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Interview with Kelly Hartog, Founding Editor of Scribblers on the Roof, Part Four

Welcome to the concluding segment of our interview with Kelly Hartog, founding editor of Scribblers on the Roof, an online forum for Jewish fiction and poetry. The first, second, and third parts appeared earlier this week.

Erika Dreifus (ED): Please tell us about your own background as a writer and editor.

Kelly Hartog (KH): I actually started out in the theatre. However, a great deal of my drama school training included writing scripts and creating characters from scratch. So I guess I started writing fiction, plotting storylines and getting into a character’s head by default.

I first realized I actually had fiction-writing chops after I spent two weeks unemployed and sat in my dressing gown for the entire two weeks back in Australia, and knocked out a 5,000 word story on a beat up old typewriter for a Mills and Boon (the Commonwealth equivalent of a Harlequin Romance) short story competition. I came in 10th out of over 100,000 entrants, and was utterly gob smacked (mostly because I hadn’t included one heaving bosom or ripped bodice in my entire story).

When I moved to Israel in 1993, I spent most of my time working as a reporter and editor at The Jerusalem Post, and not writing much fiction at all. But I also had a stint as the associate editor at ARIEL, the Arts and Letters magazine of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where I had the privilege of reading and editing some brilliant poetry and short stories under the expert tutelage of Asher Weill. I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and began juggling the fiction with the faction, as I like to call it.

Still working in journalism, I credit my return to fiction to two extraordinary people in the US. The first is the incomparable Rachel Resnick (writer of Go West Young F*cked Up Chick and her recent memoir Love Junkie), who dragged a novel out of me in 12 weeks through a mediabistro course in 2004. It’s still not published. It came close but a wonderful agent said while she loved my writing, it was hard to sell being set in Israel.

The second is the ridiculously brilliant and talented Rick Chess, the head of both Creative Writing and Jewish Studies (isn’t that just a dream job?) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. I met him while I was the actor in residence at the BCI program at Brandeis Bardin in Simi Valley in the summer of 2004. He was the writer in residence, and he let me take one of his classes. His ability to have you tap into your Jewish background to create compelling fiction and poetry is unparalleled. He’s a wonderful poet in his own right, too, and has published three books (is this an unfair plug?). I actually credit part of the inspiration for Scribblers on the Roof to him. (ED adds: I’ve never worked with Rachel Resnick, but Rick Chess was a member of my MFA thesis committee, and if Kelly is president of the Rick Chess fan club, I claim the vice-presidency. Which means that plugging Rick’s books seems very fair to me!)

ED: What are some of your favorite literary works (books, stories, poems, etc.) with Jewish themes?

KH: This is an unfair question. There are so many I don’t know where to start. So I’ll pick a few but please know this list is by no means exhaustive. For starters, have I mentioned Rick Chess? All three of his poetry books are amazing – Chair in the Desert, Tekiah, and Third Temple. Two of my favorite poems of his though have to be “Leviticus for Daughters” (Chair in the Desert) and “Third Temple” (from Third Temple).

I love Etgar Keret’s short story collection, The Bus Driver who wanted to be God and other stories; anything by Ephraim Kishon, one of the few writers who can make me laugh out loud; and any poetry by Agi Mishol. Okay I’m getting stuck in the Israeli groove now, right? Sana Krasikov’s short stories: One More Year. That woman is brilliant, no? No wonder she won this year’s Sami Rohr Prize. I adore Aimee Bender’s flights of fancy, and my shelf still has its original dog-eared copy of the Diary of Anne Frank, which I’ve had since I was a teenager. I believe she would have been a literary giant had she lived.

ED: Thank you so much for sharing your vision with us, Kelly.

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Interview with Kelly Hartog, Founding Editor of Scribblers on the Roof (Part Three)

Welcome to the third part of our multi-post interview with Kelly Hartog, founding editor of Scribblers on the Roof, an online forum for Jewish fiction and poetry. The first and second segments appeared earlier this week.

Erika Dreifus (ED): What plans do you have for the site that we may not yet know about?

Kelly Hartog (KH): I’m currently working with a few relevant online sites to work on collaborative efforts, cross-promotion and building that community I spoke of earlier. I’m also working on putting together blog tours and highlighting debut authors – first published novels with Jewish themes. So if you’re out there, let me know! I’m excited about including podcasts (and am already negotiating with someone about posting her podcasts on our site). Right now these are still works in progress, so I can’t really say much more at this point.

I’m also planning to hold a competition. We already have some amazing established writers who have expressed interest in judging a fiction or poetry competition. It won’t happen until we can raise the funds to pay the winners something more than a token sum, though. Writing original work for a competition is tough and I know how much work it is. I don’t want to shortchange our writers, so hopefully we will one day be able to do that.

ED: Speaking of paying writers…how does Scribblers on the Roof compensate its contributors?

KH: Right now there is no financial compensation for writers (or for the editor!). I truly hope that will change in the future and that that will happen sooner rather than later. For now, Scribblers offers writers the opportunity to have their work published on a site that is open to all. The more outlets writers have to publish their work, the better, and there just aren’t a lot open to writers with Jewish themes. We are not a print publication; there is no fee to join; you don’t have to purchase a literary mag or be part of some literary circle to read the work.

I am based in Los Angeles, but already we have had writers – Jewish and non-Jewish on the site from England, Australia and Israel as well as the United States. Our writers have a chance to connect with their peers globally, and that, I believe is invaluable. Writing is such an isolated profession; it’s wonderful to know that people out there in the Internet ether are reading and commenting on your work. Note, I don’t mention the word “exposure.” As a writer, I am sick of people saying,” We can’t pay you, but you’ll get great exposure.” As someone smart once said: “People die from exposure.” Again, Scribblers is about creating community, first and foremost.

Please come back tomorrow for the conclusion of our multi-part interview with Kelly Hartog.

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Interview with Kelly Hartog, Founding Editor of Scribblers on the Roof (Part Two)

Welcome to the second installment of our multi-part interview with Kelly Hartog, founding editor of Scribblers on the Roof, an online forum for Jewish fiction and poetry. To see the first post, please click here.

Erika Dreifus (ED): What do you hope readers will gain from Scribblers on the Roof?

Kelly Hartog (KH): I want my readers to know that there is some extraordinary work out there by talented, creative writers that can nourish their heart and soul. There’s been a lot of negativity regarding what is a “Jewish writer” and why people use that label? Scribblers doesn’t. There is simply so much rich material within the Jewish realm that people can tap into, so why not use it in your writing, especially if that’s where your source material comes from? That’s why our contributors don’t have to be Jewish. They just need to write with a Jewish theme or concept.

Also, many of our readers are also our writers. All writers love to see their work published, and in turn, most writers are truly supportive of their fellow scribblers. They know what it’s like to be in the trenches, and I want our writers to have the opportunity to share their work, have it seen by others and to inspire and be inspired by their fellow writers. It’s ultimately about creating a community. That’s why I make sure we have links to events, readings, contests, anything that is out there that will help our writers have their work published elsewhere in what is clearly a niche market, and that will allow readers access to other wonderful authors. We’re not about being insular. Scribblers is about connecting with others and promoting great Jewish-themed writing to everyone.

Come back soon for the next installment of our interview with Kelly Hartog!

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Meet Kelly Hartog, Founding Editor of Scribblers on the Roof

I am thrilled to present the first installment of our promised interview with Kelly Hartog, founding editor of Scribblers on the Roof, an exciting new online forum for Jewish fiction and poetry.

Kelly Hartog was born in England, raised in Australia, moved to Israel and now lives in Los Angeles. She is the (self-described) quintessential wandering Jew. She has worked as a writer, editor and reporter for over 15 years and has freelanced for a variety of publications.

Erika Dreifus (ED): Why have you established Scribblers on the Roof, and why at this time?

Kelly Hartog (KH): I was going through a bunch of stories I had written and was sending them out to literary magazines, contests, etc. and discovered that I had several stories that were so intrinsically “Jewish” including ones with specific Hebrew terms, I realized they could not be published in anything but a Jewish publication. When I started looking for places to send them I realized that while there are some great places out there to submit your material that had fiction or poetry sections, there were none that were devoted exclusively to fiction and poetry with Jewish themes. And nowhere that allowed beginning writers to have a chance to showcase their work. So I thought, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed….” Although I guess in this case it was more “If the mountain won’t come to Moses…”

As to why now? The reason I was writing so many stories again is because I had lost a great deal of steady journalism and editing work over the last few months because of the recession. I took that extra time I had while looking for additional work and focused again on my love of fiction. It’s difficult to juggle journalism and fiction. Sometimes you’re so drained from writing for work all day you don’t want to tap into your creative brain come nighttime. But now I had the time. And that’s when I stumbled across these old stories with Jewish themes and how I came up with the idea for Scribblers. I had time to build the site, and learned some valuable skills creating this by myself from scratch. A steep learning curve indeed, but I’m now a better techie than when I started out!

Intrigued? Please return to My Machberet throughout the week to hear more from Kelly Hartog about Scribbers on the Roof, including what Kelly hopes readers will gain from the site, her future plans for Scribblers on the Roof, her very interesting writing background, and her own favorite reads!

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