Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"Rakiya" Shortlisted for International Book Award

I am excited to share: Rakiya, my as-yet unpublished short story collection, has been listed as a finalist in the Eyelands Book Awards 2021 - an international contest for published/unpublished books based in Greece.

Rakiya is one of 4 finalists in the unpublished short story collection category. Winners will be announced on December 30th.

Full details of the awards and the finalists: https://eyelandsawards.com/

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Are These Writers Nuts? - #NaNoWriMo (from the archive)


Here’s the challenge: write a 50,000 word novel during November. That’s 1,667 words a day, every day, for thirty days. Don’t bother to edit now, just write. Who would take on this wild challenge? I have an excuse (I am currently in the advanced editing stages of an already written novel)*, but some 250,000 writers from all over the world are hitting their keyboards furiously every day this month. Some of them are published authors. Are they crazy?

Welcome to November, designated as the National Novel Writing Month. That’s NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for even shorter…


According to the NaNo website, hundreds of thousands of writers around the world are expected to pledge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. “There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone reads them.” So, what’s the point?

“The 50,000 word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” says NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. “When you write for quantity, instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it’s a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month.”

According to the site, more than 90 novels begun during the annual November promotion have since been published, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a New York Times #1 best seller.

This year, some of the writers started their NaNo project precisely at the stroke of midnight, November 1. Others hope for a fortuitous start if they begin writing at exactly 11:11 on November 11th. But by then, some of their fellow writers will have already written more than 16,000 words.

Maggie from "Maggie Madly Writing" says that she plans to “write precisely 1,667 words a day – sometimes a little more. On days when I know I’m not going to be around the computer, I’ll write two days’ worth of words in one day.”

Kim Wright, author of Love in Mid Air, which I previously reviewed, says that this is her first year for NaNo. “As a longtime writer, I’ve been vaguely familiar with the concept for years but I have the sense that it’s growing as a movement, building towards some sort of critical mass.”

Jeff, the self-described Doubting Writer, says he must be “nuts” to join the NaNo craze. “Whether I produce anything of value is an entirely different question.”

If you’re an aspiring writer, should you attempt NaNo this year? Here are 5 reasons to do it. As for advice how to get through the month, check out these NaNo Rules that Lead to Progress.

Good luck to all you NaNo writers! As I edit my previously written manuscript I'll be thinking of you. Let me know how you did when December comes around.

* This article was originally posted in November 2011. Ten years later, authors are still attempting to pen their novels during the month of November. Write on!

Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Review of ‘Angels & Tahina’ by Tzippi Moss

In the autumn of 2009, Tzippi Moss, her husband Allan, and their son Ezra, set out to hike the Israel Trail, a 1000-kilometer trek from Kibbutz Dan in the north, to the shores of the Red Sea in Israel’s south. Their goal was not only to experience the country’s beauty on foot, but also to raise funds to research cures for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the progressive nervous system disease commonly known as ALS that took the life of Allan's mother.

Angels & Tahina: 18 Lessons from Hiking the Israel Trail by Tzippi Moss (Goat Path Publications, September 2020) came 11 years later. The book is part travelogue, part memoir, and part a collection of life lessons.

“Each chapter is organized around a specific life lesson,” Moss writes in her introduction. These lessons, “inspired primarily by folks I met along the way … may zigzag between far-flung locations on the trail.”

One of the first non-chronological chapters is ‘Commit to the Journey’. While Tzippi and her husband had hiked frequently in the past, it wasn’t clear to her if she was capable of leaving her coaching practice and committing to two months on the trail. “I love starting something new,” she writes. “It’s just the follow-through I’m challenged by.”

She prepares for her trek meticulously, purchasing suitable hiking boots, packing sufficient food, and planning where to hide caches of it to be retrieved later. Yet nothing can adequately prepare her for handling the toll on her physical and mental health. She will have to acquire additional skills along the journey, and she shares the process with readers.

The family is buoyed by faith, and their love for Israel. “God, thank you for keeping our steps steady and secure so that we may continue walking for all those who are not able to do so,” they say each morning. “Help us to get to our destination.”

The tahina in the book’s title refers to the “ubiquitous tahina” they packed for sustenance, because “it stores well, provides protein, fat, and calcium.” Angels refers to a network of some 500 people from Dan to Eilat who regularly extend warm hospitality to Israel Trail hikers.

Tzippi and her family may have enjoyed warm showers, comfortable beds, and Shabbat meals in kibbutzim and development towns along their route, but the success of their trek depended entirely on them. By journey’s end they had not only raised funds to combat ALS, but had also learned the power of family and commitment to achieving the impossible.

Readers will admire both the author’s perseverance and her remarkable ability to share life lessons for both body and soul, lessons that will be valued by all, whether they hike or not.

Tzippi Moss, a resident of Jerusalem, is a holistic psychotherapist at Inner Alchemist Coaching who counsels individuals and couples. Her specialties include mediation, financial counseling, dream work, EMDR, brainspotting, EFT, life and business coaching, medical coaching, stress reduction and relaxation techniques. Angels & Tahina is her first book.


Originally published at The Times of Israel.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hiking in Israel - the Chinese Hole

 
“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

The Chinese Hole is a deep, vertical cave set in a karst landscape in the settlement of Ofra, northeast of Jerusalem. When discovered by explorers from the Israel Cave Research Center in the 1980s, it wasn’t clear how deep the cave went, and they joked it must go all the way to China. Now it is known that it reaches a depth of 60 meters.

I joined a group of hikers and arrived at the site early Friday morning. We were outfitted with head lamps and helmets, prepared for our descent. The opening is about 1 meter x 1.5 meter, and entering the cave requires a bit of crawling. Hitting the low ceiling, I was glad I was wearing the helmet.

Amazingly, spelunkers from the Center have constructed a series of metal steps and ladders inside the cave, so no rappelling is involved. Still, parts of the descent, especially when hanging onto a rope ladder when passing through a narrow vertical crack in the rock, are quite challenging.

The final part of the descent is on iron ladders. The first ladder is about 20 meters high, and the second one is about 30 meters. In between the two there is a platform where you can observe a nearby crevice filled with stalactites.

At the bottom of the pit is a small, muddy area. There is one further pit a few meters deep, but it’s not equipped with a ladder. After a few minutes of rest, we began our climb back to the surface.

The ascent is done in the same manner. It requires time, effort, and patience, as you must wait for the person above you on the ladder to keep climbing.

I must admit, I hesitated about going into the Chinese Hole. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic or afraid of heights, but I didn’t know if I could handle the challenge. But, I entered the cave, descended to the bottom, and came back to the surface. I am happy that I did it!



Friday, October 22, 2021

"Nocturnal Animals" - short story

“They were here last night!”

“After all the work you’ve done. What did they do this time?”

“They dug up the grass! Again!”

I led my wife to the backyard where the damage was plain to see. Mounds of overturned soil, piles of kicked-up earth where a lawn of thick green grass used to be.

“It’s worse than last time,” she noted.

“Much worse.”

What more could I do? I had installed a chain-link fence around the perimeter, but this hadn’t served as a strong enough barrier. I had reinforced the fence, added additional metal stakes at regular intervals. This did not stop them. I weighted down the fencing and secured the stakes with solid bases.This effort had failed as well.

Boars. Wild boars determined to go on a rampage in my garden.

“Strange that they’re only trampling the grass. They never eat the flowers or the bushes.”

“They’re going for water,” I explained. The upturned earth ran in nearly parallel lines above the buried irrigation tubing. Grass destroyed in a surprisingly neat pattern.

“How many are there?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I have never actually seen them.”


Read the rest of the story on Across the Margin.

Stuffed boar as seen at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hiking in Israel: Overlooking Jericho

I had never heard of the Dok Fortress until a few weeks ago. Dok (the name used in the Book of Maccabees, while Josephus called it Dagon) was the first Hasmonean fortress. According to tradition, Dok is where Simeon, the last of the Maccabean brothers, together with his wife and two sons, was murdered in 135 BCE by his son-in-law.

Centuries later, a Byzantine church was built inside the fortress, and much later, a medieval church. Nothing remains of that church except for an outline of its stone walls, and nothing at all remains of the fortress itself.

I joined a group including Ami, a good friend, for the hike. We travelled in a convoy of some 20 cars through a Border Police training base (everything we did was with IDF permission) and then several kilometers further into the desert. Finally, we parked and set off on foot for about 2 kilometers before climbing to a lookout point where we could see Dok. Then we made our way up to the fortress itself for an amazing view over the Palestinian city of Jericho – a very green oasis just north of the Dead Sea.

Coming down the mountain I was in for some unexpected surprises. First was seeing the Monastery of the Temptation built precariously on the opposite cliff walls. The temptation mentioned refers to Jesus spending forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating and fighting off the call of Satan. Qurantal, another name for the mountain, can be translated as 40, referring to those days and nights.

As we continued our descent, we reached a network of caves called ‘ma’arat ha’meraglim’ – Cave of the Spies. This is where traditionally Rahab from Jericho hid the two men sent to scout out the land before the arrival of the Israelites in the Book of Joshua. We walked through the caves including one where bats flew noisily over our heads.

We reached the bottom of the mountain and then followed the rocky path up a wadi until we reached the road where we had parked our cars.

Quite an amazing hike through unfamiliar territory, with many sites connected to Israel’s Biblical past.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Applesauce" - short story

My wife makes the best chocolate cake.

Moist. Rich. So chocolaty. I stood there daydreaming about the cake, my mouth watering, and then my phone buzzed.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in line.”

“At the front of the line, or at the back of the line?”

“Um, somewhere in the middle of the line.”

“Did you get applesauce?”

“Applesauce?”

“I need it for the cake. You forgot! You’re always forgetting things!”

Chocolate cake—applesauce was one of the ingredients.

“Of course, I remember,” I said.

“Well, make sure to get it. I want to bake before dinner.”

“Okay.”

I apologized to the others waiting in line at the cash register and spun my shopping cart around. With one hand holding down the toilet paper resting precariously atop a mountain of groceries, I set off in search of canned goods.

“Michael!”

My tennis partner was lingering by the dairy refrigerators. Like me, Bill was pushing an overfilled cart. Like me, he didn’t seem pleased with the task.

“How are you?” I asked him. “We haven’t played in weeks.”

“My shoulder—it’s still bugging me. What’s up with you?”

“Oh, you know. The same.”

“We should get together, even if it’s not on the courts. Why don’t you come over on Saturday and we’ll watch the game? Have some beer?”

“Beer? Sounds good!” I said.

“You know what? Bring Janet as well. I can fire up the grill and we’ll make a meal out of it.”

“I don’t know what Janet’s planning,” I said. “If she’s up to it, what should we bring?”

“Why don’t you bring the beer?”

“Sure, I’ll bring the beer.”

“Well, I’ll see you then. Meanwhile, I need to find muesli. I won’t be allowed back in the house if I don’t buy muesli.”

“I hear you,” I said. I patted him on the shoulder and continued through the store.

Daily special! Marked-down prices. The red-bordered notices on the shelves drew my attention to discounted products, many of which I had missed on my first circuit. Onward through the store. Baking goods, dry goods, pet food. Frozen goods, fruits and vegetables. Finally, I arrived at the beverage aisle.

Beer, he said, but what kind? Pale amber, stout, or Belgian-style ale? Local beer, or the more expensive imported variety? If I get a cheap six-pack, I’ll appear to be stingy. But imported beer? I’m neither a regular drinker nor a beer connoisseur, but I didn’t want to be judged on what I would bring to Bill’s table. Okay, let’s just go with what’s on sale—American-style lager.

I waited at the checkout counter, smiling at the other customers. But wait! Janet had asked me to pick up something. What was it?

Applesauce for the chocolate cake!

“Excuse me,” I said, spinning my cart around to begin another trip around the store. Up one crowded aisle and down the next. Paper goods, cleaning supplies. I turned around the next corner and found myself back at the beverage aisle.

“Did you get the beer?”

“Bill! I thought you would be out of here by now.”

“I’m still looking for muesli. What is muesli anyway? Some kind of fancy granola? What’s wrong with good old cornflakes?”

“It’s probably with the other breakfast products,” I said, pointing toward the back of the store.

“Hmm. I see you got lager,” Michael said, regarding the pack balancing next to the toilet paper on top of my cart.

“You don’t like lager?”

“Oh, I do! I assumed you to be an ale guy. A pale ale guy,” he said with a laugh. I didn’t find his joke funny.

“Anything else you want me to get?” I asked, trying to humor him with a display of generosity.

“Let me see. We could use salted nuts to go with the beer. Cashews, almonds. I really like cashews, don’t you?”

“Nuts?”

“Listen, I’m just suggesting it. It’s not a problem if you can’t get any.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll find something,” I assured him.

“Great! I really have to find that muesli and get the hell out of here. I hate grocery shopping!”

“Me, too!” I replied, but he had already wheeled his cart away.

I passed the bread and baked goods section, bypassed the coffees and tea, and headed to the candy and snack shelves. I hoped cashews were on sale.

Back in line at the cash register, I tried to think if there was anything else I was supposed to buy. Janet may have mentioned something, but it must not have been all that important. She would be pleased to hear we had been invited out. I knew she didn’t mind the occasional beer. We’d probably eat outside—the weather was certainly good enough. I wondered what Michael would be grilling. Hot dogs and burgers, or something more expensive?

“Will that be all, sir?” the cashier asked after the last of my goods had passed in front of her.

“Yes, that’s everything,” I said, pulling out my wallet. I handed her my credit card and arranged the shopping bags in the cart. “Thank you,” I said when she handed back the card along with my receipt.

 A short while later, I parked the car out front and made two trips carrying the groceries into the house. “I’m home,” I shouted, and Janet joined me in the kitchen.

“Did you get the applesauce?”

“Applesauce?”

“For the cake. The chocolate cake you love so much!”

“Uh, no. I was at the supermarket, and...”

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t forget! They were all out! I even asked the stock clerk!”

She shook her head, not believing a word I said.

“What’s that smell? Is there something in the oven?”

“Yes. Devil’s Food Cake. I knew you’d forget the applesauce. You’re hopeless!”

My wife makes the best Devil’s Food Cake.

Originally published on Bright Flash Literary ReviewPhoto by pure julia on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review of ‘Jerusalem Beach’ by Iddo Gefen

In the opening story of Jerusalem Beach by Iddo Gefen, translated by Daniella Zamir (Astra House, August 2021), an eighty-year-old man enlists in the Golani infantry brigade. His son is sure he has “lost his marbles.” Serving in the army at that age would “help death along.” The old man replies that he is “trying to outrun death.”

In this story, “The Geriatric Platoon,” the IDF has established “a unit for the elderly, mainly for show” and their service on the border is “just a game everyone’s playing.” But for the wayward, elderly soldier, service in the army is much more than a game. His worried son and grandson go into action to bring the old man home, and an incident on the border makes their mission more urgent than ever.

In the story’s subplot, the narrator is receiving a series of emails from his estranged mother. Will connections between family members be repaired by story’s end, or will tragedy drive them apart? This well-constructed story, partially epistolary in format, leaves readers eager to dive into the rest of the collection.

Thicket of dreams

Many of Gefen’s stories are otherworldly, although you wouldn’t classify them exactly as science fiction but rather narratives focused on memories and dreams. There is an interplanetary coming-of-age tale in “The Girl Who Lived Near the Sun”; dreams are monitored and built in “Debby’s Dream House”; and memories are shared in “How to Remember a Desert”; but two tender, very emotional stories make this collection a tour de force of new Israeli literature.

In “Exit,” a young girl wanders into the desert and “disappear[s] into the thicket of her dreams,” leading her mother to say, ‘’Something in her eyes has changed since we moved south."

The family’s move to the Negev has given the mother a chance to advance her career, while the father is stuck, working alone on developing an app for his start-up. Seeing how his wife was not relating to “her little girl falling apart before her very eyes,” the father realizes “she [had] shifted the responsibility for our daughter’s care over to me.”

As the young girl grows distant, withdrawing from the waking world while walking a fine line between memories and dreams, her anxious parents think that if they just understood what she was dreaming about, they could find a solution to her mysterious medical condition. Readers will sympathize with these helpless parents, hoping that the young girl will find a way out of her dreams and back into the arms of her caring family.

First memories

The dream-like title story, “The Jerusalem Beach,” is the most touching in the entire collection. An elderly woman is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Along with her caring husband, “they went looking for her first memory, snow on the beach in Jerusalem.” Her husband knows the memory, and the beach itself, are probably imaginary, but what wouldn’t one do to in hopes to help the woman you love?

The two arrive at the central bus station in Jerusalem, board the “miraculous” light rail train, and travel to the Machane Yehuda market. Jerusalem has changed immensely since his last visit decades before. Just like his wife, he, too, finds himself “lost in time and space.” Readers will be eager to learn if the snowy beach is a dream or a true memory “too precious to place in the hands of another, even of a loved one.”

When you read Gefen’s stories, with their diverse characters, and cross-genre themes of memories and dreams, you never know what you’re going to get. But one thing you do know. Each story is going to be very enjoyable to read.

Iddo Gefen is an author and neurocognitive researcher at the Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab at the Sagol Brain Institute. He leads an innovative study to diagnose aspects of Parkinson’s disease using storytelling and augmented reality. Jerusalem Beach, his first book, received the Israeli Minister of Culture’s Award in 2017, and he won the National Library of Israel “Pardes” Scholarship for young writers in 2019.

 

Originally published on The Times of Israel.