Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam, Hebrew for heal the world, make the world a better place. This is what I aspire to in the new year.

My children took direct action last week with many other families at our shul, to pack up Hanukah baskets, and distribute them to needy families here in Montreal, on behalf of Ometz.

During this world-wide depression, so many are hurting, so many are in need.

Concrete action like theirs will make the world a better place, will help to heal the world a little bit, by healing hearts. Not only by providing food, but also by offering hope that there are people out there who care about others and who are willing to take the time, to make time, to create a difference.

One of my ways of putting my best self out there is through writing. I am a believer that art can change--and heal--the world. Sometimes, it is tempting to retreat into my own interior world, the world of my imagination--and of course I have to immerse in that interior space to write my stories and novels. But I also use my art to reach out, to build a bridge between inside and outside. That's why it is so fufilling to hear from readers.

This morning I was interviewed by Carmel Kilkenny on Radio Canada International, a reporter who devotes her show to Tikkun Olam. Listen to our chat which will air, with other compelling stories, on New Year's Day. I hope, an inspiring start, to a New Year.

Wishing you warmth, joy, and hope.


Friday, December 5, 2008


I know we've been hearing about the death of the book for years, but I still lust after volumes, cloth, paper, big, boggy and old, with tattered yellow pages, svelte and new with a shiny cover, I love to hold them in my hands, open and smell their fragrance, turn their pages with a clip or a lingering hand. I love, I lust, I collect, I beg, borrow, and (forgetfully) steal (fail to return a much-loved volume to a generous lender).

My home is rich and weighted down with books: they beckon from every room, shelves heaped high, tottering, stacked on rumpled duvets, side tables, spilling onto rugs and floors, getting lost, pages splayed under beds.

Listen to Shelagh Rogers, host of "The Next Chapter" airing Saturdays on CBC at 3 p.m.

"It's like opening a bottle of wine and pulling the cork out. I crack the book, I crack the back, I crack the spine, and I love the smell that comes out... I can go and read it under a tree, or on the beach, or on a ferry, or in my room. It's a link to the past, holding this object in your hands."

Here's why you will never see me (or Shelagh Rogers I trust) reading a classic or the next best latest IT book on on my iphone (don't have one) or blackberry (don't possess one) or some device made for same, recommended by Oprah in her "That's Great" feature.

For Chanukah, give me books, books, and more books. My jewels. The new Bolano perhaps in a paperback set, a beautiful old illustrated Dickens, someone new you think I would love. Surprise me...with a book.

So let's celebrate the book in all its sensuality.

Read, read, read.



Monday, December 1, 2008

Untold Stories

I am back from a wonderful trip to Vancouver's Jewish Book Festival, having made new ties with West Coast readers and writers. Flying over the Rockies coming and going was a thrill--those crystalline craggy cliffs, sparkling jaggedly in the late afternoon sun--made my heart beat faster. Only equalled perhaps by the Pacific, its fresh briny smell, sightings of shells, ships, and sand, as I walked the perimeter of the seawall in Stanley Park. Weather-wise I lucked out. No need for my trench or umbrella. Most of my days were dry, sunny, and spring-like, so I spent as much time as I could exploring the city and its landscape, knowing that back here on home turf, winter would be drawing in fast and harsh.

Had a fun event with Portland-based author Rob Freedman, who read from "Fancy Pants," a poignant, sad-funny story, centring on his alter-ego Buddy's crazy and fraught bond with his crazy Jewish mother.

Jewish mothers, that was our link. With Chanukah, the festival of light imminent, I read an excerpt from my new novel, The White Space Between, following the provenance of a hand-sculpted menorah, a family treasure of the Ivan's, the clan my story focuses on. Burying and excavating, hiding and emerging, these were some of my themes that I am now, only now, unearthing, now that the writing is done.

Up at dawn on Tuesday, I met with several grades and a half-dozen teachers from King David High School and we all had a lively discussion. The kids wanted to brainstorm about what they could do to actively foster Holocaust Remembrance. They have their own literary magazine and plan to send me copies. I trust we will stay in touch.

My final event was an in-depth panel with Edeet Ravel. Rhea, our moderator, focused on our two novels, choices we made as authors, how our books converged and how they differed. It was great to meet Edeet and we had fun schmoozing and signing our books following our reading and panel.

It was really fulfilling to make a direct connection with my readers and potential new readers. That's what it's all about for back to the writing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Goin' West

Dear Friends,

I am off very soon for Vancouver's Jewish Book Festival and am very excited about participating, not to mention re-visiting this beautiful part of my adopted home country.

On Monday November 24th at 7 p.m., I'll be reading from and chatting about The White Space Between in a Writer's Share event with the Oregon-based author Rob Freedman. I expect we will complement one another very well! Then, after a wake-up-at-dawn call on Tuesday morning, I'll be talking with students and teachers from King David High School about my novel, sharing excerpts, and discussing the importance of a continuing commitment to Holocaust Remembrance. My final event is Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., a reading, panel, and Q & A with the compelling author, Edeet Ravel, "Untold Stories," moderated by poet and UBC professor Rhea Tregebov. I am looking forward to meeting Edeet, as I am a fan of her work, and I've just discovered that we have some friends in common!

Back here on home turf, I kicked off my week with a great visit as guest author at Champlain College on Monday, thanks to the hospitality of literature teacher, Maureen Newman. It was an invigorating afternoon, what with talking about the writer's life (debunking all those pesky myths about instant or eventual fame and fortune!)reading from my work, answering great questions, and jump-starting the kids on some creative writing of their own with my favorite narrative calisthenics. Though some were shy at first,virtually everyone was writing up a storm and even reading and sharing their pieces to much laughter and enthusiasm. A great time for all, not to mention a learning experience on both sides.

When I return from B.C., I am sure I will have much news to share. And if you are a local, look for me at the CSL library on December 4th at 7 for a reading, talk, and Q&A. Hope to see you there...or perhaps even in B.C.

Oh, btw, in a day or two, my new website will go live. Finalmente! So check it out. Reviews are posted, as well as appearances, and lots of inside information on my inspiration and necessary (perspiration) in creating my books.

Stay strong!
Stay well....


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Such Thing as a Free Launch! Or Notes & Images from my Book Tour

Dear Friends,

I am catching my breath back in my Montreal 'hood, home to celebrate our youngest child Rosamond's b-day with some eight little girls for a sleepover this Friday night, followed by a pot-luck dinner and movie night on Saturday eve for our teen son Tobias, which leaves Sunday, bloody Sunday, for Michael and I, two weary, geriatric parents to renew, regroup, and recover.

I've had great visits so far to Quebec City (Champlain St. Lawrence College and Maison Anglaise Librairie ), as well as Toronto (The Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week) and will leave soon for Vancouver's Jewish Book Festival for events with Robert Freedman, Edeet Ravel, and King David High School. I'm psyched! I have not been to Vancouver since I was 16 yrs old (a few yrs ago) and took up the rear on an expert level Canadian Rockies Hiking and Biking Adventure. I remember the landscape as paradisally beautiful and I am thrilled to be returning to this special part of the world.

Back to reality.
To read my responses to Toronto's Open Book 10 questions on The White Space Between, which includes thoughts on my inspirations, writing habits, and work in process, take a look at:

Up in Quebec City, I enjoyed giving a talk to students from Champlain St. Lawrence College. Their excellent questions stimulated plenty of lively discussion. Heather, at Maison Anglaise Librarie, was kind enough to come with plenty of stock of The White Space Between and Bloodknots.

I had a long chat with journalist Scott French from The Chronicle Telegraph about why and how I wrote my novel. He interviewed English teacher Bob McBryde, my host, and a number of students, posing the controversial question of whether the Holocaust will soon be effaced from collective memory. The students' responses are both disturbing and enlightening, underlining the need for a commitment to Holocaust Remembrance and a willingness to see that not only can an atrocity like this happen again, atrocities like this are happening now. What are we going to do about it?

Please see left for an excerpt from the review that just appeared in The Montreal Review of Books.

In Toronto, I read and spoke on a stimulating panel with three other authors on the topic: Women Writing the Holocaust to explore the question of what particular perspective we, as women, bring to this dark chapter of history. Emma Rodgers of my publisher, Second Story Press, took the photos and The Canadian Jewish News did a cover piece with a short bit from each of us on the panel.
After perusing this post, any empathetic and sympathetic techie who has time to give me a lesson in posting article excerpt and photos, please come forward! I need you!
Behind the scenes confession: I spent about two exhausting hours trying to get this stuff up here in the right sequence. I did my best...for now. Where there is life, there's hope.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Grande Celebration

On Thursday, October 23rd, some 65 fellow authors, friends, and family gathered at Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal to celebrate the lancement of The White Space Between. It was a wonderful evening for all.

I signed copies, schmoozed, and caught up with everyone before soon heading off to Quebec City for a college lecture and signing with Maison Anglaise. I am leaving tomorrow for Toronto and the Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week, where with three other authors, we will be discussing Women Writing the Holocaust. Then it's on to the Jewish Book Festival in Vancouver.

A whirlwind, but hey, I'm not complaining!

Do check out some of the photos taken at the launch by my husband Michael Atkin. Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Birth of The White Space Between

Dear Friends,

Birth is imminent, life in the wider world drawing nigh...

My latest novel, The White Space Between, will be launched next Thursday, October 23rd at Paragraphe in Montreal, the wonderful independent bookshop right near McGill, on 2220 McGill College Avenue. The event will take place from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Please join me and many wonderful Montreal authors, friends, family and community in what promises to be a joyous celebration: nosh, wine, and great conversation, not to mention hearing first-hand how I came to write the novel, listening to a short excerpt read aloud, and getting your own signed copy hot off the presses.

The story centers on a mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, and her artist daughter, an acclaimed marionette-maker and puppeteer, both grappling with the aftershocks and reverberations of the Holocaust in the present. It is also a love song to my adopted home city of Montreal, and a love story.

The act of writing The White Space Between, its life in the world, is a sign of hope, a bridge between the dead and the living, a force of connection between the past and the present.

Hope to see you there.


Monday, October 6, 2008

A Simple Recipe?

I arrived home on a chilly Fall evening and announced imperiously to my family: "Dinner is cancelled."

I simply could not belly up to the challenge, drained from a trying day, of pleasing everyone--a veggie son, a daughter who will not touch fish and thrives on "kid food", a husband content to graze throughout the evening on nuts, chocolate, chips, salsa, and late-night ice-cream. (At 6'8'', none of this junk shows on his frame).

No one scoffed, no one raised an eyebrow, no one was put out or surprised. My husband, Michael, turned another page of Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union and took a pull on his beer, our children shuffled downstairs, and set to work sliding bread into the toaster, pouring cereal into bowls, slicing up cheese, and swivelling open a jar of organic extra-crunchy peanut butter. Our Bernese Mountain dog, Montague Booh trotted down and sat outside the glass sunroom door, beside his empty bowl, barking until we did his bidding: Dinner please! Dinner now!

I sat with my kids, caught up with their days, made sure they ate some crudites which I prepared, made certain they drank tall glasses of milk or soy milk, and then I set the kitchen to rights, so they could get started on their homework.

The truth is: I am culinarily challenged. My mother, a busy psychiatrist, did not have much time for cooking and did not pass down any tips or recipes. In fact, I have no memories whatsoever of cooking or baking with her. Yet I long to be more of a cook, to have something yummy and fragrant bubbling on the stove on a darkening autumn afternoon, perhaps some bread or special cake rising in the oven on a snowy winter night.

At Rosh Hashonah, we had a gorgeous meal with friends: potato-leek soup with a rich caramel finish, savoury brisket, homemade challah and apple-pies so moresome, they had everyone going back for thirds.

"This dinner is amazing," I complimented Rachel.

"Oh, I only did the pies," she said. "David made everything."

I turned to David. "I don't know how you do it!"

"It's simple," he said, without irony. "I follow a recipe."

My ah-ha moment?

Back to those pies, the perfect cake....

On a recent Yom Kippur, I hosted break-the-fast for friends who are our surrogate family, as we are "orphans" up here in Montreal. I can handle break-the-fast. Bagels, lox, egg salad. But I tried a special cake I had a friend's recipe for, a simple recipe.

The cake bubbled in the oven, its aroma divine: apple, cinnammon smells, laced with a buttery-creamy fragrance. I opened the oven. The cake was erupting, lava-like, a volcano, and though it bubbled furiously, it refused to rise.

"The Big Oozie," my daughter Rosy dubbed it.

My son Tobias examined my ingredients still spread upon the counter.

"Mom! You forgot to put in flour!"

I'd been imagining into my new novel.

In a jiffy, Tobias, re-made the cake: 1, 2, 3. It emerged an hour later, fragrant, perfect. Tobias, it happens, is a wonderful cook out of--you got it-- desperation, not inspiration.

Yom Kippur is anon, and once again, I am hosting break-the-fast. I will give that sour-cream apple cake another try. After all, it is a simple recipe.

If only becoming a better person, cleansing oneself of sins, writing a jewel of a short story, or creating a powerful novel, were that easy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The 59th Month

My doorbell rang and the postman passed a heavy cardboard box into my arms. Books. No, I hadn't ordered any books lately from Amazon or elsewhere.

What's this? I asked the postman.
Ami Sands Brodoff? Second Story Press?
Yes and Yes. My God! That's my book!
Congratulations! He flashed me a warm smile.

My heart beat faster. The big box contained my novel, The White Space Between, which I'd been working on for nearly five years. I struggled into my kitchen, balancing the bulky box with care, slid it onto my counter and found a sharp knife to slit the tape-secured seams. My precious contents were covered with layers of fluffy tissue.

I dug out a single copy of my finished novel, held it in my hands, examined the beautiful austere cover, the silhouette of a lonely woman, surreal blue suitcase in hand, as she walks down a snowy road on the Lachine Canal, its embankment resembling gravestones, the graphic architectural image and stark type playing off the title: The White Space Between.

I read the back copy, paged through slowly, leaf by leaf. Euphoria. Finalmente. My novel in my own hands. Finished, not abandoned. Complete.

Now, "it is the best of times, it is the worst of times," thanks to unavoidable pre-pub jitters.

I want this baby to be welcome in the world, to be understood, to be accepted, to find its niche. I want this baby to disturb, to make people think, laugh, cry, to shake them up.

I want this baby not only to survive, but thrive.

I don't think that's asking for too much from a much loved story, created over nearly five years with my own blood, sweat and tears.

So I'm ready, watching and waiting, in my 59th month, for my book to take its first baby steps into the wider world.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Big Dig

It's Monday morning and my whole body aches and burns. My "workout" this past golden, crisp Fall weekend was not a bracing bikeride or run through the woods, but rather the down and dirty job of cleaning out our small, pokey basement en famille. The family that digs, cleans, finds and sorts together, sweats and stays together. Trust me.

We are Jewish, so with the New Year and Day of Atonement imminent, we want to make a fresh start, we want to be better people. On a more practical note, we want to host our friends and family, and our sole guest room is this debacle of a wasteland, down, down, down in the basement. How could we possibly put anyone in this cluttered subterranean cave as our "guest." They would never return for another visit.

The big dig seemed endless, our basement bottomless. It was hard to conceive of the amount of junk that we managed to accumulate over eight years in our Montreal home. Countless school workbooks and art projects of our two children, Tobias and Rosamond, still small when we moved in, now a teen and a preteen. Teetering stacks of broken toys, dolls missing limbs, tracks without trains, squashed VHS cases and orphan videos. Remember Barney and sharing, those eerie hallucinatory Teletubbies, or my personal favorites: Mr. Rogers and The Wiggles?

We filled industrial-sized black shiny trash bags with the detritus of our lives that we could no longer justify saving. Into our van the bags went, stacked to the ceiling, with trip after trip to the recycling center in our neighborhood, where our junk could be reused and reconfigured into something useful.

Amidst the rubbish as my British-born husband Michael likes to call anything that's trash or nonesense, material or abstract, we excavated found treasures: an orphan pearl and gold earring, an early courtship present from Michael (thankfully, I still have its mate). A little bag of rough garnets my brothers and I collected on a family holiday in the country where the roads were paved not only with gravel but with semi-precious claret-colored stones, rough-hewn genuine garnets. Early journals of my son, Tobias, now a blossoming writer in his own right. Cherished family photographs and a family tree, lovingly assembled by our daughter, Rosy, and researched with frantic calls to much-loved Zaidehs and Bobbehs who are getting on in years, who may not be around much longer.

Today, I am tired, but the sweat and tears were worth it.

The big dig is not unlike the hard work I do each day, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after- month, and year-after-year as a writer, a novelist in particular. I must take out the shovel, dig and dig, get dirty with life and imagination, to come up with the treasures, the jewels. It is not all inspiration, by any means, but plenty of perspiration, work-women-like, showing up each day, going to my room of one's own, no matter how I feel, having faith that if I continue to dig, the treasures, the jewels, will glimmer in the earth, waiting to be found.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Modern Love

When my New York Times thumps onto my front mat every Sunday morning at 10 a.m., I begin a much savoured Sunday ritual. Snug and warm in my plush mauve dressing gown, I peel back the plastic wrapper of the heavy Sunday Times, letting it unfurl full-length on my counter. While my family still sleeps soundly upstairs, snug as bugs in their proverbial rugs--Tobias, my fifteen year old son, Rosamond, my soon-to-be twelve-year-old daughter, Michael, my husband of 21 years, and Monty Booh, our five year old Bernese Mountain dog--I pull out my favorite sections, thief-stealthy, to claim them: the book review, the magazine, of course travel, arts and leisure, and finally, style.

I take my tall ivory Cafe Amore mug of fresh, brewed coffee with hot, steamed milk, and settle horizontally on my sunroom couch under my moose blanket (don't worry, it's polartec with beautiful images of moose). I sip coffee, listen to the wind, read, and dream.

Monty Booh rouses himself from the living room couch where he is not supposed to sleep and lumbers closeby. With his mink coat, creamy chest and chestnut paws, he is like an extra blanket.

I start with style. Not for the fashion, mind you, though I have a passion for beautiful clothes, but for "Modern Love."

I turn to the nearly full-page column and burrow in. What will it be this week? The writers come from far and wide and the texture of their voices change each week, in tandem with their stories. I relish that mesh, that tapestry of tones, the huge range of love objects. For the subject is rarely love straight up. Instead, the writer might voice love for a pet, a sibling, a child, a parent, a friend, even herself. The old amour propre. How complex and rich a subject that can be. The columns are funny, often sad, frequently funny-sad and sad-funny. My favorite kind of love story.

I daydream after reading this column. Okay, bust me. I am composing my own Modern Love column in my head. And some day soon, I plan to glue my bum to the chair long enough to get it out on paper (yes, I do still write longhand), or onto my computer. Of course, I will let you know when it is going to run on Sunday. Or elsewhere, once I have it all worked out, just how I want the story to read.

So Old Man Winter, bring it on, close in with your mountains of white, your rapier-sharp wind, your black ice, your darkness and your chill. Who needs winter sports? Way up here on the north way, in Montreal, my adopted home city, I can be cozy for your six month, yup, your half-year strop. I've got modern love to keep me safe and warm.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


When asked why I write and what I write--how I find my own richest material--I look to my obsessions, (yup, I've got plenty), what disturbs me, what keeps me up at night, what I can't stop thinking about. If the story, image, memory, or voice makes me flinch, well, it's like a compass, I go there, I don't let myself shy away. I know I'm onto something.

I believe we as writers often shy away from our richest material. Why? It makes us uncomfortable, embarrassed, we worry about what Mom might think.

The outstanding author Nadine Gordimer said, "Write as if you are dead." I think I may understand what she is getting at here. At least, I have my own take on it: If you write as if you're dead, you're set free. You need not worry about what Mom or anyone else will say or think. You will be on the path to creating work that has depth and layers, that is true.

Good writing does disturb, burrows in, lingers. The purpose of art is not necessarily to shroud us in warmth and comfort like an enveloping blanket. Ironically, though, even dark work can be enlivening if it is honest, beautifully written, and powerful.

Okay, I'll get off the soapbox.

Writing fiction is solitary, sometimes it's painful. My first novel, Can You See Me? centres on a brother and sister so close, they share a secret place and private language. When the brother, Doren, goes mad, (no euphemisms here), Sarah struggles to save him, help her brother without going under herself. How do you help a loved one, without becoming merged with that person? I realize long after the writing that my book poses this question.

Okay, yes, connect the dots if you must. I, like Sarah, have a beloved sibling who fell prey to schizophrenia as a young man. But in my novel, I ask the question: what is it like to be Doren, to have schizophrenia, and I imagine into Doren's point-of-view, voice, secret world. The writing of this novel was not only an act of imagination, it was, I hope, an act of empathy. Getting inside Doren's head was truely a scary place to go, and I often wondered if I could come out the other side, but I did so, stronger for the journey. I hope that the dual point-of-view of this book, brother and sister alternating their voices, makes the novel a richer read.

To write my latest work, The White Space Between, I needed to get inside the painful traumatic world of both a Holocaust survivor and her artist daughter, barely balancing on the tightrope between remembering and forgetting. If you remember, how do you become whole, go forward, avoid being paralyzed by a traumatic past. If you forget, erase, how do you know who you are, where you came from. How can you forge an identity with so many white spaces between. Not only for yourself, but for your children and your grandchildren. This legacy of the Holocaust is a part of who we are, no matter how painful.

Some historians claim there are no survivors of the Holocaust, if to survive means to come through unscathed.

Let's look at the word: survive, take it apart. "sur"-over "vive" to live. We've come through the experience as survivors and children of survivors and grandchildren, but we must live this experience over and over and over and over and never forget to remember.

Talk to me, write to me. Share your thoughts.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reading Kafka "Brodly"

It is a dank humid Saturday, the air turgid, a feeling of rain to come, but then it doesn't come. Soon Fall will draw in and then the long Montreal winter.

I was reading Zadie Smith on Kafka the other day. She's a trenchant and funny critic, journalist, as well as a wonderful novelist. "On Beauty" is my favorite of her works. I tire of folks dissing Max Brod, though, for without this dear friend, whatever one thinks of him as a writer, we would not have Kafka, an author whose work is bottomless. One can go back and back again and still be moved, disturbed, changed afresh.

I love the stories, of course, and was profoundly affected by "Letter to My Father" when I first discovered and read it in high school.

Did you know that Kafka was over six feet tall? In photos, he looks almost elf-like, with those huge black liquid eyes dominating his face, almost bodiless really.

I learned that despite his genius, he felt competitive with some of his contemporaries in the small, incestuous community that was the literary world of Prague at that time, and though he was an obsessive letter writer, he protected the space around his writing, which seemed to thrive with the constraints and structure imposed by his boring job. Though some may differ on this point.

I am looking forward to the Fall, to the crisp air and emblazoned leaves and then to the boundless white, at least for the first month or so.

Tell me what you are reading that is wonderful. I am looking for a great book.

Bon weekend, Ami

Monday, September 1, 2008

Blog Virgin Speaks Out

Dear Readers,

Welcome to chez-Ami. I'm very excited to have my own blog and be able to mouth off like the native New Yorker I am.

Very soon, on October 23rd, my third work of fiction will get out there, into the light. So Montrealers, please join me to make The White Space Between welcome in the world. The event will take place at Paragraphe Bookstore on McGill College and I hope to see you all there. I have in store upcoming events in Quebec City, Toronto (Jewish Book Festival, Holocaust Education Week), and Vancouver (Jewish Book Festival), as well as back in Montreal and other cities in Canada and the Big Bad USA! I'll keep you all posted on specifics soon.

I've worked harder on this novel than anything else in the past and hope readers will connect with the story.

As a woman, as a writer, as a woman writer, I see myself as a force of connection: between past and present, between the dead and the living, between the lost and the found. In writing The White Space Between, I hope to keep alive the story and the complex emotions of a mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, and her artist daughter, a marionette-maker and puppeteer, who grapple with the reverberations of this atrocity in the present. I believe that the dead can inhabit us if their stories and lives are powerful. I believe that stories possess life, a beating heart all their own.