Talking about antisemitism

Let’s see, we started last week talking about Dave Chappelle and ended it with two armed men arrested at Penn Station after allegedly making threats against the Jewish community. In between those incidents, swastika graffiti was found near a public trail in Maryland, a Jewish cemetery was vandalized with swastikas in Illinois, and antisemitic flyers were left in neighborhoods in various parts of Rhode Island (see the ADL’s antisemitic incident tracker for details/news links). And those are just the incidents I know about from last week, not including the man whose alleged threats put all New Jersey synagogues on alert until he was arrested.

I could say I’m horrified and we live in scary times and we need to oppose hatred. And all of that is true. But I think it’s more useful to share information. When people can put events and wrongheaded beliefs into a larger historical and cultural context, then they can better understand what’s happening. Then they’re better equipped to fight it.

So let’s talk about an antisemitic trope. Specifically, the Jews-control-things trope. Historically speaking, Jews have tended to cluster in specific industries or careers because we either weren’t welcome in or were barred from the others. This is where the European Jewish moneylender or peddler stereotype comes from (although some academics think that the stereotype might be overstated). Similarly, Hollywood movie studios were mostly founded by recent Jewish immigrants who would’ve been kept out of other, more established industries. And many early comic book creators were Jewish because they couldn’t get work in more mainstream art fields. When Jews do well in a particular industry, people accuse them of “controlling” it.

Having a bunch of Jews in an industry is not the same thing as Jews controlling that industry. But attacking Jews for “controlling” an industry sounds very much like saying Jews shouldn’t be in that industry at all.

The thing about tropes like this is, people get used to hearing them and then don’t question them. They become “conventional wisdom.” That’s how hatred thrives in plain sight.

In the library presentation I did recently, I talked about my short story “Clearing the Field” (in this anthology if you’re interested). It’s about a young baseball player who sees spectral Nazis on the ballfield. But she’s the only Jewish player, and she’s the only one who sees them. The field, she discovers, is the site of a former American Nazi camp. Eventually the Nazis start menacing her dreams, and she realizes she has to find a way to exorcise the hateful memories of the field for good.

Where did I get the idea from? The knowledge that there were not one but three such camps in New Jersey before the U.S. entered World War II. This is from my presentation:

  • The German American Bund was a pro-Nazi organization active in the 1930s until the U.S. entered World War II, after which it was outlawed. In addition to the Madison Square Garden rally it infamously held in 1939, it ran a number of youth camps throughout the U.S. There were several camps in the area: Camp Siegfried on Long Island, Camp Bergwald in Bloomingdale, Camp Wille und Macht in Griggstown, and Camp Nordland in Andover. 
  • Camp Nordland quickly became unpopular with the locals. It was the frequent site of protests, and the county sheriff began to investigate it. The state revoked its charter in 1941. The former campsite is currently used for recreational fields.  
  • An off-Broadway play about Camp Siegfried, written by Bess Wohl, opens Nov. 15, and a historical novel about Camp Nordland by Barbara Krasner will be published next year. 

I think people like to view white supremacy and American Nazis as a new problem. That’s just not the case. But people have to be willing to see what’s right in front of them.

If you’ve read this far, please check out this GoFundMe list to help victims and families of the Club Q shootings in Colorado. I don’t need to point out that hate speech against LGBTQ people has also been increasing over the past few years. We could do a lot about hate speech, and hate crimes, if we kept showing up for each other.

Should I stay or …

… should I jump from the apparently-sinking ship that is Twitter? A lot of people seem to be asking that question. A lot more have already answered it, judging from the dwindling number of names I recognize on my feed.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. It was already a Dumpster fire much of the time. But it was also a place for me to cheer on my writer friends and learn about agents opening to queries or about short fiction submission opportunities. It was people who don’t know each other IRL perpetually fighting each other because one of them had an opinion on something. It was a place to learn about life experiences and viewpoints I might not have gotten exposed to otherwise. It was frequently racist, sexist, antisemitic and awful, but still somehow a requirement for creatives looking to “build their platforms.” It was a way for small businesses and entrepreneurs to get their work seen and boost their profiles.

Plus, cat photos.

I probably won’t actively quit. I’ll keep checking in on the people I know until the day I try to open the site and it’s not there. But I really, really would like if there were another place to have these conversations, minus (at least some of) the hatred. I’m not sure Mastodon is it (convince me otherwise). I’m dubious about Tumblr. If I fully switch to Instagram, it’ll be all cat photos all the time. Which is maybe not super professional.

Some cranky part of me wishes we didn’t need to rely on social media at all. It seems to amplify the negative and bury the positive, and I think that’s a feature, not a bug.

Aaannnddd speaking of antisemitism because it’s increasingly unavoidable, the Forward generally has a more informed, nuanced take on such incidents than other outlets. For instance, this column about Dave Chappelle’s SNL monologue. But look, I get way more worried when politicians spread antisemitic tropes than when celebrities do it. Celebrities don’t make policy.

So, see you on Twitter, maybe, and if not, stay safe.

Speaking out

When I started writing my novel about a girl who creates a golem to protect her from antisemitism, I based it in part on my own experiences as a kid living in a very not-Jewish area. The penny-throwing. The name-calling. Needing to miss school to celebrate the High Holy Days. Getting mocked for bringing matzoh to school during Passover. That kind of thing. Since the story has a (mostly) contemporary setting, I folded in some things that echoed current news events.

Then eleven people were shot to death in a Pittsburgh synagogue, and it wrecked me. Four years ago today. And my frustration and anger have only grown since then as antisemitic incidents and language have increased across the US. I would much rather have watched my novel become less relevant, not more relevant. Querying it is … a lot, sometimes.

But I also see people speaking out against this particular form of hatred, and recognizing how intertwined it is with other forms of hatred. And that’s so important, and so much appreciated.

So what can you do to help? Recognizing and calling out antisemitic tropes is big. The ADL explains the historical roots of these tropes and how they can appear in a modern context. A Europe-based site called Get the Trolls Out! tackles religious hate speech in general, and it has a fairly comprehensive section on antisemitism.

CNN did a special about antisemitism over the summer, which you should still be able to find on-demand.

If you read YA, check out Liza Wiemer’s The Assignment. It’s based on a real-life incident involving a Holocaust-related assignment at a high school that required students to debate “both sides” of murdering Jews.

Ken Burns’ latest series focuses on the US response to the Holocaust. And HBO just released a film chronicling the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shooting and how it affected the community.

Knowledge helps defeat hate. Thanks for listening.

My book presentation!

Me, presenting. (Photo courtesy of my sister.)

Since one of the anthologies I have a short story in, Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging, Volume Silver, happens to be all about cryptids—meaning supernatural creatures from folklore/mythology—my library asked if I would do a presentation about water-based cryptids. This went along with the theme of the library’s summer reading program, “Oceans of Possibilities,” as well as with my cryptid story, which is about an extremely tiny Leviathan (a Biblical cryptid!). So obviously I said yes.

To tie this talk into books and reading, along with explaining where these legends originated and how they likely got started, I offered book recommendations for each cryptid. Some were obvious (of course “The Little Mermaid,” although there are always people who’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the story) and some maybe less so (China Mieville’s Kraken, which is epically off the wall).

It was great fun to research and put together, and I think it went off pretty well. Plus I got to drag out one of my cute work dresses instead of my usual remote-work outfit: a non-logo T-shirt that shows up nicely on Zoom calls, jeans, and Crocs sandals.

I learned a couple of things that I’ll remember for next time:

• Bring a water bottle, so you don’t spend the entire talk worrying that your voice is going to die on you.

• Remember that everyone knows what the Loch Ness Monster and mermaids are, but not everyone knows the word cryptid. You might need to correct someone when they say, “… crypto?”

• Practice using the tech in advance, so you’re not staring at your Square reader thinking oh no please work when you try to sell copies of the anthology.

• Maybe make sure the library front desk knows about the event? That way when people call to confirm it’s happening, they don’t get a confused response.

• Make sure you have someone to advance the slides for you, because it makes your job easier, and that way you don’t have to get your kid to do it last-minute.

• Try not to have your event coincide with your kid’s troop doing an Eagle Scout project outside, because he’ll keep sneaking out to grab extra doughnuts from them.

But everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation and I got some nice support from family and friends, including some critique group members I haven’t seen in a long time or have never gotten to meet in person. Thank you all for coming!

And if any other groups would like to learn all about kelpies, selkies, and other watery magical creatures, I’ve got a fun slideshow for you.

Two years

Two years ago, the last in-public thing I did was volunteer at my kid’s Girl Scout troop cookie stand. (Those things sell themselves. It’s incredible. People ran across the parking lot, yelling, “THERE you are! I’ll take twelve boxes!”)

There were already COVID cases in New Jersey. Just a couple. Then a few more. And still more. Events started to get canceled (the troop never did take that trip to the Statue of Liberty). I was going to physical therapy for my recently diagnosed disembarkment syndrome, aka MdDS; I canceled my next appointment, because most of the other patients were older and I thought I might somehow endanger them, as though the virus were already everywhere around us. My neighbor and I, on the way back from the bus stop, spoke worriedly about rising case numbers. We were sure the schools were about to close. A day later, we were right. Friday the 13th.

But hey, we could handle this for a couple of weeks, right?

HAHAHAHAHA.

Two years. In New Jersey alone, over 30,000 dead. Hospitalizations keep dropping now, which is great, although the rate of transmission has been ticking back up (not sure how to read that anymore). Fewer and fewer people wearing masks in stores. People talking about “moving on” and “getting back to normal” when I’m not sure anyone understands what “normal” should look like anymore.

Meanwhile, there is a horror show in Ukraine, and people who are “different” (transgender kids and Asian-Americans, for instance) are under increased harassment and attack across the U.S. I hope that’s not what anyone meant by “normal.”

Side note: It’s increasingly frustrating to be querying a novel about a golem fighting antisemitism as actual cases of antisemitism keep rising.

It is totally fine, right now, to not be fine. Things are not fine. None of what’s happening is right, and there are millions of people dead worldwide because of a literal plague that isn’t *actually* over yet, although I hope we’re getting there.

I handle things by making donations to various advocacy/Ukraine aid groups, signing petitions, looking for ways to help people. Not sure it’s enough, but it’s something. When I can, I write. However you’re coping is fine, too.

Two years. But there’s still time to work for better things ahead.

All the new things

I hate to be one of those people who starts off a post with “This is why I haven’t been blogging lately,” but … this is why I haven’t been blogging lately: I recently switched from freelance back to full-time. I’m editing for a company that supplies web content to software development companies. It’s been a really nice adjustment, but it has been an adjustment.

In the meantime, my fiction is now featured in three anthologies! The current release, “Clearing the Field,” is in “Stories We Tell After Midnight Volume 3.” It’s about a young Jewish ballplayer who finds a way to fight back against the spectral Nazis haunting her baseball field—which was previously the site of an American Nazi camp. The anthology was released just in time for Halloween, but hey, horror is year-round.

Also out is “In His Name” in “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic,” about a young woman’s attempt to outwit the Angel of Death and save her dying father, only to discover that you can save someone and lose them at the same time.

And preorders are up for “Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging”: Volume Blue is out in December, and my volume (Silver) is out in February. “Leviathan” is a modern-day retelling of the Biblical legend of the Leviathan—the king of the seas—mixed with a dash of “The Fisherman’s Wife.”

I also recently had the pleasure of attending the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference, which is application-only and competition is fierce. I got some great feedback on my MG girl-and-golem-fight-antisemitism novel, so I’m hopeful for the next round of queries.

(I will also be so much happier when events like this can be in person again. I miss my writer friends! I hate how I look on Zoom! The cat tries to break into my office!)

Everyone in this house is now vaccinated, and I hope you are too. Hoping you have a close-to-normal Thanksgiving, and if you also celebrate Hanukkah, hoping you squeeze in enough shopping time because argh, it’s early this year.

The waiting time

Maybe you haven’t heard back yet on agent queries.

Maybe you’ve sent short stories to publications, but you haven’t gotten responses yet.

Maybe you’ve applied for writing seminars, but you don’t know yet whether you’ll be accepted.

Maybe it’s … all of that at once?

(Yep, me too.)

Here’s the thing about the waiting time: Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. Everyone is overloaded and stressed out, and the publishing industry is still playing catch-up over the pandemic. Reading periods and deadlines happen when they happen. This is the part of the process you have no control over, and worrying about it only feels like doing something.

You could keep productive to take your mind off the worry. Start another novel, write a poem, etc. But I also think it’s OK to do nothing. Acknowledge this is a bad time, step away from the computer, find a TV show you haven’t watched yet. Find a charity or nonprofit that needs you. (It goes without saying that there are a lot of charities that could use help right now.) Call somebody to see how they’re doing. Do something non-creative, or at least non-writing, until you’re ready to write again.

The world will catch up. You will get answers. Maybe some of those answers will be “yes.”

Assorted creative news

It’s been a good week, creatively speaking. I’ve just started a new content editing gig and it’s going well so far. And as of midnight, I’m competing in the second round of NYC Midnight’s 2nd Annual 100-word Microfiction Challenge. For NYC Midnight competitions (they also do short story, screenwriting, etc.), you get a genre, a type of action and an assigned word, and a deadline—which in this case, will be in 24 hours. Will I be scribbling in a hurry? Yes I will. Can you tell a whole story in 100 words? Actually, yes. And if you think that sounds hard, try writing a picture book, in which you have about 500 words to write a story that will work well with illustrations, even though those illustrations don’t yet exist. (Hat tip to my picture book author friends.)

And I’m looking forward to reading the other contributors in this anthology I’m in. Should be some fascinating work!

For more info, see:

Strange Fire

In the meantime, I’ve got another short story in revision and maybe a new way of thinking about my middle grade novel-in-progress. More research needed.

Hope you have a creative and peaceful weekend, or a creative and not-peaceful weekend, depending on your preference. Get vaccinated, be well, be safe, enjoy the Olympics.

Finally seeing the scenery

This is a scene from our Father’s Day hike. It was also a chance for me to see whether I’d gotten my research right.

I’d used this setting for a short story last year, but because of the pandemic/family stresses/deadlines/
virtual school (in other words, because of the everything), I hadn’t been able to get here in person to confirm that I was describing everything accurately. So how did I research the setting?

Fortunately, it’s a state park. I checked the official site, studied the maps, confirmed where the hiking trails were in relation to the campground. I poked around campground review sites to get a sense of what camping there would be like and what would be available (ground vs. platform for tents, fire pit vs. grill). And I checked YouTube. Sure enough, people had posted videos of their hike up the mountain and their view from the top. I got a sense of the layout, the terrain, what kind of trees you’d see, what the air would be like. And I got a pretty good idea of how creepy it could be to be lost in the woods at night.

Some of these details didn’t make it into the story, but that’s the thing about research — you won’t use all of it. That’s true whether you’re interviewing someone for a news article or gathering up sensory details for a piece of fiction. Better to be overprepared than underprepared, and to know all the answers to your questions. When you write from a place of authority, it shows.

On Sunday, I finally got to confirm that my descriptions were accurate and we got to enjoy the scenery. I’d call that a win.

Hope you also get to enjoy some beautiful scenery this week, for research or for fun.

Submitting to anthologies

Here’s how I see anthology calls for submissions: They’re cool writing prompts that could lead to publication. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The story I submitted to “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic” got accepted (and the anthology is out this month!). Stories I’ve written for consideration in other anthologies have gotten rejected, and I’ve been researching magazines/other publications to send them (some sources I like: The Submission Grinder, Erica Verrillo’s Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity blog).

But sometimes the stars align and an already-written story fits what an anthology editor wants. For instance, my story that just got accepted for “Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging,” out in 2022 (preorder link to come when it’s available). So you never know. But I’m pretty happy about both of these acceptances.

The same goes for contest submissions. I didn’t advance in this year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, but I did end up with a fun sci-fi rom-com story that I hope to find a home for.

If you’re willing to accept the risk of your story getting rejected—which is kind of a requirement for being a writer—then writing for anthologies or contests can be a good part of an overall submission strategy. Good luck and have a creative week.