From My Bookshelf: November 22, 1963

According to the Historical Novel Society, “To be deemed historical…a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).” Author Adam Braver may have been alive when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated: Braver was born in 1963. But he obviously does not remember the event, and he has approached it through a fascinating combination of research and fiction-crafting in his new novel, November 22, 1963 (Tin House Books).

I thought I knew a lot about the assassination, which is an historical event for me, too (my parents were still a few months away from meeting each other on November 22, 1963). But Braver’s book, which focuses in depth on the events of that day through the closely-drawn third-person eyes of everyone from a Dallas policeman to Abe Zapruder to Maud Shaw (Caroline and John-John’s nanny) to, of course, Jackie Kennedy, opened up so much more.

Most of us will never know what it was to be Air Force One as it bore the slain President’s coffin back to Washington; Braver has imagined that. Most of us didn’t witness the autopsy at Walter Reed; Braver has evoked it. Most of us can’t imagine how Maud Shaw told six-year-old Caroline what had happened (I hadn’t even realized that Jackie Kennedy had given the nanny that awful task); Braver shows us how it might have happened.

They were the only two in the room, but…Miss Shaw could barely look at Caroline, tucked firmly in bed under the canopy of rosebud chintz, forcing a confident expression, though it was clear she knew something wasn’t right; and Miss Shaw’s eyes were tearing while Caroline stared at her, almost demanding an explanation other than Miss Shaw taking her hand and apologizing for the tears; and Miss Shaw knew she could wait until morning (Mrs. Auchincloss told her Mrs. Kennedy said it was up to her to gauge what the children did or didn’t know), but she looked at Caroline and something told her it wouldn’t be fair to send the girl to sleep, to let her wake up full of promise—better for the girl to wake up as part of the grief, and that way maybe she’ll mourn more purely; then Miss Shaw inhaled so deeply her gut almost burst, and on the exhalation she said that there had been an accident; then she paused, realizing the sound of hope in the word accident, and corrected herself to say, ‘He’s been shot, and God has taken him to Heaven because they couldn’t make him better in the hospital,’ and then closed her eyes, praying that when she opened them she wouldn’t see Caroline crying—that this had all been a dream.

This is historical fiction at its best: intensely researched (check out Braver’s staggering list of acknowledgments, including the Oral History collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum [Maud Shaw’s is among the transcripts Braver tells us he accessed]) and beautifully written. I recommend it highly.

The Wednesday Web Browser: AWP 2009, Jewish Book Council blog, and Joe the Plumber-Author?

Are you a student seeking to save money and simultananeouly attend the next Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference? If you’re willing to volunteer at the conference in exchange for your registration fees, click here. And if you’re already planning to attend AWP–say, for the first time, because you have a job interview lined up–you’ll find this advice for conference rookies worth reading (even if, in my experience, AWP is a significantly less formal event than some of those cited in the article I’m sending you to).
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In case you haven’t yet seen this on my other blog: Check out the Jewish Book Council’s new blog.
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Envying Joe the Plumber and an assortment of others who seem to fall directly into book deals? Timothy Egan feels your pain.

Jewish Fiction Writers’ Conference

I am proud to tell you that I will be one of the presenters taking part in the Jewish Fiction Writers’ Conference scheduled for Sunday, March 15, 2009, in New York City. Here’s a brief event description:

If you write adult fiction for the Jewish market, this conference is for you. Meet and network with top publishing professionals, including publicist Shira Dicker (Shira Dicker Media International), writer Erika Dreifus (The Practicing Writer), literary agent David Forrer (Inkwell Management), publicity director/acquiring editor Cary Goldstein (Warner Twelve), author Jeffrey Hantover, editor Lara Heimert (Basic Books), editorial director Altie Karper (Schocken Books/Random House), author Binnie Kirshenbaum (Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts), author Liel Leibovitz, publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt (Algonquin Books) and author Darin Strauss. Whether you are a new author or have already been published, meet experts who can help you get your work into print.

My presentation will focus on “Publishing Your Jewish Short Stories,” and it will include plenty of advice and resources based on my own experiences publishing Jewish-themed short fiction in magazines and journals.

Registration is now open. Click here for details! I hope to see some of you on March 15!

Friday Find: The Writers Loft

As a writer who spent half her childhood (ages 9-18) in New Jersey, I am happy to spotlight this piece of literary NJ: The Writers Loft, located in Montclair.

I found out about The Writers Loft, “where creative people come to work,” from Lisa Romeo, who will be leading an essay-writing seminar there on December 10. (Lisa and I recently strengthened our bond as New Jersey writers when I attended a poetry reading she participated in at my hometown library. Such fun!)

If I were still living in ye olde suburban town, I’d definitely look into The Writers Loft. Perhaps those of you in the Garden State will wish to do the same.

My Favorite “Emerging Writer”

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you know that I spend a lot of time with my sister’s two kids, now ages 5 and 2. (And if you’re new, you may as well get used to it.) And you also know, as this photograph from February 2004 (reprinted with maternal permission) suggests, that I’ve tried to take an active role in shaping their reading and writing lives from the start.

In that spirit, today I will share the Thanksgiving literary debut of my niece, R., the proud author (and printer/publisher, thanks to independent folding and stapling efforts) of what’s sure to be a bestseller: The Mouse Eat Cheese. (R. is still working on some subject/verb agreement and verb tense issues–play a game with her and you’ll hear her shout, ‘I winned!’; ask her to show you what she’s done lately with paper and markers, and she’ll display what “I drawed.”)

Although I’m still getting used to what seems a newfangled emphasis on allowing young children to spell words however the words may sound to them, rather than according to the correct spellings (a subject of commiseration with one of my college roommates in our most recent telephone call–apparently kids on the West Coast are encouraged to follow this system, too), I am absolutely heartened by R.’s mastery of plot–something her Aunt Erika still needs a lot of help with. Although you can’t see this for yourself, take my word for it: The eating of cheese represented on this sample page is followed by a series of other concrete actions, culminating in going to sleep.

I am also deeply impressed by R.’s efforts to illustrate her own work. (So what if the mouse “lack” ears?)

Beyond her self-started literary activities, R. was kept busy over Thanksgiving checking off the responsibilities Grandma had outlined for her on a to-do list. These included writing out placecards for the holiday table. Check out my favorite.
(Interestingly, R. seems to be grappling with the same “k” difficulties that plagued me when I was her age: Don’t ask about the traumatizing experience of seeking my first library card and encountering a librarian who refused to let my dad print the “k” for me–I was a perfectionist pretty early.)

So, you heard it here first, folks: The author of The Mouse Eat Cheese is destined for great things! And in case you’re wondering, R. has confirmed that she is not working on a “mouse” series. Her next book, she shared in an exclusive interview, will feature a cat protagonist. (Then again, maybe she’s planning The Cat Eat Mouse. Stay tuned!)