Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How Do You Spell Hanukkah?

The holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, begins tonight with the traditional lighting of the first candle on the Hanukkah menorah. The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple, wrestled from the Greeks by Judah the Maccabee in the year 164 BCE. The Maccabees were a family from the town of Modiin, and they founded the Hasmonean dynasty that would rule the country until Roman times.

According to tradition, the oil used in the Temple's re-dedication was only supposed to last one day, but miraculously lasted for eight days instead. From this miracle, holiday customs and traditions developed celebrating both the festive lights and the oil itself.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Catholics in the Holy City of Jerusalem



How is it possible to live in Israel for over forty years and not be familiar with all of the winding streets of the Old City of Jerusalem? How could it be that within the walls there are churches of such stunning beauty but I never knew they existed in Israel?

My wife and I signed up for a four-session touring course on "Minorities in the Old City of Jerusalem" and the first visit was to the Christian Quarter, to learn about the role the Catholics play in the Holy City. The tour had been organized by Zman Eshkol, the leading operator of leisure studies in Israel, and our guide for the day is Esther Sa'ad.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How I Got 10,000 Twitter Followers in Less than 10 Months



An aspiring author asked me recently how I had managed to build up such a large social media platform in such a short period of time. I had set up my Twitter account at the beginning of February and was nearing 10,000 followers when he asked. I was glad to share my experiences and offer some advice. But first, I told him, a more important question was asking why it was important to me to have such a large Twitter following.

I have always had problems connecting with Facebook's interface, and in fact, many of my 'friends' seem a lot less active these days. Either that or I just never see their posts because of Facebook's incomprehensible algorithms. I never set up a Facebook author page, deciding instead to use Twitter as my primary promotion platform, and as a way of connecting with other writers.

You have to relate to Twitter with an understanding of what you can get out of it. Most of my followers are fellow writers, so I never shout out "Buy my book" in my tweets. I have sold a few books directly thru Twitter, but I think I could count these sales on two hands. So, why is Twitter important to me?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Who Will Die Last, a Review



My review of David Ehrlich's short story collection is longer than the shortest story in the book. This is a slim volume which despite its brevity, gives readers a realistic, touching and memorable view of different aspects of Israeli life.

Although the stories of Who Will Die Last barely fill 150 pages, one shouldn't attempt to finish them in one sitting. Each story has to be digested by itself; each one lingers pleasantly after completion. Some of the stories, barely a page or two long, are just right at that length, while others introduce us to characters we wish to know further and situations that we wish would last longer.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Tastes and Colors of South Tel Aviv



When tourists come to Tel Aviv they spend time on the sandy beaches, eat in tasty restaurants, visit galleries and museums, stroll through ancient Jaffa, and enjoy a city with thriving nightlife. But for many Israelis, even someone like me who commutes to Tel Aviv for work every day, there are parts of the city that I don’t know at all.

My wife and I signed up for a three-part visit to the markets of Tel Aviv, with a focus on the special tastes and foods available. The course is run by Zman Eshkol, the leading operator of leisure studies in Israel, and our guide for the day is the very knowledgeable Or Rein.

The tour starts at the iconic Shalom Tower, once the highest skyscraper in the entire Middle East. Let's step inside for a little bit of history about Tel Aviv's origins, and then we'll begin tasting the special foods that Tel Aviv has to offer.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Scenes from "Valley of Thracians": Belogradchik

One of my most memorable trips while living in Bulgaria was to Belogradchik in the northwestern part of the country, not far from the Serbian border. Belogradchik, a town whose name literally means "small white town," is famous for the nearby Belogradchik Rocks formation and the medieval Belogradchik Fortress, which was built in and around the massive rock cliffs.

I was so impressed by what I saw that I knew that I would have to include a scene in Belogradchik in the suspense novel I was writing. I wasn't sure if I would be able to capture the unique, striking beauty of this natural wonder, which served as Bulgaria's candidate in the 2009 New 7 Wonders of Nature competition.

Belogradchik is a must-see destination for any tourist coming to Bulgaria, but like much of the country, it remains off-the-beaten track for most visitors. Join me now on a virtual tour of Belogradchik, where one of the pivotal scenes of Valley of Thracians takes place, with accompanying texts from my novel.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How I Found Time to Write in My Busy Schedule



I am frequently asked what the most difficult part of being a writer is. Is it conceiving the initial outline for the plot of a novel? Or the development of the characters? Perhaps editing is the most challenging part of the process? Many fellow authors argue that marketing their books takes up the majority of their time and, admittedly, marketing a book is much more difficult than writing and editing.

For me, though, the most difficult part of being a writer is finding the time to write. I commute to my office job every day, getting stuck in traffic in at least one direction. While at work I try to concentrate on my job. By the time I return home in the evening hours I am physically exhausted and my mind is drained of all creativity. Weekends, unfortunately, offer less of an opportunity to write than I would like. I prefer to spend my free time with my wife and family. Also, I like to read, travel, watch entertaining television shows, and take long walks.

So, when is there time to write? I finally found a solution.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Former Mossad Agent Pens Mossad Thriller



Mishka Ben-David's spy thriller Duet in Beirut is extremely realistic due to the author's twelve years of service in the Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency.

According to former Mossad agent turned author Mishka Ben-David, "one out of a 1000 operations go wrong." Ben-David should know, as he participated in the 1997 botched assassination attempt on the life of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. It was Ben-David who handed the antidote to the poison injected into Mashaal's body over to the Jordanians in exchange for the two Mossad agents who were captured.

Another botched assassination attempt takes place in Ben-David's 2002 spy thriller, Duet in Beirut, which has just been published in English for the first time with a seamless translation by author Evan Fallenberg.

Friday, November 1, 2013

How I Made My Book Trailer in One Hour, for Free



I invite you to view the book trailer for Valley of Thracians and get your impressions of it. Not of the book, but of the book trailer itself. What do you think?

Viewers of the trailer have told me that it gives a good sense of Bulgaria, a country that they have never visited, and one about which they know very little. Also, viewers have said that the trailer is very suspenseful, highlighting the mysteries that await readers of the book.

So, take less than two minutes of your time to view the trailer, and then I'll tell you how I made it in one hour, absolutely for free. I'll tell you upfront that I have no experience editing videos and I've never done this before. If I could do it, so can you.