Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Off Topic

On Sunday, my youngest son, Jesse, left on a European tour with his band. 21 cities in 23 days. This is what a rock band looks like before they leave for Europe (many of them for the first time):

Those of you who notice my name on the vertical between Jesse (3rd from left) and Chris (right), that's because Jesse dedicated his guitar case to me (Aww!) and to his friend, Henry's (left) mother, but some of the letters of her name fell off.

So the boys are off on their European adventure, and as I was looking for his tour dates, I came across a video of their show last night in Dresden at:

I don't know anything about music, but I'm told that their Math Rock is incredibly complex; it's music for musicians (and Europeans, who seem to be more progressive in their tastes than Americans).

If you happen to be in Europe, you can find their tour dates here:!/pages/Witt/11512449775
(And listen to some of their music in the left hand column).

I'm just a proud Mama!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mystery Solved!

As I started hearing from relatives whom I had never known about, a mystery arose. I was eager to find the descendants of Mordechai and Avrohom, who featured prominently in my grandfather's life, and in the book. I was excited when I spoke to the first 'new' cousin, Dr. Sam Marateck, a professor of computer science and winner of multiple best teacher awards at NYU.  his grandfather had been Chayim, the Talmudic scholar whom Jacob followed to the yeshiva (and from which he ran away in under a week). The next time we saw Chayim was after Jacob returned from the war and visited him in Lodz. Chayim became a shochet (a kosher butcher) in Shenandoah, PA once he moved to the U.S.

I confess to being a little disappointed, though, when I learned Sam's grandfather had been Chayim because I was eager to share the book, and their grandfather's roles in it, with Avrohom and Mordechai's descendants.

Then I heard from another relative I hadn't know about either. Now, at last, I had surely found one of Avrohom or Mordechai's descendants. But I became confused when I talked to David Marateck, a lawyer in Coal, PA (which I assume is in the general vicinity of Shenandoah) and his father, Sanford, a retired lawyer. Sanford's grandfather had been Berel Marateck. Berel? I had never heard of Berel, although he was mentioned in the earlier book, The Samurai of Vishigrod. And neither David, nor Sanford, nor Sam, before them, had ever heard of Mordechai, or my grandfather's sister, Malkah. All that anyone was certain about was that there had been 4 Marateck boys. I was now more confused.

While still trying to figure this out, David was kind enough to send me two family photos, which are pasted below. The first is of Berel and Avrohom -- yes, that Avrohom, on the left -- standing in front of  "B. Marateck Haberdashery" in Shenandoah, PA (which you can faintly see on the window of the store). What I realized, from seeing this picture, is that Berel must have been the oldest in the family, and had already left home and established his own life by the time about which my grandfather wrote. Jacob must not have grown up with him. (In fact, checking death records, I learned that Berel, or 'Barney,' as he was known in the U.S., had been born in 1866 whereas Jacob had been born in 1883. I deeply apologize to David and Sanford, et al., for not having known about Berel, but I will update the book to include him.)

This photo is Berel, his wife Dora, and their children, George and Abraham, in a family portrait.

But why had no one ever heard of Mordechai? I asked my mother, and my Aunt, Rose, if they knew of an uncle named Berel, or anything about Mordechai or Avrohom. My mother then told me stories about Avrohom visiting her family in th Bronx, and how her father and uncle would laugh together. In particular, she remembered giving up her room whenever Avrohom and his wife came to visit, which she didn't resent even a bit because it was so much fun to have him around. But once again, neither my mother nor my aunt remembered Berel and couldn't remember ever hearing the name Mordechai. I couldn't imagine that my grandfather would not have remained close to Mordechai, who had saved his life so many times in the book. But this is what I think I have figured out, though it may take looking through more graveyard records to come to a definitive conclusion.

There must have been 5 Marateck boys, born in this order: Berel, Mordechai, Chayim, Jacob and Avrohom. I don't know where in the birth order Malkah had been born, though I know she was older than Jacob. Berel moved to the U.S., first, where he set up a successful haberdashery (at least it was successful until the Depression). Some time later, Chayim followed Berel to the U.S., and Jacob and Avrohom did, too, though I don't know at what time. We can only conclude that neither Mordechai.nor Malkah left Poland,and must not have survived the Holocaust. Alas, the database of Polish Jewry is no longer online, and I don't know if there is any way to access it short of going to Poland. But you can bet I'm going to keep looking for information about each of these family members. Now I'm just waiting for one of Avrohom's grandchildren to get in touch with me... In the meantime, I am enjoying discovering family members that I never knew about.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Latest Endorsement

"A splendid, highly-recommended companion piece for secondary- and college-level students confronting the late-19th and early-20th century pivotal point in modern world history.  This book will captivate students, drawing them well away from their ordinary preoccupations, and the fluff of comfortable living.   It is an extension of the heart of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, the soul of searing Gulag writings, and the pathos and futility of CATCH-22--suffused at every turn with the grit and wit of mendicant Judaism."
Herman Mast III, Emeritus, Department of History, University of Connecticut

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hollywood, Are You Listening?

Check out the latest reviews for the book on Amazon:

5.0 out of 5 stars The Accidental Anarchist, December 10, 2010
ESTHER S. (Beverly Hills) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Accidental Anarchist (Paperback)
The Accidental Anarchist
Bryna Kranzler

"The Accidental Anarchist" reads like a house-a-fire, full of everything that makes a great book-truth, passion, wit, optimism as well as the absolutely incredible adventures of a most remarkable man. It feels like a classic already, a book to be read and reread and shared with others. Television should be looking to do a mini-series here-an eloquent and spellbinding testament of the power of faith in the Jewish people.

Richard and Esther Shapiro
Creators of "Dynasty"
And former senior vice president mini-series ABC (Esther)

A riveting read about one of the truly unique characters and stories of history, December 3, 2010
This review is from: The Accidental Anarchist (Paperback)
In a time between many wars and the falls of empires, "The Accidental Anarchist" tells the story of Jacob Marateck, an unusual rogue Jew who found himself leading Russian armies that hated him, into failed coups against the Czar, and taking long trips home. A story of the chaotic times of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, "The Accidental Anarchist" is a riveting read about one of the truly unique characters and stories of history that is not often heard about.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


The Accidental Anarchist has hit the big time

As of 11:00 last night,
Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #80,625 (out of 8 million, or 
top 1%) in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just Back from New York

...where I had several interviews with a wide range of publications. There were some interesting highlights to the trip, which I plan to do every few months to increase awareness of and enthusiasm for the book.

1) At one interview, which took place in a Starbucks during one of those east coast rainstorms in which it rains sideways (so that there's no way to dress or hold an umbrella to avoid getting soaked) , a gentleman gave up his comfy chair so that three of us could sit together and talk more easily. He stood nearby, which I didn't realize until he asked, "What book are you talking about?" I told him, and he said, "I've heard of that." (I gave him a promotional postcard I had printed up and he promised to order it on Amazon.) That was the second time that I or someone else mentioned the name of the book and someone else had heard of it, which is pretty cool considering that it's been out for less than 6 weeks. (If any of you have had the experience of someone recognizing the name of the book when you've talked about it, let me know! I love this kind of thing.

2) At another interview, a suggestion that I hadn't heard before came up: It was to create an edited version of the book (minus the provocative scenes) so that the text could be used in Middle Schools. I definitely have plans to propose the use of the book as supplementary material for course on Asian History, Russian History, Jewish History, Military History, etc., but I had never thought about Middle School or High School as an audience.

3) I saw a Concert Reading (though I don't know how this differs from a Stage Reading), of a play by Colin Greer: "Imagining Heschel." It was about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent Jewish theologian and human rights activist (he marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King), who, in 1968, had been invited to 'educate' the Pope and the Vatican Council so that it would stop blaming the Jews for killing Christ, which is at the heart of antisemitism. I found a number of similarities between Rabbi Heschel's goals and those of my grandfather, who held the same attitude and pursued some of the same objectives through less ... 'proper,' shall we say, means. The play provoked thoughtful meditation on the nature of beliefs and the ability to forgive. I hope the brief run that the play had at the Cherry Lane Theater will return in a more expanded, theatrical form so that more people will have the opportunity to see it and begin thinking about some of the issues it raises. (I will have a lot more to say about this play, and the experience of watching it, in an upcoming blog entry).

4)  I learned from my experience talking with reporters that I need to narrow down how I talk about my book because there are so many themes that it makes it difficult for reporters to decide which angle to pursue. It's my job to make their job easier, which I'm working on, but then it's only experiences like these that teach me what I still need to learn.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks to a Follower

I subscribe to Google alerts for a number of reasons -- to see when my son has a song on the radio that he doesn't tell me about; to read articles that my other son has written, and to see who's talking about The Accidental Anarchist.

Yesterday I had a delightful surprise when Google alerted me the another blog included the book as a recommended Christmas present for people interested in genealogy. As if that weren't enough, I recognized the author of the blog as someone who has been a follower of this blog since close to the very beginning. I'm happy to share with you her blog: The Turning of Generations.

Reading Michelle's bio, I also learned that she's a serious genealogist, working on an advanced certificate in methodology at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies -- a serious means of finding the roots of one's family tree. Good luck, Michelle, and thanks for the recommendation!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Attended My Niece's Wedding

Last night, my niece got married in the Bronx, the first of my 19 (or have I lost count) nieces and nephews to do so. I loved seeing how bride and groom looking at each other with so much love and adoration in their eyes. And I discovered that I had known the parents of the groom (whose last name I didn't even know until yesterday) in high school -- though it took me quite a while to stretch my mind that far back, and part of my mind didn't want to go there. Saw many relatives, including some I really like.

But what was also interesting is that I started getting incredible compliments on the book, and not only from family members (who can do either way -- either you can do no wrong in their eyes, or they know you too well to be impressed by anything you do). My sister-in-law, who had offered to host a book signing event for me in the Miami area, told me that she started  reading it "out of obligation," (not even out of interest, or curiosity?) but that once she did she got hooked, and loved it. My grandfather's 'voice' and his adventures has that effect on a lot of people.

I also met the son of a good friend whom I haven't seen in many years, though we recently connected on Facebook. This friend's son, who was a friend of my niece's, came over to introduce himself, very quickly adding that, "My father read your book and loved it!"

I admit to being pleased by the compliments, though still somewhat surprised by the amount of passion that the book stirs up in people. But that wasn't where my focus was, which, as usual centered around how proud I am of my own kids, the younger one, already a rock star, who attended the wedding with us -- until 'business' obligations called the 19-year-old away, and the older one, who arrives tomorrow night for Thanksgiving, who just landed a terrific new job with a company that's smart enough to recognize his talents, motivation, creativity and incredible work ethic. Seeing their successes, and happiness, is still the most important source of joy in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. No lectures on what to be thankful for; just enjoy -- whether it's being with family, friends, or just having a long weekend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today is International Tolerance Day

Did you know that such a day existed? It was founded only in 1996 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

This makes it a convenient occasion to point you to an article ( written by a dear friend of mine, Zoe Ghahremani, who attended a lecture with me at the Jewish Book Fair in San Diego last week. Upon hearing Angella Nazarian talk about her family's flight from Iran, and the assistance provided by the many Jewish organizations that existed to help Jewish refugees, she thought back to the time before she left from Iran, and since then, and noted that the Jews seemed to be the only group that had organized itself to provide so many forms of support for Jews in the United States and in other countries. And my friend, who is not a Muslim, points out in this poignant article that Iranian Muslims, who have also suffered under the current and previous regimes, had no organizations to go to for assistance.

We Jews are fortunate that we have established a history of helping one another, But Zoe's point should be understood and heeded: The not all oppressed minorities have organizations established that are effective in providing assistance to their brethren. I know -- it's easier said than done.

How do you think such a change could be brought about?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Spoke Today at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair

...and had a very nice turnout. A number of my friends showed up to support me, which was wonderful, but about 2/3 of the audience were people I didn't know, many of whom had relatives who came from areas near where my grandfather was born (Vishigrod), and whose parents or grandparents had escaped to the U.S. before they could be conscripted into the Russian army. The only option that was open to my grandfather was more extreme.

As I read today from the book: "Thus, every home rang with heated family conferences, all dedicated to the search for some means by which an innocent child could be preserved from the fatal clutches of Vanya’s* army.

For the rich, there was no problem: they bought their way out. For the poor, however, there was only one avenue of escape: self-mutilation. And since there were any number of equally frightful possibilities to choose
from, long evenings of consultation took place. My Aunt Tzivia strongly recommended a man who would draw out all my teeth. Feibush, the bath attendant, held that the surest remedy would be for me to blind myself in my right eye, without which one cannot aim a rifle. And my Uncle Yonah, never at a loss, knew a man skilled in the art of severing a tendon at the knee. Had I accepted even half the suggestions offered to me, I should not only have escaped military service, but would have ended up a cripple such as the world had never seen."

* A nickname for ‘Ivan’ used as a general term referring to all Russians

It was quite a lot of fun, and afterwards a number of women from Hadassah asked, if their book club read The Accidental Anarchist, would I come and speak to them. Of course. I love speaking about the book and my grandfather's crazy ways.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Two More Counties Heard From

A few days ago, I caught an article whose title, I thought, was "Justice Stevens Urges Tolerance." Today, as I looked for the article to post it here, every reprint of the article had the title "Justice Stevens Voices Support for NYC Mosque" ( It's the same article reprinted everywhere, but it seems as if the headline has changed to emphasize the controversial nature of the topic. But it's also possible that I remember the headline incorrectly.

But what got me thinking about this article again was attending the opening night presentation of the San Diego Jewish Book Fair (at which I will be speaking next week). The featured speaker was Mosad Hassan Yousef, speaking on what I had hoped would be a very enlightening subject: How he, the son of the man who founded Hamas, which has repeated done everything possible to derail any progress toward Middle East peace, had been raised to be a terrorist, but had a change of heart. He was with us to be interviewed about what led to his change of heart, and what his life has been like since then. (Sorry to report that it wasn't a very enlightening interview -- it didn't get to the meaty questions, but perhaps that was a matter of the speaker not being fully fluent in English or able to express himself as eloquently as I had hoped).

What surprised me, after his inspiring comments about tolerance, were two comments he made: 1) The we should oppose the Mosque near Ground Zero because it is a 'political' mosque, and 2) that the Koran is 'evil.' The latter is not an opinion I have ever heard expressed. I certainly have heard that the translations of the Koran vary, and that some encourage killing Jews, but this is the first time I have heard it referred to as 'evil.'

On the one hand, Mr, Yousef grew up with the Koran whereas I don't believe that anyone else speaking about its content has said so. On the other hand, I wonder whether it might be possible for someone to contend that the Hebrew Bible (aka The Old Testament) is 'evil,' too, because it also proscribes certain actions that, mercifully, we have learned not to obey to the letter -- things like stoning people. But I don't know enough about the Koran to know how accurate Mr. Yousef's statement is.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has some experience or information on this subject.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Yet Another Reminder

Upon reading today's NY Times' review of "The Scottsboro Boys," which opened last night but which I saw in previews, I was reminded, yet again, of how far we haven't come in race relations, in particular, and tolerance, in general. True, this musical was set in Alabama in 1931, that is -- "a long time ago in a [place] far, far away," but the musical depiction of the hasty incarceration of nine young black men over the false (and later recanted) accusation of raping two white women, shows the process by which such miscarriages of just could easily still occur today. To 'shock' the audience into awareness, as if the denial of due process wasn't enough, a song called "Electric Chair" is probably the toe-tappingest one of the Kander & Ebb (yes; classic) show. Not only worth seeing but also worth contemplating, especially considering the Epilogue-type of revelations that shares with the audience what happened to each of the men who had been falsely accused and imprisoned, "once upon a time."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Best Birthday I Can Remember

With Jay flying my boy, MIKEY, in. (Jesse had gigs booked and a lot of homework, but was w us in spirit). So it started off really nicely, w dinner Friday night at Market. Yesterday morning, I went w my friend, Barbara, to an excellent program on Books Into Screenplays, and came home to an amazing brunch made by J and Mike: very ambitious & quite delicious--a creamy (in texture but without cream), yellow gazpacho, followed by 3 great salads--'white' salad with fennel, mushrooms and cheese (I think I'm leaving a few things out), brussel sprouts with walmuts and pomegranate seeds, and red and yellow beets with pistachios and blue cheese; a very light mac 'n cheese; and ann amazing dessert--melon with basil granita. You heard right: Basil was the flavor, and I loved it. Will have to experiment with making the ice cream equivalent of granita.

In addition to the wonderful food, Mike hung out w us (not that I would have begrudged him a chance to see his friends; he gets back here so rarely); we watched football together (Vanderbilt -sad; Oregon-yet another amazing game) and he provided commentary, then we took him out to Smashburger, a place he'd never been and one we knew he'd like, given the sweet potato fries -- a taste he picked up in the south. Only after that did he go to visit a friend, but it was after 8:30 so of course the old folks were ready to wind down.

And this morning, after taking him to the airport to return home after a whirlwind 36 hour trip, we went to Whisk'n'Ladle to read the Friday, Saturday and Sunday papers that we hadn't had time for. We're sort of 'regulars' there, you might say; it's always reliably good and interesting food. We had passion fruit mimosas to start, and after a wonderful brunch -- flatbread with light gruyere, artichoke hearts, chilies and figs, and some of their always interesting breakfast pastries and jams -- the kitchen surprised us by sending out a pumpkin bread pudding with butter rum ice cream (J had told the server it was my birthday). I was so full, yet I seemed to manage quite well with the dessert, which was fantastic (I'd never had butter rum before and wouldn't have been interested in trying it, but it was great with the pumpkin -- they always do such a nice, and interesting job.) Good thing we ate early, b/c even with the great leftovers at home, it may be a while before I can eat again (famous last words). Although you can be sure it won't be at the next venue.

Off to the Chargers-Titans game, trying to be mentally prepared for yet another heartbreaking loss. I even noted on Facebook that if they won I would consider it a birthday gift to me. And guess what -- they won in a battle that shouldn't have been as tough as it was -- but don't let me start talking about football or I'll never get back to the main subject.

While I don't normally use my blog or Facebook to share 'personal' stuff, this weekend was too good to keep to myself. I hope whoever reads this can enjoy it vicariously (and I apologize to those who read it in snippets before -- it was the only way I could get info on Facebook -- that I know of -- from my phone).

The hard part will be tomorrow, in the gym, when I need fess up to my new age...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Putting My Money Where My...Rear Window Is

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Suppose I Should Be Flattered

Just noticed that 'used' copies of The Accidental Anarchist are being offered in the Amazon Marketplace for more than triple the listed price. It's an honor to see the price go up so high  when only a few people have gotten their copies yet, and I know who all those people are. My bet is that what these guys are selling is not the finished/final book but an Advanced Review Copy which is sent out only to revewiers and are marked that they are not to be sold. (But it's well known that reviewers sell them, anyway. What I should have done was written the name of the reviewer to whom I had sent review copies so that if they tried to sell the book, people would know who was committing a no-no.)

Alternatively, a few people saw the rapid sellout the first day as an opportunity for arbitrage, believing that someone is so eager to get their hands on the book that they will pay triple the price. These people will take your order, and wait to fulfill it until they get their regular-priced copy. Nice work if you can get it.

Let the buyer beware: If you're tempted to buy a used copy of my book, check with the seller to make sure it is the final edition, not a preliminary one.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Join us tomorrow to hear Bryna talk about The Accidental Anarchist with the media

Call in to  605-562-3000 at 11am ET; enter code 888758# and hear the conversation

Free Preview! Chapter 1 of The Accidental Anarchist

Here's the first chapter of The Accidental Anarchist for your reading pleasure:

Chapter 1: In The Beginning

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

First Publication Review

From ForeWord Reviews (this will appear in their November/December issue, but I have permission to use it already)

The Accidental Anarchist
Bryna Kranzler
Crosswalk Press
Softcover $18.00 (332pp)

At thirteen, Jacob Marateck left his home in a small Polish village to seek adventure in Warsaw. At 21, he was conscripted into the Russian army just in time for the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, and over the next few years joined the revolutionaries who worked to overthrow the Czar, was sentenced to death three times, and escaped with Warsaw’s King of Thieves from a Siberian forced labor camp.
            Kranzler, Marateck’s granddaughter, is a playwright who received the Helen Prince Award for Excellence in Dramatic Writing and was a finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center competition for her play Do Hermaphrodites Reproduce Only in the Spring? Her parents, Shimon and Anita Marateck Wincelberg, had previously translated the 28 notebooks that made up Marateck’s diaries and published the first twelve as The Samurai of Vishigrod. After her father passed away, Kranzler inherited the job of editing and publishing the rest of her grandfather’s diaries.
The Accidental Anarchist is told from Jacob’s point of view, and his dry wit is evident throughout, leaving the reader with a sense of optimism even amid war, starvation, and imprisonment. “The seemingly minor decision I made to end my education before the age of thirteen set me on a path from which each subsequent choice flowed logically from the previous foolish one,” Marateck wrote. As a Jewish man in a notoriously anti-Semitic army, he went from fighting with his fellow soldiers to fighting an impossible war against the Japanese in China. Twice he was sentenced to death: once for punching a superior, and once for falling asleep on guard duty. Twice he was surprised to find the sentences overturned. After surviving freezing nights, endless marches without food, and gun battles, he returned to Warsaw to join the revolutionaries, only to be arrested and sentenced to death again. At the last minute he received a reprieve and was shipped instead to a Siberian labor camp. Through all of these adventures, despite being surrounded by death, Marateck’s wit, intelligence, and optimism carried him through.
Readers interested in European or Jewish history, war stories, and just plain action adventure will enjoy this book. Kranzler’s editing creates a smooth style with a quick pace while retaining her grandfather’s unique voice and perspective. The Accidental Anarchist is the true story of a likable hero on an epic journey. (October) Christine Canfield

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Lot is Happening

It's not that there has been nothing to write about since my last entry, but rather that too much has been going on for me to have the opportunity to provide an update on the status of this project. As I write, the book is not only being printed but converted into multiple e-formats. The release day has been delayed till October 22 to accomodate some interviews that will take place that week.

Meanwhile, I'm sending out personal, direct mail letters to Jewish Book Fair venues (which I tried to contact by email, but about half of the emails listed on the sites bounced back) as well as to Hadassah organizations around the country that have book clubs. At the same time, I'm about to begin seeking blurbs from academics in the fields of Jewish History, Asian History, Russian History, Military History so that I can market it to Universities for use on their reading lists. (I'd particularly like to see places like West Point, The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute incorporate the book into their studies; I think the young and impressionable students who plan a military career ought to know that war isn't pretty and it isn't glamorous, despite the way it's been marketed to the public. (Remember when there was an embargo on photographs of coffins returning from Iraq? As if they thought no one would notice that people were dying as a result of that conflict)?

I'm also trying to gather my thoughts on how to explain what living in my grandfather's words has been like for these past few years. Before I began this project, he was something like a Superhero to me -- not because of amazing feats or strength or anything like that but because he didn't seem real to me. He was just a story while I was growing up, an interesting one but not one with which I felt a particular kinship. It's different now, but I still don't have the words to explain it.

I'm still behind in several other matters that I need to a attend to, notably creating a book trailer, which is like a video TV commercial for the book. I'm not going to try to complete with some of the glitzy book trailers that I've seen -- they've hired actors to play the roles in the book! I don't have a budget like that, so I'm going to have to be creative on a budget. I've had a concept in mind for several months, but just haven't had the time to sit down and write it. (Then I'll have to figure out how to film and edit it, but if I always thought about the next step after one I have yet to take, I'd be afraid to do anything at all). So here's to ignorance! Sometimes its the only reason that things get done.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Tiger

I've been reading the book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance by John Valliant, a non-fiction book set in far Eastern Siberia, land of the convict gold mines to which my grandfather had been heading. It's a good thing he escaped when he did. His destination was an additional 4-5 months of walking away, whereas the transit camp he escaped from was only 100 miles from the nearest tracks of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The entire away of the gold mines, and more, is forested land known as the taiga -- the world's largest forest, which covers 11% of the earth.

I had thought he was in the taiga when he first escaped because he referred to being in a forest, with no landmarks, etc. "surrounded as we were by trees that were identical in height and girth." In fact the taiga is home to the world's tallest, and hence, I presume, oldest, trees. So when my grandfather described them as being "deep in the bowels of a forest that may not have been touched by human feet since
the Six Days of Creation" he might not have been exaggerating.

Not only does far eastern Siberia have an unforgiving climate (the better to discourage inmates from any thoughts of escaping -- and surviving), but it is also home to the Amur Tiger (aka, the Siberian Tiger), the largest specie of tiger in the world, but also, as the book demonstrates, capable of higher order thinking, particularly when it comes to taking revenge.

Predatory animals don't usually attack humans unless they, themselves, have been or are being attacked,  but in one of the incidents described in the book, a hunter stole some meat from an animal that the tiger had killed, which the tiger considered an attack (or at the very least, rude behavior). Not only was this particular tiger pissed off, byut he memorized the particular hunter's scent, and stalked him, camping outside the hunter's cabin for several days, and then returning to the forest to await the hunter whom she knew would return, as if she had some hypnotic power over him. She waited for the hunter (tigers, while having the capability to get very angry, also seem to have a great deal of patience, making them deadlier than even the cattiest <--hmm, wonder why we use that descriptive term? -- high school girl),  and when he returned, she attacked and ate him, leaving only the clothing as evidence of his kill and, perhaps, a warning.

So while my grandfather's crazy ideas and occasional charm got him out of a lot of close calls, I'm glad he didn't have to test his charm on a tiger, one with a long memory.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sky of Red Poppies

Full disclosure: This is my friend, Zoe's book, however it is unique, and a marvelous read that I highly recommend.

The book takes us inside the lives of people who was struggled to survive under the Shah of Iran's regime (probably not too much different than the current regime, except that Ahmadinejad has PR people who teach how to talk without saying anything at all). The story is about two young girls, best friends who are very much alike, until each makes a seemingly trivial, but fateful, decision: Shireen becomes politically active while Roya does everything possible to not to draw attention to herself. The girls grow up, and they grow apart by virtue of the different paths they pursue, and the reader gets to see the consequences of those decisions, not just upon the girls, but their extended families, as well.

It would be difficult for an American reader to imagine what it would be like to live under an oppressive regime in which it is risky to have, let alone express, an opinion. The Savak (secret police) are everywhere. Much as in Ceau┼čescu's Romania, one could not be sure who to trust. Friends and family are forced to denounce each other in order to save their own lives, while a relative handful of people assume all the risks, and suffer all the punishments, themselves.

The two primary characters, Roya and Shireen, represent a nation at odds with itself, wondering "whether to take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing, end them" (Shakespeare), or remain silent and obedient, rationally focusing on their own and their families' lives than those of their countrymen.

In spite of the world it depicts, Sky of Red Poppies (as its optimistic-sounding title suggests) is not a dark book, nor does it have a political agenda. It focuses on the relationships between the girls. Even once they are separated by geography and the very different paths their lives take, Roya doesn't forget Shireen, and struggles to find out whether her friend is dead or alive.

The book opens a window into a world that people from the West never see, not just the lifestyle, but the very real people inhabiting it. They are no different than you or I, but by an accident of birth live under a totalitarian regime. But whether Zoe Gharahmeni writes about the reality of life under the Shah, or describes the friendship between the girls, her words are emotionally evocative, and beautiful.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On the Nature of Prejudice

The recent discussion about potential Koran burnings scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 got me thinking: First, it reminded me that some people are very skilled at coming up with stunts to get publicity for themselves or their causes, but then also about how we, as a society, continue to generalize about and demonize certain groups of people, such as Muslims, according to the actions of a single (or, in this case, 19) individuals.

I found this a particularly stunning example of what a short distance we, as a society, has evolved since the abolishment of slavery, for example, 150 years ago or the Jim Crow laws that were still on the books in certain states as recently as 45 years ago. This point stood out particularly because the news about renewed hostility toward muslims came out while I was editing a certain section of my grandfather’s book

If you recall, anti-Semitism was the official government policy in Russia and its occupied territories in the early 1900s, and plenty of enmity was directed against the Jews (and not just in the form of discrimination, but in active, and brutal pogroms). Yet despite his experiences, I never detected in my grandfather’s words any hostility towards Russians, Poles, Ukrainians or any other ethnic group as a people. In fact, upon the death of one acquaintance, Semyon, he noted that “. . . In all the months of our acquaintance until th[e] moment [of his death], I had never heard him say a bad word against either the Jews or the Czar.” He held up Semyon in contrast to numerous other soldiers who had been schooled in violence and indoctrinated in chauvinism, and expressed their attitudes toward Jews unabashedly. Which suggests that such attitudes were so endemic that my grandfather fully expected and anticipated to be the target of  resentment and blame, and was surprised by its absence.

Considering the intimate nature of the thoughts and feelings that my grandfather expressed so openly in his diaries (possibly because he didn’t live long enough to edit out those sentiments), I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him let loose, on occasion, with some unkind words about certain groups of people who tormented him. But he focused his anger exclusively on the one individual most responsible for the deplorable conditions in the army and in the country as a whole – the Czar (which led to yet another death sentence, but you probably could have guessed that).

As the daughter of someone who had escaped from Germany during the rise of Nazism, one might expect me to have heard nothing but negative stories about all Germans while I was growing up. Yet my father remembered his years in Germany with great fondness – the nanny who had a picture of Hitler on her wall, the schoolteacher who wore a swastika armband and required the students to salute Hitler, but still treated the Jews in the class as equals of everyone else. (This open-minded attitude toward Germans got my father into trouble when he spoke, many years ago, to a group of Holocaust survivors, understandably a crowd that did not care to hear about ordinary Germans’ redeeming qualities).
When we find ourselves considering an isolated part of something as representative of the whole, we should remember, as Mark Twain noted, “All generalizations are false – including this one.”

Discussion: As open-minded as I try to be, I know there are situations in which I fall victim to the same type of thinking. I generally think that "all politicians are liars" because in order to get elected, a candidate needs to tell the public what it wants to hear, which usually isn't the truth. Where, in your experience, do you see such deductive reasoning arise?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blurb Received from Elie Wiesel

"The Accidental Anarchist is a profound testament to the power of faith, and to the continued survival of the Jewish people."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Calling all Maratecks

Yesterday I met my cousin Sam Marateck, a professor of Computer Science at NYU. We compared the stories were had heard growing up, and he told me that what his grandfather had said about my grandfather was that you couldn't be in the same room with him without laughing. We worked on drawing the family tree, and I pulled out a list of both phone records and death records listing Maratecks in the U.S. -- there aren't all that many -- and he was able to tell me who most of them were. It turns out that there is one Marateck still in Shenandoah, PA (but as to my question regarding how in the world the family ended up there, of all places -- and my apologies to anyone who lives in what I understand is a beautiful area -- all he could tell me was that it was a Polish area, but not necessarily populated with Polish Jews). I also learned there is one branch of the family in Ft. Myers, FL (we couldn't figure out from which of my grandfather's brothers that family is descended, so I'm looking forward to calling that cousin) as well as in Marietta, GA.There aren't a lot of us, so I should be able to reach most of them.

So if you happen to know of anyone with the last name of Marateck, there's a good chance it's a close relative, and please ask him or her to contact me.

One final observation: Sam and I were speaking of our grandfathers, and there was so much that we didn't know -- about their siblings, who left Poland and who remained and perished, and so on. That's only two generations. If you have grandparents, ask questions; that information doesn't stick around forever.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Found a Relative!

One would think that, after asking my mother so many questions about what happened to her father's brother and sister that she might have thought to tell me that we have a couple of cousins, ironically in New York City, where I am now, and one in Florida, where I was before coming to NY.

The relative in Florida is a professor of computer science at NYU, and I'm looking forward to meeting him, giving him an advance copy of the book, and finding out what family history he knows. (Unfortunately, my grandfather didn't write nearly as much about this brother, who was a Torah scholar, so he won't find a lot in the book about his father, but at least there's something).

But neither he, nor the cousin in Florida, is from either of the other two siblings about whom I have not been able to learn anything. I checked the Mormon database, Shenandoah, PA death records, and what little still exists of Jewish records from Poland. I suspect that the sister, Malkah, and the oldest brother, Mordechai, who saved my grandfather's hide so many times, never made it out of Poland. I just don't understand why my mother knows virtually nothing about this aunt and these uncles (she says it wasn't something that was talked about). None of this makes sense to me, but I'm excited to have the chance to connect with these other branches of the family. It's another way of bringing my grandfather's story to life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Amateur Researcher, Part II

Since Czarist Russia wasn’t big on gathering, or sharing, information, I haven’t found any resources that identified the location of these prison camps. Most of the time, the camps didn’t even record the names of the prisoners in their custody – at least not at the transit camps. I guess they figured that identifying them would be easier when there were many fewer who survived the entire journey.

There are a few clues in the book, however, to help us figure out where the transit camp he had escaped from might have been. Our story so far:

1) When my grandfather and his partner (and 19 other convicts) had escaped from the camp, they were told (by the guards– do you think they’re reliable sources?) that it was only a five-day walk to the railroad tracks.

2)   Considering that my grandfather had escaped with an older comrade (only in his fifties, but back then that was old) who wasn’t in the best of shape, I assumed that they could only walk about 20 miles a day, which would meant they were about 100 miles from a train station (unless the guards assumed they would cover greater distance in a single day)

3) The camp was either in or near the woods, and they spent the first night deep in the forest. The Taiga? That is the world’s largest forest, so it doesn’t help us narrow down their location.

3) After not having eaten for about four days – their meager half-loaf of bread didn’t make it much past the second day of freedom -- they found an isolated cabin in the woods. The woman who lived there fed them and let them sleep in the barn that night.

5) She described living conditions in this remote area as better than the “real” Siberia, which I interpret, and the information supports this, that she lived in Western Siberia.

6) Her home was not far from a military base where her husband, an army colonel who was sympathetic toward the coming revolution, was stationed

7) The colonel and advised my grandfather and his partner to travel east, toward Asia, rather than in the more predictable direction, west, toward Europe and home; in particular, they had been advised to head toward the city of Irkutsk, about a five-day train ride away

8) No fuss was made about it being a long distance to a rail station, so I presume they were pretty close to one of the stops on the TransSiberian Railway, much of whose construction had been completed by this point (1907)

9) Their “guide” put them on a train facing in the wrong direction, so instead of traveling 5 days east, they travelled 2-3 days west, which put them in the city of Chelyabinsk. (Chelyabinsk is not on the current route of the TransSiberian railroad, however it was on the “original” route, the one in use in 1907.)

10) The distance between Chelyabinsk and Irkutsk is 3388km (or 2105 miles). Thus, the city on which they boarded the train was either 2/7 or 3/8 of the way between Chelyabinsk and Irkutsk, or 968 and 1271km, respectively.
The red line on this map reflects the current route of the TransSiberian railroad, whereas the blue line that connects to the red reflects the original route.
Chelyabinsk was the first station on the original TransSiberian railroad.
11) Using the distances from Irikutsk (since Chelyabinsk is no longer on the same rail line), that means we’re looking for a station 2420 or 2217 km from Irikutsk, give or take

12) According to the distances between rail stations shown in Lonely Planet’s The Transsiberian Railway, the stations at which my grandfather and his partner were most likely to have boarded the train were Omsk (2469km from Irkutsk, or 49 miles off our calculation) or Barabinsk (2150km from Irkutsk, 33 miles off our calculation). Both cities had been founded by that time, although Barabinsk was a much younger, and smaller city, having been founded in 1893 when it became a stop on the Transsiberian railroad. According to Wikipedia, Omsk was the administrative center of Western Siberia in the 19th and 20th centuries; currently, it is the second largest city in Siberia (after Novosibirsk). Given that my grandfather and his partner were on the run, I think it’s less likely that they would have boarded a train in a large city, hence, my analysis leads me to conclude that they boarded the train in Barabinsk.

 Now it’s just a matter of trying to find a labor camp about 100 miles from Barabinsk, but as I said, the Russians didn’t keep records of those things, and I’ve already spent too much time on this exercise (thought more of what I’ve learned may come up in future posts). I hope you'll forgive me if I don't pursue it further.

A side note: Omsk is where my goddaughter and her family lived—briefly—when her husband, a famous Swiss goalie, was recruited to play for the Russians, but then the NHL went on strike, and with all of the American (including Canadian) players suddenly available, most other foreign players were displaced. We had planned to visit them in Omsk that summer, but they weren’t there long enough.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Amateur Researcher, Part I

I had always had the romantic notion that my grandfather escaped from a prison camp in deepest Siberia, but while working on this book, and looking at the map while doing so, I realized that he had never reached his final destination, that he had escaped from one of the interim, or transition, camps.

When I became interested in charting out his various journeys. I looked at maps of Poland and Russia and identified where different incidents took place. My first observation was that people traveled tremendous distances back then (sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily). My next discovery, when I located on the map the Siberian towns to which my grandfather referred on his flight home, was that he had only gotten as far as Western Siberia, not all the way to the Far East, which I believe was the intended area as that region in rich in gold deposits, and gold mining was the task the prisoners on his chain gang were to perform for the next ten years.

As you can imagine, it isn’t very easy to locate maps of the various forced labor camps (and, by the way, the ones during my grandfather’s era were called katorgas, not gulags); it would probably require searching through the Kremlin archives, not all of which are likely to be accessible by the general public. Even if I knew his precise, ultimate destination, that wouldn’t help me find the interim camps through which the prisoners passed on the long journey to their permanent exile. They might even have been temporary.

But last night I came across a website that provided some information that I hadn’t had, and hadn’t come across anywhere else. The website was one that sells term papers (!); among other hitherto unknown bits of information, it gave a name to the interim camp system: etape – a new word to use in my searches. Suddenly, all sorts of new resources turned up that hadn’t appeared before. The unidentified author of this particular essay, entitled “Siberian Prison System,” also provided information about prisoners traveling on barges to Tomsk, from which they walked the remaining distance, which could be thousands of kilometers.

(to be continued)

Monday, July 19, 2010

First Blurb Received for Book Jacket

“The Accidental Anarchist” is the memoir of Jacob Marateck, but it reads and feels like a great novel. In fact, as I raced through Jacob's adventures, I realized that no Hollywood screenwriter could ever invent such an extraordinary tale. A soldier in the Russo-Japanese war, Marateck, with a great eye for detail, manages to infuse every image and incident with his own unique optimism and an inspirational Jewish world view.

Robert J. Avrech is an Emmy Award winning Hollywood screenwriter and the author of the prize-winning novel, “The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

No, I Haven't Fallen Off the Face of the Earth

...though the irregularity of my posts must make it seem that way. The reality is that there are a lot of activities going on related to the book's October release. Among them:

Develop a social media marketing plan: I'm going to need some help here, though I think I've come up with a strategy for using Twitter. It'll take me a long time to set up, but if it works the way I think/hope it does, it should be effective. I'll learn more next week when I go to a Social Media Marketing Workshop. If you want to follow my tweets (and give me your feedback on my strategy), my address is: @xsnerg (there's a link on the blog). If you read a Tweet you like, please forward it to your friends; it takes a lot of forwards to make anything, such as a Tweet, go viral).

By the way, I asked my musician son if he uses Twitter. He replied that, "Twitter is for middle-aged people who think that's what kids do." There's some truth in that...

Social media marketing also means setting up a website, which is in progress. For those of you who have regularly been following my blog, some of the information on the website will be repetitive, but there will also be new components, including an animated map of my grandfather's travels. Last week, I spent time in the UCSD Map Library, trying to figure out where the labor camp that my grandfather escaped from was located: I know it was a five-day walk from Chelyabinsk, which is in Western Siberia, and that he rowed across a lake that was a mile wide somewhere along that route. Unfortunately, Google Earth doesn't have the tools to help me look at the landscape within a 100-mile radius, which is what I figured he and his partner would have covered in five days' time; that feature is only on Google Earth Pro, which costs $400. Which is why I went to the map library. I found the call number of the specific map I wanted to examine but it was missing. Contacting the main reference librarian in the map room to see if he can locate it; he was on vacation when I was in the library last week.

The website will also have a video of my presentation to the Jewish Book Council, which will be part of my online press kit, and the Book Trailer I'm currently writing (think movie trailer, but without the budget). (I asked the same son if he could compose something for the book trailer -- I'm talking less than a minute of music -- but he said he needed 6 months' notice... Well, he is busy. But he recommended several websites from which I can download music free, or 'free' after paying a single licensing fee). If I can finish my part of it by the time he returns home from his West Coast tour, I may ask, again. There will also be an area where readers can write in with comments on the book.

I'm also looking for a publicist, 75% of the need is because I don't have time to do everything that needs to be done, and 25% because there are probably things that I haven't thought of (for example, what the heck is Cloud Management?), or for which I don't have the connections.

If anyone has additional suggestions on what I can do to increase the visibility of my book before its October release, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

If You Had Any Doubts as to the Existence of the Notebooks...

I just got hold of my grandfather's first notebook, the one he bought in a train station in Harbin, China, to document his adventures. I hope this is, at least, partially legible so you can see the date, 1904, written in the upper right hand corner of the first page on the left.

In truth, my grandfather realized later that it wasn't 1904 but 1905, and not summer but autumn. While you or I can get the date or even the day of week wrong, we would likely only be one day off. Imagine what it would take to be so disoriented that you'd lost an entire year!

BTW, you won't be able to read the text; it's in Yiddish, which, BTW, reads from right to left, like Hebrew.

Prior to getting this, I hadn't realized that there were photos from newspapers pasted in here. This is a photo of Czar Nicholas II taken from a Yiddish newspaper.

And the picture of the Czarina (which also hung in the barracks, and which the soldiers were expected to kiss).

There are several occasions when my grandfather heads off on some dangerous mission (or adventure) and refers to giving his diary to a friend to hold for him, and to give to his parents if he doesn't return. THIS is that book. (It cost a nickel in China in 1905.)

Even though I always knew it was real, it looks different than what I had pictured (I imagined a cardboard cover, like today's black-and-white marblized, composition notebooks, but this is cloth, and it doesn't look too bad for being over 100 years old and going through a war, and then some. I was also surprised to see just how much my grandfather wrote during the war. He labeled up to page 262.

I don't know who this merry band of Russians is, but I can find out what the text says. And on the right-hand side is my grandfather's name which, it appears, he wrote as Jakob Marteck.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Inside Joke, Just Between Us

The day after I gave my presentation at the Jewish Book Council's "Meet the Author" event (still waiting to find out to which cities I'll be invited, I attended a conference for independent publishers at which I learned about some of the many things I need to do to promote The Accidental Anarchist before its October launch.I previously discussed the fact that I needed to create a multimedia press kit, and have just completed the first aspect of it.

As I wasn't forward-thinking enough at the time I gave my presentation at the Jewish Book Council, I hadn't asked anyone to record it. So I restaged at home, with a text card indicating that the presentation was made to the Jewish Book Council, etc. That restaging was done in my son's room, as he had the most neutral curtains that I could use as a backdrop. In much the same way I had rehearsed my presentation while walking around New York City for two days before my presentation, I practiced it again in front of the camera (never my favorite place to be). This time, it wasn't to get the words or pace right -- it was to get the look of it right.

I had to create a klugy alternative to a tripod. This involved an upended (empty) garbage can; an empty box of something that had been delivered by Amazon; and a few very thick textbooks borrowed from my son's table. Until I came up with that height, I had tried to work with less and have a steadier place for the camera (even giving the presentation while kneeling, but that still didn't put me in the right position in the view finder. (There was probably an easier way to figure out where, against those anonymous curtains, I needed to stand, but I had to do it over and over to get it right). In the end, I recorded my presentation (dressed as I had been on that day in May), which came out good, but just a wee bit tilted to one side as the empty Amazon box couldn't easily support the textbooks upon it.

In the end, my wonderful friend, Cissy, edited the video, adding the text identifying where the presentation had taken place, and, I think, though I no longer remember, dubbing in some appreciative applause at the end. (That audio file was a little difficult to find, though it was fun looking. The list of available applause audio files, at:, includes such specific applause sounds like 'Smattering of Applause,' 'Rock Concert Clap,' and 'Laugh Applause III.'). This will be up on my website as soon as I provide the designer with the remaining content, which is also on my list, and on YouTube, where I have never wanted to be.

But now I must return to the list that tells me what I need to accomplish today, even though it includes rollover tasks from other days.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Each time I attend a conference on a topic related to self-publishing, I learn about something else I absolutely MUST do. At the recent conference in New York, it was reiterated that every book must have its own website. Now, I know the difference between a website and a blog, though for months, if people asked me if I had a website I replied that I had a blog; to me they accomplished the same thing. Apparently not. A website is more static while the blog is more dynamic. So, explain to me again why a blog isn't good enough?

I haven't gotten a definitive answer other than, "You just need one." I know that the website is a selling tool, with radio buttons and links to sites at which one can Buy the Book (because for reasons that I don't want to have to understand, it's not a good idea for a publisher/author to take on the responsibility of being a downloading site; better to link to someone else who does it).

Having heard this enough times, I realized that it's something I can't ignore any longer. And even though it will be static (God, I hope I'll be able to update it myself, rather than having to pay every time I change my mind or have a new idea), it naturally takes a lot of start-up time. So I'm currently writing the content for about 7 pages of website. Not that it's difficult; not that I can't use material I've already written and used elsewhere, but it's a separate line item on a To Do list that has become a black hole.

But I'm determined to have a little fun with it. There will be one page named "Just for Fun" in which I will post one son's sports writing and the other son's sports schedule, and basically give this proud Mama a space to brag about my children. I can't take full credit for them turning into the young men that they are; I'm too impressed with them to believe that I could have had too much to do with it.

So, watch this site for the announcement of when the website goes live, and then maybe you can explain to me why it's an all-important selling tool.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Thank God, I Can't Complain"

"Besides, Who Would Listen?"

It's a line used by older Jewish men that happens to be very appropriate for my topic tonight, which is whining about how much work I have to do -- or rather, the steps involved in pre-promotion of a book.

When I started this blog, I did it because I had learned in a conference that the first and most important thing that someone who intends to self-publish a book needs to do is start a blog, start a following, develop an audience. So tonight I get to have an audience for my moaning about how much work I have to do while also providing what I hope is some useful and interesting information.

When people asked me if I had a website for the book, I said "sure," and provided the blog address. I know that they are different, but I thought one could substitute for the other. The website (which I have now committed to creating) will be more of a static site; most of the information will remain the same, unless there is 'news,' whereas the blog needs to updated with some regularity. (And I apologize to anyone who finds my entries too 'wordy;' you're absolutely right -- they are -- but you should see my text messages).

So I'm about to create a website. I got my domain name: (don't forget to use "the" when you search for it so as not to get confused with a 10 year-old book with a way too similar title "An" Accidental Anarchist). That was step 1. Step 2 is to lay out all my pages, or what those pages will be when I have all the content. (And as you can tell from my logorrhea (per Merriam-Webster: "excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness," aka 'diarrhea of the mouth') coming up with content shouldn't be too hard. In hearing talk about website content at the recent conference I attended, it seems that I need an online press kit, which should contain multimedia content. I was already going to post the 2-minute (2:10 if we're being picky) presentation that I gave at the Jewish Book Council, and I've basically conceded that I will have to create a book trailer (about which, more later). And I can write all the publicity materials needed; that's the benefit of having done it for some many other people for many years.

Beyond the home page, which I imagine will have links to where you can buy or download the book (in October), there will be some information about me (either in large type or with a lot of graphics since there isn't a lot I need to say), stuff about my grandfather (almost everything I know about him is in the book -- in fact, that's the only way I know him,although my mother has started recording some of her memories of him; maybe some of that content will go up there. A page about my father, who worked on the book before me,and there's a lot more to say about him; loads of links online, most particularly because he had worked on the original Star Trek, and those fans are loyal. At some point, when I have some speaking engagements lined up, like at the Jewish Book Fairs (I hope many of them will invite me; otherwise, I may offer to pay my own transportation to get to certain cities; I've been wanting to see a friend in Birmingham, AL, for a long time, anyway, and Birmingham has a reasonably sized Jewish community: Jim, if you're reading this, call your local Jewish Community Center (JCC), which probably organizes it, and ask them to invite me as a speaker; in fact, everyone who's reading this -- please contact your local JCC and ask to speak to the Jewish Book Fair coordinator and do the same. If Birmingham, AL can have a Jewish Book Fair, your community probably does, too). I'm in Miami several times a year, anyway, to visit my number one son, and will be in NY much more often where I can visit my number two son. There's someone I'd like to meet in Knoxville, TN, as well as people I want to see again in New Haven and Boston. And might as well connect with a friend in St. Paul, MN, and as long as these events take place in the late fall, it's a nice time of year to visit Arizona.

And I don't know if it's appropriate use of a website, but I'd love to devote a page to my boys -- posting one son's sports writing and event management news, and the other's CD releases and tour dates. Did I mention that I was going to ask the younger one to write the score for my book trailer? The older one designed the logo for my publishing company. (And I can get really loquacious when I talk about how proud I am of these boys).

But the point of this entry was that I wanted to complain about how much I've had to do. So there's the planning of the website, which, as I've described it above, doesn't sound too hard (since someone else will be doing the coding and building in the analytics); creating a book trailer, which, now that I have a killer concept, ought to be fun; and writing the content for each of the pages, which I can draw from so many other things I've written in or about the book. There's also an essay I want to write about the process of writing, editing, completing and publishing the diaries that I'm hoping to publish in something with a wide circulation -- just in time for the book's release. I still need blurbs through the back cover; I have one committed, and someone else in mind. I'm sending out the advanced review copies (ARCs, in book publishing parlance) to various publications. I've read that you need to send out 20 copies; I think I've sent out about 8 so far; I take my time in evaluating the publications to which I send them, and craft a 'hook' unique to the particular editor or publication that I hope will get them to pick my book from among the dozens or more vying for each slot in a review publication. At least one thing I have working in my favor -- I can give them the 4 month lead-time that the publications prefer. Plus I need to hit ones representing difference niches: Biography readers, people interested in history, Jewish readers, people who enjoy humor, libraries, and academics who might consider the book for their curriculum in military history, Russian history, Asian history, Jewish history, etc. -- lots of niches, some of which I won't even begin to market to until 2011.

My point to night is that there is a lot to do in marketing a book. I think of it like a Presidential election. There may be national advertising (well, not for me) but basically a candidate has to earn each vote one at a time.

Thanks for being the audience for tonight's rant. If I don't quit now,I won't be able to get up in a few hours and start the process all over again.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oh No, Mom; Now is When the Hard Work Really Begins

My mother thinks that, now that I’ve written the book and spoken at the Jewish Book Council, the hard part is over and I can get back to my writing. But if anything, things only get harder. Now is when I need to do the pre-marketing of the book.

Since I don’t have a huge (read: any) advertising budget, I need to find ways to get free attention for the book to build the buzz and establish an audience before it goes on sale. There are a few ways to do this. As each of these bears lengthy discussion, I’ll address one at a time. Today: Book Reviews:

Book Reviews:
There are the professional reviewers, and then there are the ‘new’ professional reviewers.
Review publications like The New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly are the classic, influential reviewers. But they’re not interested in self/independently published books (despite the fact that an independently published book, Tinkers, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize), and woe be it to anyone who tries to slip one past them!

While, historically (and still), there has been no vetting process for self-published books, it is also true that many people who might otherwise submit their books to publishers through agents have decided to sidestep the traditional/old-fashioned process, which involves a lengthy cycle of application-rejection (rinse-repeat). That process can only have gotten more drawn out with half the editors in publishing houses in NY having been laid off during this recession. And if your book doesn’t offer blockbuster promise, then the economics simply don’t work for the publisher. Plus, as even authors with NY publishers behind them have to do all their own publicity and marketing, why not save time and do it yourself? (I’ll give you one reason why: The learning curve is steep; after more than six months of learning how to self-publish effectively, I still get a stiff neck from looking up at what I still need to learn how to do).

But as it happened, my former Writing group, which was on hiatus for several months, was no longer a writing group once we got together again; it had turned into a Publishing group as each of us, independently, decided that self-publishing was the right way to go with our respective projects, each of which has a well-defined niche. Now we meet every few weeks to share what we’ve learned that can help someone else.

Another reason to pursue a non-traditional publishing process is out of concern for time, as was the case in my situation; when your 83 year-old mother says she wants to see this book published “in [her] lifetime,” you don’t want to waste a lot of time. Apparently, once a publisher accepts a manuscript, it can take eighteen months until it is actually published.

Back to the main topic: Before I went to New York, I sent my book out to five review sources, two library review journals (supposedly a good review in one of these publications is a virtual guarantee of an order of 500 to 3000 books), two Jewish book review publications, and one history publication that had expressed interest in reading the book. There’s no guarantee that any of them will review them, but they have the desired four-month lead time to do so, and all I can do is write a compelling cover letter that will encourage them to take a look; the writing will have to speak for itself after that.

At the recent independent publishing conference I attended in New York, I also learned about an online review source; in fact, the reviewer is so prominent, I don’t know why I never heard about it/him before: Jesse Kornbluth, aka Head Butler. He is/has been an author, journalist, and entrepreneur, co-founding, “the hub of the Internet's most successful non-commercial book network.” He was also Editorial Director of America Online. It was very refreshing to hear him speak, in marked contrast to the traditional reviewer who emphasized the many types of book they didn’t want to see (such as self/independently published books, as stated above). Kornbluth’s answer to what he wanted or didn’t want to see was, “I don’t care. If I like it, I’ll review it.” It was that simple. I wrote to him to see if he was interested in reading The Accidental Anarchist. Now I’m waiting to hear back from him. And from the others. And see what they have to say. And continue to look for other publications that I might be able to interest in reading/reviewing the book.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wild Week

Just back from New York, from speaking in front of the Jewish Book Council (quite enjoyable, and I made notes of which other authors' books to buy, based on their presentations), closing on an apartment, and catching up on the theater and restaurants, the former of which included taking in 8 shows in 8 days. Not as exhausting as the Telluride Marathon I participate in every Labor Day -- seeing 15 movies in 3 days, and waiting on line for each of them! -- but it can still wear you out. One trend I noticed is that shows are getting shorter. In Shakespeare's time, plays were five acts and three-and-a-half hours long if the actors spoke quickly. Then we went down to a three-act structure, which included my father's play, Kataki, which was on Broadway in 1958 (for only 42 performances because the New York Times' reviewer, Brooks Atkinson, didn't like it, and that was all that was necessary to close a show in those days). More recent shows have been two acts long, with the occasional one-act play, or more typically, two one-act plays performed together for a satisfying evening of theater.

But as evidenced by my recent experience with Broadway and Off-Broadway Theater, plays, even musicals, are getting shorter so as to match our attention span. Six out of the eight shows had no intermission, which I consider a good thing, unless the show is so horribly painful that you want to feign illness to get out of the theater. (The only show in recent memory that was that bad was the musical based on Bob Dylan's music -- I know; how could you ruin that? -- at San Diego's Old Globe Theater. Too much stuff we see in San Diego is pre-ordained to go to Broadway, which is not a good thing.)

Anyway, most shows lasted 90-100 minutes, which was the correct length of time to tell their particular stories. I particularly loved GOD OF CARNAGE, by Yasmina Reza, a French playwright with remarkably intimate knowledge of life in suburbia for two yuppie couples who take things way too seriously. From the very first line, a recitation of an informal contract that was presumably to be signed by both parties, it was clear that the playwright understood these couples who are of a type we know to exist, even if we don't know them personally. A kinder, gentler VIRGINIA WOOLF, with more alcohol and less sex.

Not proceeding chronologically, the next best were A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE, the latest by Martin McDonough who has a wicked sense of humor that is occasionally too creepy for my taste (THE PILLOWMAN, for example), but A BEHANDING, though a little grisly, was all fun. So, too, was THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY, which was about professional wrestling. The subject alone cues that this will be an over-the-top comedy. Well-acted, and highly entertaining (although this play would have benefited by not having an intermission, and, hence, a second act). Almost everything that needed to be said was in the first act.

Then there were the musicals. THE BURNT PART BOYS, about the reopening of a mine in West Virginia ten years after a disaster killed 4 miners, 3 of whom were parents of the principal actors in the show, was exceptionally well-directed on a barebones stage in which ladders and chairs stood for the mountain, the mine, and individual homes in the town. Oddly, though, this bluegrass musical had no 'heart.' How can you not feel for these kids who lost their fathers at a young age? I don't know, but you didn't. FELA! was based on the life of a man who tried to bring reform to a corrupt Nigeria. The theater was decorated like a nightclub, and offered the novelty of being able to bring drinks to your seat (which certain other theaters allowed for a surcharge -- the cost of a "commemorative" plastic cup for your wine). A Bill T. Jones dance show with Afrobeat music. Maybe it was too warm in the theater, but the second act dragged, for me. AMERICAN IDIOT, based on the album of the same name by Green Day, was a RENT or HAIR pretender, but was really just the album with a lot of flashing lights. Turn the music up loud and listen to it at home. I don't know about you, but I wasn't all that interested in Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, the face on our $20 bill, either before, or after, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON. Overhyped; inadequate voices, but a nice try. RED, about Mark Rothko. Turns out he had a ego. What a surprise.


Monday, May 24, 2010


(I know; it's a daily double; this doesn't happen often).

Just returned from the Jewish Book Fair front, where I gave my very tightly worded 2 minute presentation. Having rehearsed it repeatedly for the past month, but probably 100 times over the past two days that I've been in NY, I felt perfectly comfortable about getting up there to give my pitch -- until I saw my competition: Two stand-up comedians, one comedy screenwriter (who did an impeccable imitation of Woody Allen, who blurbed for him), the son of someone who helped bring down the Nixon administration, several NY Times and  Business Week journalists, a couple of authors whose books had been on the New York Times best-sellers lists, (as well as certain authors who were sufficiently well-known that they didn't need to present) -- you know, 'ordinary' people like that, each of whom spoke impeccably, and humorously, during his/her two minutes. In fact, I had the good fortune (if you look at it that way) to be sandwiched between a woman who was a regular on Seinfeld (as a friend of Jerry's parents), and a good-looking former bond-trader-turned-author. I didn't get as many laughs as a lot of the other speakers, but I got some sounds of hearts being warmed by the conclusion of the talk.

So I wasn't really sure how it went, until the reception following the Meet the Author event, when both other authors and the attendees representing the Jewish Book Fairs in other cities told me how much they enjoyed the presentation, and asked me questions about my grandfather, and the process of writing/finishing the book. So I hope to be invited to at least a few of the cities (actually, I hope to be invited to more than a few, but considering that each city can only invite 20 authors, and considering the marque names, that doesn't leave a lot of spaces for people like me. But I did my best. Now I have to wait, and see.

Tomorrow I'm at an independent publishing conference all day. Then, for the rest of the week--9 Broadway and off-Broadway shows; that's my reward.

AFunny Thing Happened on the Way to the Jewish Book Council

I got to NY yesterday afternoon, and had dinner with a friend at a restaurant about a mile from my hotel. This being NY, naturally I walked. I blended in well with the native New Yorkers because I, too,was murmuring to myself, but in my case, I was rehearsing my presentation for this afternoon, with a stopwatch app running on my phone at the same time. Still coming in at about 2:10 or 2:15, and though I doubt there will be others who don't make the 2:00 limit, I WANT to make the limit. So I dropped a few clauses, turned some multi-syllabic words into monosyllabic ones. If I can remember the new edits, I should make the two minute limit - - with breathing. I followed the same routine walking back to my hotel, with one difference: I popped into a little market to pick up a zero-calorie drink. That was a big mistake.

Somehow, I came out of the market and retraced my steps, ie, I headed in the wrong direction. It was only because Rockefeller Center suddenly looked so familiar (I had taken a different route on the way to dinner) that I realized I was facing the wrong way. At that point, I didn't know which way was East or West, or North or South. I knew the hotel's address: 45 W., and knew that, in Manhattan, "W" refers to west of Fifth Avenue and "E" means east of Fifth Avenue. When I was finally pointed in the right direction -- downtown, I walked from Fifth to Sixth and found 45 W., but it wasn't the hotel. (Insert Twilight Zone sound effect, here). Now I was really confused, and not a little shaken up. But I'm willing to admit my mistake, so I went over to a cab driver, told him that I had 'misplaced' my hotel and could he direct me? He didn't have a clue. I stopped someone going into a high-rise apartment building -- clearly someone who lived there because she had a key, and asked her. No clue. Finally I went into a Holiday Inn, and the woman at the desk directed me to the hotel, which was on the next block. What I still don't understand, though, is why there are two "45 W." on the same block, and why one is on the east side and one on the left.

But I think I just figured out the answer: As I Mapquested the location for the Jewish Book Council presentations, about 3 miles away, I typed the Origin as the name of the hotel, rather than the address, and it was then I discovered it is actually on the East Side. So there's no 'Mystery Spot' in Manhattan, and the world is orderly. It is just I who was confused. I think later I'll find a Compass app. on my phone to keep me pointed in the right direction.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wish Me Luck!

I'm in Miami now, visiting my son, on the way up to New York tomorrow to speak at the Jewish Book Council on Monday afternoon. The objective will be to get as many of the coordinators of the Jewish Book Fair coordinators as possible to invite me to their cities to speak and sell books. I've also sent out  requests to a few authors to read and provide blurbs for the rear book jacket. But it turns out, and I never would have guessed it, that some agents tell their authors not to give any more quotes if they've already provided a certain number of blurbs. In fact, I got a lovely email to that effect from Gary Shteyngart (The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Absurdistan -- worth reading), and David Benioff's (City of Thieves -- also great) lawyer declined on his behalf because he's busy working on an upcoming HBO series. I have 2 other letters out to authors I respect who write 'Jewish' fiction, and have sent the book out to four publications that might review it. At least, though, I have a commitment from Elie Wiesel to provide a blurb for jacket, but I'm hoping to have a few others. I've also contacted the owners of a few independent bookstores in NY and Miami, whom I hope will read the book and consider carrying it in their stores. So this stage is, surprisingly, a little more difficult than I had expected, but I'm positive that when people read The Accidental Anarchist, they'll love it.

So wish me luck next week, and I'll update the blog afterwards.