blog

The writers' backseat driver

Writing requires thousands of decisions -- everything from whether to use a comma or a dash to what's in the next chapter. Voices in my head chatter incessantly and sometimes scream out: "Do this. Don't do that." "Speed it up" "Turn right here." "I mean, left." "Here!" Screeeeeeeeeeech. E. L Doctorow has said, "Writing a novel is like driving across country at night. You can only see as far as ...

New location for Erfelden's dry goods store

The Erfelden Museum's exhibit of the old dry goods store The museum of local history in Erfelden, Germany boasts a strange exhibit -- the cabinetry and wall hangings from the dry goods store that once served the town. "The store belonged to the Jewish family named Stein," explained Katarina Kluck, a lifelong resident of the town who organized the display. "When the whole family fled in the late 1930s, the ...

New blog: Living in the Holocaust's shadows

My German friend, Gert Krell, and I are launching a new blog called "Shadows of the Holocaust: An American and a German discuss the legacies of the Nazi era." The blog will be an ongoing conversation between an American and a German that explores how the Holocaust has defined the lives of a generation removed. Here's a brief bio of my German correspondent: Dr. Gert Krell is a retired professor ...

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas…"

Irving Berlin wrote the best-selling record of all time – the yuletide ballad, “White Christmas.” Irving Berlin? Christmas? That’s right, Irving Berlin, a self-taught Jewish immigrant who chose to name himself after an English actor and a German city. His original name was Israel Baline. In 54 melancholy words, Berlin captured the World War II yearning for happier times, hearth and home, the mythic New England past. Amazingly, the sales ...

The empty chairs at the holiday table

Holidays are an odd roll call for families. Yet, ours comes up sadly short. The Holocaust continues to take its toll -- through death and dysfunction -- seventy years after the event. In Motherland, I wrote: "At each holiday dinner table, she (my mother) must have looked around for the relatives who should have been there, accounting for the missing. Any occasion was a reminder to her of who was ...

The Power of One

How can writers capture an unfathomable historical event? How can they give readers a grasp of the dimensions of genocide? How can they portray the legacy of the Holocaust? "The death of one man is a tragedy," Joseph Stalin once said. "The death of a million is a statistic." Statistical historians try to quantify the truth through numbers; writers attempt to assign meaning and context to those numbers. Writers know ...

Biking and Blogging

This week, Chicago was blanketed in snow. That put an end to my daily bike rides. I fear my blogging is at risk. Most writing ideas strike me while I'm riding. That's not surprising, given the research that exercise enhances creative thought. For me, biking is a way to stoke my brain. I'm often asked, why not use a stationary bike? Not the same. The combination of exercise and nature ...

Thousands of Jewish memorials in Germany

My mother's childhood home in Stockstadt, Germany In Germany, the same house remains in families for generations, handed down from parents to children. My mother's childhood home, built in 1721, belonged to the family for over 200 years. Restrictive policies on teardowns and renovations assure that houses do not change in appearance. Often, former Jewish homes serve as German memorials to those who once lived in them. "I could never ...

The ultrasound of a book

If a book is like a baby, the Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) is its ultrasound. ARCs are uncorrected proofs or galleys released by the publisher before the book goes to press for a complete printing. These proofs are printed in softcover and they still may have some unexpected typos. Used for promotional purposes, ARCs are distributed to book buyers at large chains and reviewers at magazines and newspapers three to ...