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.