Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Talmudic Secret of Foreplay

 Via Daniel Boyarin's epic book Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and and the Invention of the Jewish Man:

So, um, I believe a wow is in order. Also in the same chapter: I learned that James Joyce's Ulysses uses the phrase "goyim naches."


Sunday, March 8, 2015

How I Ran Away from San Francisco

Continuing my tradition of writing B-sides to my Hevria posts, here's the latest post and the latest behind-the-scenes story. First, let me apologize for that picture: my friend Harbeer took it on a spur-of-the-moment day shortly before I left the city in 2004. I'd just gotten a college gig performing poems. I had no idea what it meant to have a college gig. They wanted a headshot, so Harbeer and I went looking for the most ramshackle, ghetto background we could find. We didn't have to go far. It was the backyard of his apartment. Later, I used that as the author photo for my first book, Never Mind the Goldbergs. This, I guess, is its third life.

So I really wanted to use the view outside the rabbi's house where I was crashing during this visit. They had the most amazing little room they let me stay in, right on the top of the house, with slanted ceilings where the roof sloped. And outside was an awesome jacaranda garden. But Elad said the picture didn't load -- I wrote the whole post as a draft on Gmail on my phone, which was the first time I'd done that (this is also my first smartphone, and is really new, and I'm still not very good at it, and also that's why there are weird AutoCorrect typos like "mazel tomb" instead of "mazel tov") -- so he stuck that old Harbeer photo on instead.

And I was outraged, and I hated having my picture as the lead photo for something I wrote, because I just want the writing to stand for itself, you know?, or at least use something cartoonlike, maybe stolen from an episode of Scooby-Doo, to show you how funny it's going to be. So I promptly took the photo at the top of this piece -- I happened to be walking through one of the coolest, most graffitied alleys ever at the moment that Elad asked me about it -- because, okay, at heart I guess I am still an egotist.

Anyway, here's the piece. I hope you enjoy it.

San Francisco Made Me Orthodox

BY   MARCH 3, 2015  ESSAY

I’m in San Francisco this week, the city where I grew up, the city where I learned not to grow up. I moved here when I was 22, shortly after I became observant, partly as a dee-double-dare-you to my Creator — I’ll give myself one month to make a living doing poetry, I told G-d, and either you help me out doing that, or I’ll bow out gracefully and go to yeshiva.
Three years later, I hadn’t left yet.
I used to hate the tourists and business visitors. Now, years later, I am one of them. I stay in the convention center for most of the day. I wander around, searching for the rare corner store that doesn’t sell $7 bags of artisan tortilla chips. I keep kosher, dammit. Back when I lived here, you could buy a normal 99-cent bag of Lay’s Potato Chips, certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, totally ghetto and not that expensive. Now if you want a mass-produced kosher bag of chips, you practically have to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And I don’t have time for that. I’m a professional video game designer. I’m only here for my conference, and another session is starting in ten minutes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jews vs. Aliens

It's not properly out until March 17, but I have a short story in a new collection called Jews vs. Aliens. (There's also a companion volume, Jews vs. Zombies, which will be released at the same time.) My story is called "The Ghetto," and I will try not to give anything away but it's about an alien abduction in Crown Heights. And it was just featured on BoingBoing, which for a very small percentage of the population is roughly equivalent of getting a Nobel Prize in Weirdness. Oh, and here's the cover.

My favorite-person-ever (and Big Bang Theory producer) Eric Linus Kaplan also has a story, and so do a bunch of other wonderful people. And the whole batch is edited by Rebecca Levene and Lavie Tidhar, that latter of whom might be the most bitingly satirical and wise Israeli expat science fiction writer ever to exist. Not that there's much competition, but if there was, he'd wipe them out like a bunch of Space Invaders.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Squeezing Art into Life

Hey! I've been super delinquent about posting. But not about writing, I promise. Finishing a novel, and writing a new children's book, and the regular scribbles. And this.

Basically, Alan told me this story, and I knew I needed to do something with it. The other night, I called him up and spent two hours typing what he said -- not polishing his sentences so they sounded more like mine, not cutting out the prepositions and the passive verbs. It felt good. It felt honest in a way I haven't written in a while, to just take another person's voice and mivatel yourself (um, nullify yourself) to it. Here's what I got.

He Tried To Quit Music, But God Said No

“This isn’t a miracle,” he warns me, the first thing he says. “I can tell you the story of how it happened. But there’s some interesting stuff that happened before, that happened after — well, I think it’s interesting. I’ll let you decide.”
That’s Alan Jay Sufrin talking. He’s one of my favorite musicians. Alan is equally comfortable when he straps on an acoustic guitar as when he takes a bunch of keyboards and computers and makes some ridiculously danceable electropop anthems. He calls himself “the short Jewish Prince” — the singer, not the royal status — although he’ll usually follow it up by saying something like, “Well, Prince is also short.” In any case, the two have a lot in common: they’re both inspiring, both incredibly prolific, both can take the simplest tune and build it into an amazing anthem that sticks in your head for days and that you never regret having there.
Alan’s also one half of the pop group Stereo Sinai, with his wife Miriam Brosseau. They came out with two amazing albums that took Biblical verses and stories and Psalms and turned them into really wonderful pop songs. Then Alan started writing some of his own original stuff, possibly as a side project, possibly as the next phase of his career — and then he stopped making music entirely.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


So I have this friend who we used to tell each other everything, and now we both have babies and other kids and never talk anymore, and when we do it basically goes like this:

me:  i'm pretty sure i'm going insane.
 liz:  oh, DO tell.
 me:  i don't know liz
my anxiety is worse than ever
i don't know how to talk to people
 liz:  what?
   let it all out
 me:  and i'm pretty sure my novel sucks and it's not even finished yet and if it doesn't sell i don't know if i can take it
      and i started drinking coffee again
 me:  espresso
 liz:  well, that'll give you jitters and make it hard to talk to people if you're all speedy
or are you just having a hard time finding words for your coworkers who just got laid off? cause that would be hard for anyone
 me:  no, like
 liz:  who the hell do you talk to?
 me:  i was at a party a few weeks ago and it would've been so easy to talk to people before, and i just clammed up and i was like i don't care about these people but i don't actually have friends around anymore so it might be nice to have some but i just couldn't open my mouth
and the only person i said more than 2 words to was natasha lyonne
but that was because she said hi when she passed me and she looked familiar and i thought she went to my high school
 liz:  oh nice name dropping, i see what you did there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Happy Dance

Sometimes you need someone else to teach you what you already know. Thanks, Max Kohanzad, for sending me this little piece of my book.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Outlines and Writing Software

My amazing co-MFA cohorter Kate asked if I'd used any of these writing programs. I'll copy the list first in case you're looking for one:

  1. BloggerThis popular Google-owned site is a great place to start your own blog for free.
  2. ScrivenerThis popular, feature-rich program is great for organizing research, planning drafts, and writing novels, articles, short stories, and even screenplays.
  3. The Literary MachineThis free software allows writers to compile research and writing modules that makes it easier to draw on information collected during research to write an outline or a final draft.
  4. New NovelistCreated for Windows users, this program is specifically designed to meet the needs of novelists, making it possible to juggle ideas, notes, and more in one place.
  5. Open OfficeWhy pay for Microsoft products when you can create free documents with Open Office? This open source software provides similar tools to the Microsoft Office Suite, including spreadsheets, a word processor, the ability to create multimedia presentations, and more.
  6. Script FrenzyScriptwriters will appreciate this software. It offers an easy layout that helps outline plots as well as providing storyboard features, index cards, and even sound and photo integration.
  7. StorybookThis open source software can make it easier to manage your plotlines, characters, data, and other critical information while penning a novel.
  8. TreePad LiteThe free version of this software keeps the writing process simple, ensuring that information stay organized and your story stays on track.
  9. WordPressWordPress is another popular and free choice for starting a blog (or two).
  10. Writer’s CafeGet creative with writing fiction with this easy-to-use software. Designed by a writer, it features a notebook, journal, organizer, writing tips, and even an e-book all about writing.
  11. yWriter5Another word processor for writers, yWriter5 helps break down a novel into chapters and scenes to make everything a little more manageable.
  12. ZohoDocsZoho is another free word processing suite, and like Google Drive, it allows you to write and access your work from any computer with an Internet connection.
[edit: taken from this site. they list 150, though, so consider this a scaled-down model.]

Here's what I replied:
OpenOffice is seriously exactly microsoft office. word, excel, all that. it's the same thing. For outlining, I'm partial to regular blank paper -- i make a list of

and then little points
     and then i'll indent a little and write scenes i have ideas for 
and do it that way. the more bare-bones, the better. my writing partner Eric tried this iphone app called Save the Cat (the free version, oh, here it is) that gives you a 15-point outline to fill can try that, too. but really just see what works for you.
So I guess my big writing secret is, I don't have a big writing secret. I try to be in the moment. Sure, there are some things I know about my characters before the audience knows them -- you can't very well write a murder mystery without having some idea who the murderer was and how she slips up -- but the big, character-defining, wow-instilling moments, I like to come to at roughly the same time as the reader.

But I do spend a LOT of time, hopefully more than my readers, thinking about what's going to happen, and what might happen, and the outliers are always the most interesting parts, al pi Flannery O'Connor's idea that an ending should be both "surprising and inevitable." And those are the chances we get to surprise people. I guess those are the moments that really justify outlining and planning ahead: because you've already anticipated all the expected things, and you've come up with most of the surprising-and-probably-won't-happen endings (the "evitable" endings?), and so what remains -- bizarre, off-kilter, and true to the story -- might be your ending.

(Or it completely might not. Which is why, for the 20 pages I'm writing now, I have four different outlines going. I mean, it's a novel, which means things will get sticky...but sticky is exactly what outlines are made for.)

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