Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Agh! I’m late! I have to get to my flight! I’m flying a dragon back to Ohio. And while dragons are rather flexible with what time they take off (they’re awesome that way), I’d rather not keep this one waiting. Anyway, welcome back to Day Nine of the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’m almost through with this challenge, so I’m making sure to keep putting up interesting books so neither you nor I get bored with it.

Thanks again to my cousin Matthew for nominating me for this on Facebook. I hope you don’t mind I made this into a blog thing. And if you do…well, it’s too late to do anything about it, isn’t it?

Now for the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the other reason why I decided to take up a History major in college and studying the Holocaust. That book is Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (yeah, not all of these are fiction novels. Some are about actual events).

I’d seen the movie earlier in the year I read this book, so I was curious about the book it was based on. I ended up reading it during a five-week trip to Israel alongside The Plot Against America. And Schindler’s List affected me way more than Plot. Reading all those stories from people who had known Oskar Schindler, a complicated man who grew to care deeply about the Jews under him and decided to risk everything to protect them, in a time where that could lead to execution, spoke to me on a level that few books do. I decided then to study the Holocaust when I got to college alongside English and creative writing.

I also came back from Israel with a ring on my finger that says in Hebrew, “He who saves a life, it is as if he’s saved the world entire.” This is similar to the ring Oskar Schindler was given at the end of the book and the movie, and I had it custom made so I could remind myself of that every day. I still have that ring, and I wear it every day. It shows how much one person can do if they put their minds to it, and the good that come from it.

Perhaps someday I can have the same effect or inspiration on someone else someday. We can hope.

Today I’m tagging my friend Tricia Drammeh. Hope you have fun, Tricia. I know I have.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m headed back to Columbus. I look forward to sharing the last book in the challenge with you tomorrow. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Don’t fly off without me, dragon! I need to get home!

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You know, I’ve written a lot about my identity on this blog. Or rather, because every person is highly multifaceted and puts themselves under several labels (even when they eschew all labels), my identities: writer; horror fan; bisexual man; autistic individual and disability advocate; total nerd; Ohio State Buckeye; feminist; liberal; possible entity from another dimension; and many more. But there’s one identity I’m only realizing now that, while I’ve mentioned it more than a few times on this blog, I’ve never really gone into detail about it in relation to my life and my writing. Not in six-plus years of blogging (believe me, I checked).

Considering that I was not only raised Jewish, but raised Jewish by two rabbi parents, went to synagogue nearly every weekend for years, went to Jewish day school from fourth grade through high school, attended youth groups and summer camps, was a frequent attendee at the Ohio State Hillel, and a whole bunch of other things than is listed in this run-on sentence, that is weird. And I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t really ever gone into detail about it. Maybe I thought I’d covered it in one of my 1300+ blog posts at some point, or maybe I just thought it wasn’t important enough to cover at any point. I have no idea.

Well, I guess better now than never (especially since this is my blog and you’re all hostages to whatever I feel like writing each day). How does Judaism affect my life and my writing?

Well for my life, it affects a lot. I’m more spiritual than religious, like many millennials, but I still practice certain rituals. I keep kosher and eat vegetarian when I’m out. I bring in Shabbat every week, and light candles on Hanukkah (you like the picture of my menorah? I’ve had it since I was a kid). I have a mezuzah on my door frame that marks my apartment as Jewish, and the only jewelry I wear is Jewish in theme (Jew-elry, if you will). I don’t attend services at my synagogue that much (I tend to sleep in on Saturdays because the week drains me. Sue me), but I pray often and keep in touch with friends through social media and hanging out. I’ve been to and support Israel, though at times the words and actions of its government concerns me. I pay attention to how my people are portrayed in the news and popular culture (I get seriously annoyed by how most Jews on TV and movies are like, “We’re like the rest of you, we just say some funny words and talk about our health issues a lot.” Seriously, we’re more diverse than that!), and get really psyched when I find stuff on it that educate people about our beliefs:

No need to post that video. I just like spreading it around. Especially since so many people know what Christmas is but so few outside the Tribe know what Hanukkah is.

So Judaism does affect my life. Does it affect my writing?

Well, yes and no. I don’t write what’s known as typical “Jewish literature,” which in my experience is usually about Jewish characters dealing with persecution from non-Jews or dealing with their Jewish faith and identities. I know my dad wished I would write those sorts of stories when I was younger, probably because he was afraid I’d be the next Ted Bundy if I kept reading and writing Stephen King-style horror, but that sort of story never interested me (thankfully, he’s come to like my fiction as is). I do feature Jewish characters in my work on occasion (my Lovecraftian short story “The Red Bursts,” which I’m trying to get published, features a gay Jewish couple who are active in their synagogue), but their religious background isn’t usually a big part of the story. Their are stories I’ve written or plan to write where Jewish characters are featured prominently, and where their background can be emphasized, but like I said, they’re not a huge focus in my fiction as a whole. I like telling a scary story first and foremost.

But my Jewish identity does feature throughout my fiction in a different way. Like every author, I insert my worldview, my morals and beliefs into my stories, and a good lot of that is shaped by Judaism, especially this phrase by one of Judaism’s greatest scholars: “Love thy neighbor. All the rest is commentary.” It’s why I like to use diverse casts in my stories, not just Jewish characters. People unlike me are my neighbors as well as those like me, so I give them all a fair shot in my stories. And this is just one of many ways I emphasize my faith in my writing (I’d go into it a bit deeper, but this article is getting long).

So yeah, my faith is still very important to me. And it even shows up a little in my stories. It may not show up overtly in my stories, but it does show up in the subtext. And for my particular style, that works pretty well. It might even get me somewhere as a writer someday. One can only hope.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Today is my last day in Germany. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here for four months; it feels more like I’ve been here for ages. The day I arrived, all the way back in July, feels like it happened years and years ago. Heading home to Columbus feels almost a little weird. Almost like I’m heading to a place that only exists in my memories. I know that sounds weird, but after being away from home for longer than I’ve ever been before (the record before this was five weeks in Israel back in high school), that’s what it feels like.

I am looking forward to coming home to Columbus.* It’s where my family is, and where I’ve spent a majority of my life. It’s familiar, it’s got a lot of people I know. And our football team is undefeated this season, which is always something to be proud of. Go Buckeyes!

Still, I will miss being here in Germany. I’ve become so used to this nation, it’s become something like a really nice foster home for me. Every day there was something new to learn or see, and I got to go to all these wonderful places while I was here. Germany is filled with such history, and I was lucky to be able to explore that history in so many ways, from traveling to the many WWII-related sites in Munich to a Roman wall in Wiesbaden and everything in-between. I even got to see a castle, something no trip Europe is complete without. No matter what the cost, it was worth going out to see all these things.

The Roman Wall. I'm going to miss seeing stuff like this.

The Roman Wall. I’m going to miss seeing stuff like this.

And the people here are very awesome as well: more than once when I got turned around trying to get somewhere, I was able to find someone who was able to point me in the right direction. Even at the grocery store, people were more courteous than I could imagine: yesterday a woman at the grocery store saw I had just the one item (a bottle of wine for my dad and his wife), and she let me go right in front of her. I usually don’t get that even in the States, so I was very grateful for her kindness. When I heard reports about how Germany was the only European country willingly accepting refugees while other countries closed their borders, I wasn’t at all surprised, because that’s just the sort of country Germany is, a kind and accepting place where you can feel as welcome as you might in your own home.

Plus I got to watch Doctor Who several hours before my Whovian comrades in the Western Hemisphere, seeing as the show airs in Europe before it does over there. That was nice. I will miss that.

But yeah, I will miss Germany. My time here was well-spent and I learned and experienced so much, and one day I would like to return, see old friends and do some more exploring of the country if possible. If I could do that, I’d be one very happy horror novelist.

Here's looking at you, Germany.

Here’s looking at you, Germany.

So thank you Germany, for being my home away from home. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been here (even the more stressful minutes) and I can’t thank you enough for all you, your people, and the other guests who call your lands home have done for me. It has truly been a wonderful experience getting to know you firsthand. So auf wiedersehen, and I hope we can one day meet again.

Until that day comes though, you will be alive in my thoughts, my memories, and in my stories (horrifying as those are).

*And apparently Columbus is preparing for me to come home as well. Already the National Guard has been called out, people have been praying for salvation like mad. There’s even been strange activity reported amongst animals, like a bridge full of spiders (not kidding, it made the local news). I guess they know I plan on jumpstarting the Apocalypse, huh?

If you’ve known me for a while, I’m big on trying to correct injustices and inequalities. Racism is a big one for me, and when I hear people say “Racism’s dead” or “It’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be”, I’m among those pointing out why those folks are so wrong. In my own fiction I try to create casts that are very diverse, using characters with different sexual orientations, religions, genders, gender identities, ages, and races, among others.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. The past couple of days I’ve been working on a new short story that will probably turn into a novelette, based on how many words I’ve written so far. In it, four of the main characters are white, while one of them is black (and in a relationship with another male character, but I digress). While writing the first scene in the story, I was trying to point out the that Fred, my black character, is black. Why? Because I worry that unless I point it out, they’re going to assume he’s white.

Realizing that I was thinking this made me stop and think about my other works. Why do I take the time to point out a character’s race? Do I do the same thing for my white characters? And why do I assume that they’ll think I’m white in the first place?

On that last question, my roommate here in Germany, who has a background in psychology, was able to provide the answer to this question of mine one morning while waiting for the bus: “Most people tend to transfer their own qualities to others, including characters in stories.” That makes sense to me, and I’ve got a personal anecdote to back it up (I know anecdotes don’t count as scientific data, but bear with me): when I was 17 I spent five weeks in Israel and at one point we passed by a bookstore with some books in English. Having already read through the two books I’d brought with me (no surprise there), I went in, browsed the titles, and bought I, Alex Cross by James Patterson. This was my first Alex Cross book, but sixteenth in the series overall, and at first I didn’t find any indications to clue me into the fact that the protagonist was black. It wasn’t till midway through the book that I realized from the conversation between Cross and his grandma that they were black! Had to really adjust my image of the guy in my head right there, as well as several other characters.

Funny what reading out of order and a few misconceptions can do.

But in this line of thinking, wouldn’t this mean I assume all my readers are white? Well, I know for a fact that’s not the case: while I still have a relatively small readership (both in terms of books and blogging), they come from a variety of backgrounds. Some I know personally and off the Internet, and can attest is that they’re not white. What I worry about is that they’re going to transfer my race, which is white, to my characters. And it’s not a crazy concept: if you had never read or seen Harry Potter and heard about it and then saw a picture of JK Rowling, what would you assume the protagonist’s race was? I’d say you’d guess white.

And in a strange way, I’m helping my readers come to these assumptions. Unless I’m noting how pale a characters’s skin is, I generally don’t do anything to indicate a character is white. In Snake, where a majority of the characters were white, I did very little in terms of description when it came to skin color, and yet I’m pretty sure everyone who read the book was able to figure out my characters’ races just fine. The same in Reborn City: except for noting that Ilse has very pale skin, my white characters didn’t get any indications to clue the readers into their whiteness, while every character of another race did get indicators.

So why is there this collaboration between my readers and I? And do other authors do this?

For the second question, I’d say yes. I’ve seen plenty of other authors do this, including idols of mine like JK Rowling and Stephen King. And for the first, I think it might have something to do not just with the transference thing my roommate mentioned, but also with the society I live in. Think about it: while America may have a black president now and there are more people-of-color in the media than ever before, it’s still a very white-centric society. Because of this, I think that means, along with transference, I don’t feel the need to give indicators for white characters because in America, whiteness is still considered “the norm”, and my readers won’t imagine my characters a different color unless told otherwise because they’ve been conditioned to feel that whiteness is still “the norm.”

And I’m sure that if I were of a different race in a different country or culture, the same concept would apply. If I were Middle Eastern writing in Israel, probably all my characters would be Israeli Jews or Palestinians and I’d give indicators for tourists or Ethiopian or Russian Jews. If I lived in China and was Chinese, I’d probably only give indicators for non-Chinese Asians or Americans or something along those lines.

So to wrap this whole post up, the way my mind works, plus the way my readers’ minds work and the society we were raised in all collaborate in this strange need I have to mark my characters so as not to give my readers a false impression. Funny how that works. Even weirder that it makes sense to me as I write about it, and that I’m not sure whether or not I feel anything about it other than it being strange. Maybe that’s just how one should feel about something like this. Not liking or disliking it, but accepting it as one of those weird facts of life.

Well, I’ve gone on and on about this subject for a while now. Now I’d like your opinion on it. Do you think what I’m doing with non-white characters here is strange? Why or why not? And do you ever do the same thing in your writing? Why? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts, Followers of Fear.

About four times in my writing career, I’ve come up with really great ideas for stories, and I think they’d work at under ten-thousand words, which is what is usually the maximum length for a short story. But as I think about this idea and the story I plan to write with it, or as I try to write it and I run into problems, I realize something important: it has to be longer than a short story. There’s just no way I’m going to be able to put everything I want in this short story within such a small range. This is going to need to be much longer.

In other words, it’s going to need to be a novel.

For me, this is always frustrating to some degree. I have this idea, and I think that maybe I can get it written within a few weeks. And then I realize there’s more than one direction this story can go. And I want to add in so much material, which is impossible with just ten-thousand words. And yet I don’t want to give up any of it! So I cross it off my short story list and put it on my novel list, even though I realize that it might be years before I get around to writing it.

It’s even more frustrating when I’ve already attempted to write this particular idea as a short story. I wrote a story about a man who gets resurrected from death through science. It was great. But it had so much in it, so much hinted at within its pages. When I lent it to a friend, he told me that it would work great as a novel or even as a movie. After a lot of thought, I realized he was right.

And remember “the short story I’ve been struggling with on and off with for over a year”? Also known as “The Murderer’s Legacy”, “Miranda’s Tempest”, and “Strong’s Trial”, I could not get that story to work for the life of me. And with every draft and every change, I felt I was getting closer and at the same time getting farther away from the story that this story should be. Eventually I figured out a way to make this story work, but it meant turning this into a full-length novel. I was just like, “Fine. I’m not going to think of another way this story could work anytime soon, so let’s just keep it as is and hope I get around to it sooner rather than later.”

And last night, I was thinking of outlining this idea for a short story that I wanted to write. I sat down in front of my laptop to start outlining, and just as I put the order of events together in my head, I thought, No way can I get all this in within even twenty-thousand words. This has to be a novel. Aw dammit. Oh well, the story calls for it. What am I going to do?

Yeah, what am I going to do? How many ideas for short stories am I going to have that will eventually need to be turned into novels that might take years to get around to because that’s how busy I get sometimes? I hate it. I wish there was a way I could make these stories work as short stories. Especially that one I was going to work on yesterday, it was going to examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!

But it’s just not going to happen. I can’t fit these stories within ten or twenty-thousand words. They won’t work then, they won’t have the same punch if they were novels. There’s a reason I never got a version of Miranda’s Tempest/The Murderer’s Legacy/Strong’s Trial I liked, because I was writing it with a view of making it shorter than it needed to be.

And you know what? Sometimes you just can’t control the story like that. As an author, you have a lot of control over your story, you are its God in a sense. But at the same time, the story has some control over you. Events go certain ways you never thought about, characters act in a different way you thought they would and take things in a different direction. Authors of all types and experience know that this is a thing and that it happens a lot. And when it does, you just have to go with the flow or your story won’t turn out the way you hope.

I just hope someday I have more time than I do now to write, that I can get to these stories sooner rather than later. Perhaps someday I will. I know several writers who started writing part-time and through hard work, perseverance, and a bit of luck, became full-time writers able to devote their full energies to writing. That could be me someday. I’m still young and early in my career. A few more books, some more advertising and reviews. You never know what’s going to happen.

I do wish I had less of these ideas where I think they’ll be great short stories, but later on I realize they need to be novels. As I said above, it’s annoying when that happens.

Do you ever have this problem with a story? How do you feel about it when it happens?

When you do end up writing these stories at the right length, does it normally work out?

Today I leave for my first post-college job, working with the US Army Civilian Corps in Germany. I’m all packed up (hopefully my suitcase is under fifty pounds, I think it is but that scale’s needle keeps moving), my carry on has everything I need, my passport’s tucked away, and my farewells have all been said on Facebook and Twitter, with lots of comments on both wishing me well. As far as I can tell, I’m all ready to go.

And yet it feels so unreal to me, like instead of going to Germany, I’m jumping into a fantasy world straight out of a movie. You can understand why I feel that way: while I’ve been to Germany before, this is going to be on the opposite end of the country, I’m going to be on a US Army base, and whenever I step out of that base, I’m going to be in a place where the language, culture and the people are very different from what I’ve grown up with (thank goodness I’m already a little familiar with all three of those). It’s definitely going to be unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and unlike when I went to Israel the summer before my senior year of high school or my study abroad trip, I’m not going with a bunch of people in the same boat as me. I’m going by myself! To say the least, I’m a little nervous.

Despite that, I’m looking forward to this. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the life and cultures of both the US Army base and of Germany. I’m looking forward to meeting all these contacts I’ve been set up with through friends and through my own searching (who knew there were so many people friends with people I know in Germany?). I can’t wait to explore the cities, the castles, the forests and museums and Jewish sections of the cities I’ll be near. I’m looking forward to all the ideas I’ll have for stories or articles while doing this.

And I’m sure that, despite the fact that I’m diving into this alone, I’ll be fine. I’ve reason to believe that. Despite my nervousness, I’ve usually been good with new situations. My dad can testify to this: he saw me on my first day of kindergarten, my first day at Columbus Torah Academy, my first USY (that’s a Jewish youth group) convention, my USY trip to Israel, and then when I got to Ohio State. And, as he made clear on Facebook, I was fine, so I’m sure I’ll be fine this time around as well.

Plus my latest Tarot reading gave a pretty positive outlook on the whole thing, so there’s more reason to be hopeful. Yes, I’m still reading Tarot, and no, I don’t really believe in it but it’s nice to have a positive reading, isn’t it?

When I post again, it’ll probably be in Germany, and to say I’ve arrived safely. What else will there be to say, I can only guess. First impressions, what my roommate is like, how they weren’t kidding about Europe being in the grip of a heat wave, a bunch of other stuff I can only guess at. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, wish me a safe flight, in English or German, and wish me luck in my new environment. I have no idea what’ll happen, but I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had.

Auf wederschein, my Followers of Fear!

Two months ago, I wrote about how the job search was going for me and some opportunities I’ve been presented. I’m writing an update on how said search for employment is going for me now that I’m midway through the semester and graduation is a little over eight weeks away (jeez, that close! I better rent my cap and gown soon).

As you can probably guess, my dream job is to write full-time. Unfortunately, while I do have a growing audience of people reading my books, at this point in my career it’s not feasible to take up writing full-time if I plan to actually have a roof over my head. After that, I’d really enjoy being part of the writing staff for Doctor Who, but unfortunately that seems to be an invitation-only sort of gig and at this time I’m not on Steven Moffat’s radar (though if he’s interested, I’ve got plenty of ideas for stories I’d love to pitch to him). So I’m currently looking for jobs that fit my abilities and are probably easier to obtain than being a BBC staff writer.

Thankfully, a few jobs that I’ve applied to are looking pretty good. Remember in my last post I mentioned a government program that helps people with disabilities get government jobs? Well, that led to a phone interview with a certain civilian branch of the military that went pretty well and I might be able to get a position with them. I won’t know anything till April or May at the earliest though, so I’m waiting to hear back.

I also applied to a few more jobs, and they look promising. I’m currently waiting to hear back from a number of places, and this coming week when I can I’ll be doing some more applications. I’m also applying to jobs in Columbus and in the general area, so my fingers are crossed that one of these will pan out. And I’ve signed up to possibly go to Israel with Masa, a program that takes college students and graduates and immerses them in Israeli culture for several months through college courses, graduate studies, and even internships. That could lead to so much if I end up going on a Masa program.

You know, I’m relatively lucky that finding a job while I finish up my last semester is one of my few sources of stress. I’m really glad and lucky that I’ve gotten so much experience while working with the financial aid office and I’ve done and learned so much in my life I’m sure it’ll be helpful in years to come.

But still I feel a little anxiety as graduation gets closer. People are interviewing and applying and getting hired around this time, and I worry that I might not be able to get a job by graduation and have to (gasp!) move into my dad’s house and continuing looking for work from there! I don’t want that to happen and I don’t think it will, but you fear it might, especially in the current job market when just having a bachelor’s degree isn’t any guarantee of meaningful employment.

Well, I’ve got to keep trying. As people keep reminding me, the first job search is usually the hardest. Just keep trying and something will stick, and from there it’ll be…well, it’ll be something. Maybe not easier, but it’ll be something. And who knows? I might even hear something from someone reading this blog and that’ll be the one I get! You never know.

In the meantime, I’ve got a thesis to edit, so I’m going to do that and call it a night. Tomorrow there’s homework, more editing, and maybe a job application to do. So wish me luck, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to need it during these next couple of months.