me wrong.  He was proud to be a Jew.

But he hated... Judaism.

Kind of, yeah.

And the other brother?


Yes, him.

He came to Israel.  He lived it.  It's a simple story, really.

Is it?

Yes.  He came to Israel after the war, he had three children here, they had children, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, without end.  Ayn sof.

And the other brother?


Yup.  Where did he go?


Did he have children?

Oh, yes.  Actually, he also had three.

Did they have children?

Yes, seven of them.  He had seven grandchildren.  Five great-grandchildren.

Are they Jewish?