Friday, December 4, 2009

Canadian Jewish News Article

Dear Friends,

Take a look at the lovely article about The White Space Between and my recent Trepman talk at the Jewish Public Library.

Thanks to The Canadian Jewish News for doing the piece and to the JPL for having me.

Here's the link:

Monday, November 30, 2009



A fiction workshop for young writers

Work intensively with an award-winning, professional novelist and short story author on developing your craft and your own portfolio of stories. Find out how to tap into your richest, deepest material and crack open your stories. Supportive peer critique and the instructor’s critical expertise will help you to get to the next level in your writing. In addition, you will create new stories during class, stimulated by fun catalysts and springboards. We’ll break short story craft down into its key elements, such as voice and point-of-view, (who’s talking?), character (who’s who), action (what’s happening?) dialogue (let’s talk), and setting (where it’s at). In addition, the workshop leader will discuss a few ideal markets for young writers.

This workshop is open to Secondary I, II, & III students from any secondary school. Held at Lower Canada College, 4099 Royal Ave., NDG, Room/L308

Eight Weeks, Thursday afternoons, January 14-March 4th, 4:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.,

Workshop fee: $200, payable to the instructor, which will reserve your place:
Ami Sands Brodoff
4401 Rosedale Avenue
Montreal, QC H4B 2G8

For more information, please contact Ami at: (514)-481-5270,

Ami Sands Brodoff is an award-winning novelist and short story author. Her latest work, the novel, The White Space Between, about a mother and daughter grappling with the impact of the Holocaust won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. Ami is also the author of a volume of stories, Bloodknots, short-listed for the Re-Lit Award and the novel, Can You See Me? which focuses on a family struggling with schizophrenia. An excerpt of that book was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Ami has won fellowships to Yaddo, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Ragdale Foundation, The St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Malta and writes for The Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire, The Gazette, and national magazines. Visit her website at, as well as her blog:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pics from the JPL Reception for The White Space Between

Enjoy these pics, taken by my daughter, Rosamond, at the reception following the Paul Trepman Memorial Lecture at the Jewish Public Library on November 18th, where I spoke about the tension between void and voice,when honouring Holocaust Remembrance, read excerpts from The White Space Between, and shared slides from our own memory book: images of our lost extended family, their home village of Slatinskedaly in Czechoslovakia, and maps of the area at key points in history.

Thanks to the JPL for having me!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Please Join Me on Nov. 18th for a Special Event!

I am pleased to invite you to join me at the Paul Trepman Memorial Lecture Series where I will present an illustrated book talk on my novel, The White Space Between.
I will be introduced by Dr. Lawrence Knight, Associate Professor of
Medicine, McGill University, and want to express my thanks to the Jewish Public Library for their kind invitation.

Jewish Public Library, 5151 Cote Ste-Catherine Road, 7.30 pm Wednesday November 18

Sponsored by the Paul Trepman Memorial Lecture Fund of the JPL and of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Between the sheets

Not the paper ones we writers scribble on, the ones you put on your bed.

As the nights turn crisp, and twilight blues earlier than usual, I change my crisp cotton sheets to flannel. Upon arriving up here in Montreal during a dark, bitter, damp, rather bleak November a decade ago, I made a trip to Matelas Bonheur and treated myself to two sets of flannel sheets: one in cornflower blue, the second in mint green.

I've stretched and tucked my blue sheets onto the bed, downy and soft with a knap like fleece, deliciously warm and cozy. Like a fine wine, they only get better with age.

During these beautiful bracing fall mornings and nights, I find I want to spend more time in bed...reading, sleeping, lounging. Perhaps like some of my brothers and sisters in the trade, I will even take up writing in bed. Who knows? My sensuous comfort may help me crack open those stories. It's worth a try.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Best? Why Not Favorite?

As autumn draws in around us, we are deluged with literary media about the storm of literary prizes offered here in Canada: The Giller, The Governor General, The Writer's Trust, and on it goes to dozens of smaller, provincial prizes. Each prize claims to honor "the best." But what does "best" mean? When it comes to art, to literature?

To my mind: very little. I dislike this idea of ranking literature as Consumer Reports ranks cars or fridges or blackberry devices. This ranking only diminishes. The beauty of art and literature is that it is like falling in love, people vary in their tastes, these tastes are highly subjective. I find that redeeming, comforting, as a novelist. (And as far as my own oeuvre goes, there are those who love my work and those who hate it, though a strong reaction of any kind is a compliment to me, as I believe powerful fiction should shake one up, move a reader from one place to another.)

Of course, there might be agreement in what consitutes a masterpiece, or a piece of dreck, but even here...I've witnessed differences of opinion.

Clearly, an award can help an unknown author get on the radar. In my own career, winning The 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Award for my recent novel, The White Space Between,certainly helped me garner more readers, more reviews, more events, more respect. And being short-listed for The Re-Lit Prize for Bloodknots, also helped that volume of stories get out there. Writers more than anyone else know, it is all too easy for a book, a novel, a volume of stories, a collection of poetry to drop like a smooth stone to the bottom of a black pond.

However, I hate to see writers writing with THE AWARDS front and center. I don't believe it will produce powerful or original work, just as trying to write to trends leaves the author always one step behind.

Writers, please write what you want to write...and keep that day job or rich spouse or lover or live frugally if you can. Write what is inside you. Write what obsesses you, what keeps you up at night, what you can't stop thinking about. And stop thinking about those prizes. Think about that next enveloping story, that indelible character whose voice you hear inside your head, that image that opens out and unfolds....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

O.K. Into the Fray

So, is it all rubbish?

CanLit or Victoria Glendenning's remarks about our culture and literature here in Canada?

First off, I do think some of her comments were meant as affectionate teasing. Yes, they were ill-timed and in bad form, and a tad condescending(Brits from the former empire can be that way, after all, they are British),BUT, we might demonstrate a bit of a sense of humour about such remarks, demonstrate that we have a sense of humour up here in the North Way, about ourselves.

Is there a grain of truth in what she says? Yes. Does the truth hurt? More than anything.

Indeed, some of CanLit suffers from the QUIET genre of meditating upon the past, complete with granny's letters, if not from the Ukraine, perhaps from some cold corner of Canada, where nothing happens and there is nary any sex, drugs, or rock 'n roll, but everything is cozily P.C. Yawn. I've had to read and review some of these books.

But, there are many outstanding Canadian novelists who do not fit into this soporific genre. Take almost anything by Newfie Kenneth Harvey, the wonderful novel by Gil Adamson, The Outlander, a new daring collection from my adopted hometown of Montreal, Animal, from Alexandra Leggat, The Night is a Mouth, Lisa Foad,the first novel by Camilla Gibb, Mouthing the Words, and the work of Kanuk Nancy Huston, yes, she lives in Paris and writes in French, but she is nonetheless Canadian.

I'm sure there are more. Many.

In the meantime, please let's learn not to take ourselves so horribly seriously. Life is too short, forgive the cliche from this author.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shana Tova

We are now in the midst of the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe. For me, this is a time to break free from my hectic, fragmenting routine, where I find myself racing around scattered in too many directions, bombarded by pressing demands, concerns, requests, distractions, to instead stop and reflect on how to be a better person.

There is something calming, also bracing, about taking time out from time to meditate about this question. I am comforted by the change in priorities and the falling away of all the sharp pricks, needling and often trivial concerns of my day-to-day existence.

When we, as Jews, usher in Yom Kippur on Kol Nidre this coming Sunday evening, our reflection about where we have fallen short, our prayers for forgiveness, our resolves to do better, will be the locus of our concentrated focused attention. Nothing else. We will wear white. Many will fast. Others will give up something they desire. We will be amongst family, or if you are like my family, expats or lost or cut off from your blood, then among friends, community, who become one's family.

Wishing you shana tova.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Those Were the Days, My Friends

Yesterday, I attempted to order books from a local shop. I was after classics, a few choice Edith Wharton novels, a couple of fat novels by the beloved Dickens. You know, Charles.

Well, it took much Dicken-around before I was understood by the befudddled bookseller on the other end of the line.

"Warton? How do you spell that? Does he write novels?"

"Dickin, what is the last name? Is it a novel?"

"You mean you work in a bookstore and you're not familiar with Edith

Wharton, Charles Dickens?"

"I'm the manager."

"Read a book!" (One sometimes forgets one's manners.)

Remember the days, my friends, we thought they would never end. When booksellers loved--and knew--books? I spent my childhood, teen, and early adult years in New York City and frequented many bookshops, both large and indie. St. Mark's, Spring Street, Three Lives, Border's, B&N, the Strand....and I fondly recall the experience of shopping for books and having a passionate bookseller recommend great titles for me, introducing me to books and authors I might come to love. They knew the classics, they knew what was new.

I miss the passionate bookseller who is not selling bubblegum...or widgets, but books.

I know they still exist. I will find them out.

I miss the booktalk.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Doesn't Kill You....

We recently took an end-of-summer trip to The White Mountains of New Hampshire, a beautiful part of the world, and took a 7.5 mile hike up 4802 foot Mount Moosilauke. We were staying at the great lodge, owned by Dartmouth, and the students in the Outdoor club told us that the hike would take about 3 hours up and 2 down, without any stops. It was described as "challenging," though do-able for anyone reasonably fit, it just might take some longer than others.

Full disclosure: I embarked with my group, family and a friend, as well as Monty Booh, our Bernese Mountain dog at around 9 a.m., and slogged back into the lodge covered in mud and wet at 5 p.m., the last to make it.

The climb up went well. Yes, it was challenging, somewhat steep, a bit rocky, but to reach the true summit above tree-line was eerie and spectacular, an experience I haven't had since I climbed the Canadian Rockies as a teen.

Down was the bloody nightmare. It was pure rocks, all shapes, all sizes, some solid, some loose, and you had to bear down with concentrated focused attention, watching each step, so as not to fall (I did twice), not to twist and break an ankle (knock wood) or hurt your knees. Ah, those ever essential knees. I actually have no problem with my knees, but the long, steep, rock-laden descent puts pressure on even the strongest, most hale and hearty knees. On one stone, that rocked suddenly backward, my knee locked backward in tandem: pure, piercing pain! But in a minute, or 5 or 10 (hence the 8 hour hike), I pressed on.

At one point, exhausted, my dear husband of 22 years lifted me down from the steep ledge of a rock (my white knight in shining armour). He was about to put me gently down on the muddy ground, when his mouth opened in a surprised O, and a moment later, I found myself lying on top of him in deep mud, with a stream running over our shoulders and arms.

Murder was on my mind.

"What happened?!"

"I lost my footing."

"Is this a metaphor for our marriage?"

As we roused ourselves from the sludge and wet, the rain began, first a pleasant pitter-patter, then more insistent, finally a 30-minute, torrential downpour. Did we have raingear? Of course not. The forecast was for a beautiful, summer's day in the low 80s. Can't trust those weather guys. Or those Dartmouth outdoor types. Have you seen the Dartmouth kids? Well, let's just say that they are disgustingly fit and healthy and have a significant percent of Olympic-level and true Olympic athletes. For real.

Remember those rocks? Welcome to a slick, slippery obstacle course.

I soon had my second fall, sliding suddenly down a mossy rock finding myself flat on my back. Thankfully, I didn't hit my head on a rock, or throw my back out. I was pretty surprised though, and have a few black and blue marks to show for it. But my body, thankfully, is pretty sturdy. (Must be my Jewish Russian and Romanian peasant background! I rarely suffer serious injuries.)

My 12-year-old daughter pulled me up from the mud.

"Take my hand, Mommy," she ordered.

"I'm okay."

No. You're old."

All relative. I made it.

And it seems like a wonderful accomplishment. Now. My hot shower was one of the most delicious in my life, though it took 45-minutes and a good deal of scalding water and soap to scrub off the mud. And my dinner that night of scallops and clams was gorgeous. And my night's sleep, dreamless, velvety black, sudden as a swoon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Last Taboo

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal." -Oscar Wilde

Okay, I'll admit it: I am an earnest person. I know it is highly uncool and rare these days, but I am sincere, if not all of the time, at least most. Being earnest, sincere, is surely the last taboo.

What I like about it, though, it has a shock effect these days and is often disarming, producing not the expected response: irony, sarcasm, even cruelty, but a dash of high-risk sincerity in return, sometimes nicely spiked with humour.

So tell me, why is sincerity taboo?

Why is accusing a person of being earnest the biggest diss?

Enlighten me. Sincerely.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Secret Summer Pleasure

I consume it quickly, with great pleasure, and rush out to buy more when I'm finished. It's delicious, easily digestible, yet the best lingers.

No, it's not Belgian chocolate. My secret summer pleasure is Anita Shreve novels.

I discovered Anita Shreve some fifteen years ago while living in Park Slope and participating in a New York City reading group composed of women novelists. Among our group were Paula Sharp and Nancy Krikorian. Nancy suggested with a gleam in her dark eyes that we read Strange Fits of Passion.

After that, I was hooked.

Shreve is a very talented woman. Her novels are addictive with a narrative tension and momentum one just doesn't find that often in well-written work. Her sentences are elegant and evocative and her characters (for the most part) depthful and well drawn. Shreve's milieau is the New England coast, melancholy, haunted, craggy and beautiful, and she returns to it again and again, peeling away more layers, deepening our understanding of the landscape. She understands obsession in all of its gleaming and dark facets. Love is at the core of all of her work. In some ways, she is a top-notch romance writer, for intelligent women.

There is always an element of surprise, even shock, in Shreve's narratives. In the best of her work, the revelation is both startling and inevitable. My favorite of her books is The Weight of Water, which holds up as a work of art. When her books disappoint, the plot twist is manipulative and strains credulity, a story jerry-built upon a contrived notion, narrative and characters forced to fit the preconceived structure. This was a problem in Body Surfing. I enjoyed the story, the characters, and setting until I reached the climax and the eddies emanating from that plot twist. Without giving anything away, let's just say that the surprise was not believable from the standpoint of character. An earlier novel of Shreve's, I completed compulsively on a train, and hurled across the aisle when I reached the final page, that's how angry I was at the incredible, unsatisfying shocker which concluded the book. If memory serves, that novel was The Last Time They Met.

Shreve's most recent book, now out in paperback, is a good read on a timely subject. Testimony grapples with the reverberations of a sex scandal at an exclusive prep school in Vermont. Shreve tells the story from multiple viewpoints, and the novel is more about the impact of such a scandal, not only on individuals, but on a community. It is a worthy book, though I personally would have preferred fewer voices. The first-person teens speaking in short takes sounded strained and false. (I hear a couple of teens and their pals speak daily, many times a day, and teach creative writing to adolescents as well, so I know from whence I speak.) I was fascinated by the headmaster and wanted more of him. For me, the multiple voices, though an interesting conceit, put the novel at risk from bursting apart by centrifugal force. Was that part of Shreve's purpose?

I have to confess: even when a Shreve book is flawed, I still run out and read her next. Now that's a successful novelist. Speaking from the trenches, what she is doing aint easy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Spoken Word

I recently embarked on a road trip down south, some 1200 miles each way, from my home up north in Montreal to a retreat in North and then South Carolina to read, write, hike, connect with my husband, and just relax and renew. We decided to drive... to save money, to see the landscape, and to really feel the change from one place to another, the distances, and because we enjoy the intimacy of the capsule of a car, where we are alone together and no one can get in there with us--unless invited. We also felt the need to ease into the retreat and vacation state of mind and driving for three days allowed for that, rather than, well, just landing.

Hey! What about the kids? Off in camp for a couple weeks. (It's practically a Jewish tradition, send the kids away for a spell, so you can catch a break.)

To prepare for our trip, we visited the Jewish Public Library as well as the Grande Bibliotethque in our fair city, in search of books on tape.

Armed with a half-dozen spoken tomes, a mix of classic and contemporary, we set off on our journey.

What a new and unique pleasure this was, enjoying the view of pastures and farms in Pennsylvania, give way to extraordinary mountain vistas in West Virginia and on the Blue Ridge Parkway, while being told an enveloping story. And what talent it requires for the reader to act out and differentiate each part, without any visual cues, and what concentrated focused attention it demands to really listen and follow the characters and story, more challenging I found, than reading, perhaps because I read for several hours every day.

We kicked off with The Devil's Feather, by Minette Walters, read beautifully by the British actress Saskia Wickham. It's a political and Feminist thriller, well written and of course suspenseful. Wickham did a fantastic job on the characters, both female and male, to her credit.

Next up, one of my favorite novels, The Idiot, by Dostoyevesky. This one was a disappointment because clumsily abridged, and though actor Michael Sheen did an admirable job on the male characters, all of his women sounded like old crones, even the young beauties. (Of course, we should have been suspicious of The Idiot in three short discs;"abridged" was written in microscropic type.)

Perhaps the greatest pleasure was to listen to A Tale of Two Cities, read by yet another Brit, Frederick Davidson, recipient of a well-deserved Golden Voices award. My husband and I both count Dickens as one of our favorite authors, enveloping, moving, funny, delicious, and brilliant, always large-spirited, an extraordinary creator of unforgettable characters. A genius. And who cannot find the spark of recognition in that gorgeous opening sentence: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"... in fact, the entire opening paragraph is luscious in its language. This book was not abridged and I confess we did not complete the dozen discs. A pleasure to look forward to--on our next road trip!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shout Out To Strout

My favorite writer of the moment is Elizabeth Strout, but she won't be just of the moment, she will endure, she is that good. I love the experience of "discovering" an author who speaks to me, moves me, inspires me in my life and my work, and immersing in that writer's oeuvre until I have consumed every thing she has to offer...for now. I am working my way backward through Strout's books, having started with Olive Kittredge, which recently won the Pulitzer Prize.

Of course, Strout has already been well-discovered, a well-deserved discovery. I confess: When an author receives a lot of hype, I often recoil, avoid that writer out of...could it be the snobbish notion that anyone who achieves wide-spread acclaim must appeal to the lowest common denominator? Does it have to do with a perverse desire to be an individualist, as a reader, to really discover a writer who has been lost or overlooked? Could it be the pesky green-eyed monster? Perhaps any or all of the above.

Despite these obstacles, I've come, finalmente, to Strout's work. Here I am in the midst of Amy and Isabelle, a full decade after it's publication, long after it's bestseller stardom. And I barely want to take a break from this enveloping read to write this post.

Amy and Isabelle is a mother-daughter story, that begins ordinarily enough in a claustrophobic Maine town, dealing with quotidian concerns, but builds toward a climax as violent and gripping as any Greek tragedy. Strout balances on that tricky tightrope between humor and tragedy. (If you are like me, you will find yourself laughing out loud in parts, your eyes burning in others). You know that experience where you are riding the wave of a wonderful book and only think, my book, must get back to my book, well, that's what I'm feeling about Amy and Isabelle.

Strout captures the complexities and contradictions of the mother-daughter bond, the fierce love and loathing. Though she focuses on the details of small-town life and its struggles and the petty and internecine relationships, there are scenes of such raw power, violence, and longing, they are indelible.

I admit: I am a mother of a 16-year-old, too, though my teen is a boy. I'm blessed to have a girl too, who is inching up toward teen-hood fast. But my admiration and engagement with Amy and Isabelle, with Strout's meticulously observed people and places, transcends that simplistic and diminishing notion of "identifying" with a world or a character. I come from a different world. I am discovering a new world. Strout is making an ordinary world, simple lives, fresh, intimate, unsparing, astonishingly real.

Elizabeth, if you come upon this, I hope you are writing. Don't want to run out of Strout.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Meet The Author

Just back from New York City and The Jewish Book Council's annual Meet the Author event. I think it was a very well-organized program and a great way for authors to connect with festival organizers and other leaders interested in inviting writers as guests to read and speak.

Authors and festival organizers came from all over the U.S. There were a few of us from Canada and a very small representation from abroad as well. I was proud to represent a rocking independent publisher from here in Canada and I'm sad and sorry to say, there were hardly any small presses present.

We began with our two-minute pitches epitomizing our books and ourselves. Everyone had their own style. They were mostly interesting and well done and the two hours or so passed by--I won't say quickly--but engrossingly. Stand-outs were Alison Buckholtz chatting about her memoir Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War, Gregg Drinkwater, Josh Lesser and David Schneer's Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Bible, a collection uniting voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight-allied writers. Other highlights: Sara Houghteling spoke with grace about her compelling debut novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, which tells the story of a son's quest to recover his family's lost masterpieces looted by the Nazis, Ari Y. Kelman pitched with panache and humour, Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio in the US, and Peter Manseau spoke with modesty and charm about his novel,Songs for the Butcher's Daughter,a fiction debut.

Despite my pics and prefs, there were very few fiction writers, perhaps a handful at most. (Peter btw, will be coming to the Jewish Public Library here in Montreal).

After our presentations, we all schmoozed at a buffet dinner. Discussions ranged from what makes a triple-threat festival,to what makes a "Jewish Book?" A number of the authors were not Jewish, Peter Manseau with a French Canadian background is a good example, and he just won the National Jewish Book Award in Fiction for "Songs." Here's another brain-teaser: is a book Jewish simply because its author is? I had a great chat with the editors of Queeries on the difference in attitudes toward gay people in US synagogues versus those here in Canada. My own cool shul, Dorshei-Emet as a glimmering exception,(I am certain there are others), the US comes out way ahead of Canada on this one. Sorry.

One wonders with all these interesting and varied writers and books: how will the festival folks choose? Fortunately, it's the mix that makes for a great festival.

We're all included in a bound book of the Authors on Tour for 2009-2010, each with our own page, and you'll find me on page lucky 21. Also take a look at this summer's issue of the glossy review journal, Jewish Book World. A number of the titles including The White Space Between are reviewed in the current issue.

My only regret: not being able to linger longer down in the Village. Sigh.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pics from 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Awards

Bonjour les amis,

Here are some pics from the 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Awards, which were given out in Toronto on May 25th downtown. You'll find some interesting people here, such as juror Cynthia Good, former President and Publisher of Penguin Canada, now Director of the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber College, me and my fabu publicist Emma Rodgers, the beautiful blonde, fellow SSP author and award winner, Kathy Kacer, and Joseph Kertes, author of the compelling novel, Gratitude, winner of the Yad Vashem Award, among other highlights. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's the Story?

I recently taught a great group of short story writers in my workshop for The Quebec Writers Federation (QWF) called Re-Vision: Shaping Short Stories. The class was about literally looking again at your pieces and shaping them in a sculptural process.

I was pleased folks brought in stories in all stages of draft form. When a piece was promising but went out in many directions, I would ask the writer to tell our group--IN ONE SENTENCE--what's the story? It was a great discipline to focus one's thoughts, ideas, and distill to the bone.

Of course a great story has numerous themes. But I think a great story can also be distilled down to a sentence that will express it's core.

Just back from TO and The Canadian Jewish Book Awards where we winners, btw, were asked to speak for 3 minutes and many spoke for 15! (Ah the limelight)! I am off this end-week to New York City, home of my birth to the Jewish Book Council's "Meet the Author" event, where we will each pitch our novel in two minutes.

So, I have distilled the essence of The White Space Between down to a cogent two minute talk.

The JBC has a great coach who worked with me on several drafts and guess what? You can say a hell of a lot in two minutes. Try it. It's bracing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

White Space Wins!

Great news! I'm honored that The White Space Between has won The 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. I'll be attending the awards ceremony in Toronto on May 25th and look forward to meeting the other authors, the jury, as well as spending time with the wonderful team of women at my publisher,Second Story Press.

Although one can't count on honors in this business of writing fiction, it is a lovely validation when it happens. What matters most is that readers find my books and that they are moved and connect with the characters and their stories.

I'm grateful.

See you in Toronto!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'm Off to...Minneapolis!

Dear Friends,

I'm off tomorrow, May 1st to Minneapolis, MN, to visit my BFF and to do two events for The White Space Between.

I'll be reading from and chatting about the novel at the Sabes JCC on Wednesday May 6th at 7 p.m. The JCC is at 4330 S. Cedar Lake Road. Phone: 952-381-3400 or check Elijah's Cup will be on hand with copies of the novel.

Then on Thursday, May 7th, at 11 a.m., I'll be interviewed about the novel on Write On Radio! at KFAI with Lynette, so tune in.

The rest of the time, I plan to have a blast with my BFF Carla Hagen whom I met on a writing retreat in Costa Rica some years back. We will hike and we will bike and we will talk all night long and drink lattes and perhaps swim on a rainy day.

Can't wait!

See you in Minneapolis.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Sounds of Silence

Dear Friends,

To all of you who were present at this week's Shabbat service at Dorshei-Emet, Saturday, April 18th, thank you for your warmth and support. It was fulfilling to give the D'var Torah this week, in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which we are marking this Tuesday, April 21st, the 27th day of Nisan, the Memorial Day for the six million Jewish martyrs who perished in the Holocaust. Observed throughout the world, it is a day of heartrending significance, the same date as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

For readers who were not with us, here is my D'var Torah in honor of Yom Hashoah:

Today's Torah portion really speaks to me because it addresses the archetypal tragedy of unexplained, irredeemable loss. What is the response to that loss? And what does it mean?

First, let's look at what actually happens in this parashah. On the surface, it is deceptively simple. Yet, scholars have been discussing and debating the portion for centuries.

Aaron and his sons will be honored through ordination as priests, as kohanim. This should be a deeply fulfilling and joyful day for them. Instead, during the ceremony, Aaron's sons Nadam and Abihu bring "alien fire" to the ceremony and then God's fire consumes them. Aaron's response is silence.

Here, I will read the passage for you:

"Now Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord, alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus, they died at the instance of the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy. And gain glory before all people.

And Aaron was silent.

What does Aaron's silence mean?

Is his silence shock?

Is his silence acceptance of God's decree? The silence of respect?

Is his silence rage?

Is his silence an anguish too great for words? Is his silence speechlessness, that is a loss for words, because language cannot encompass the enormity of his loss?

I believe that the text is suggesting that there are more possibilities--and more power--in silence than in any words when faced with unspeakable loss.

There are many sounds of silence.

As we approach and honor Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we need to reflect on our own response to unspeakable loss, as individuals, and as a community.

In my novel, The White Space Between, I address this very theme: the meaning of silence, the sounds of silence, in the face of unspeakable loss and tragedy, specifically, the Holocaust.

The German writer, Peter Handke, in his beautiful memoir, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, about his mother's suicide, said, "I write out of speechlessness."

I certainly felt a bit of this sentiment when approaching the daunting task of writing a novel about a mother and daughter grappling with the impact of the Holocaust.

My title, The White Space Between, speaks directly to the themes of my book. What is the white space? Well, the white space is literally the space between the letters, the space between the words, the space between the sentences. This white space gives the letters, the words, the sentences, their meaning. Without this white space, there would only be blackness, no form, no shape. A black blank, if you will.

Just as pauses, silence, gives meaning to the notes in music, silence gives meaning to speech, white spaces give meaning to words. They are active, alive.

As the writer Andre Neher says in his fascinating book, The Exile of the Word: From the Silence of the Bible to the Silence of Auschwitz, "silence often appears in the Bible in the first person:it has a role, it is active, pregnant.

In my novel, the white space between is also, as Rabbi Avi Weiss says in the epigraph, "the story, the song, the silence."

How did I come to write my novel, The White Space Between? Well, my personal connection to the Holocaust is through my mother-in-law, Brana Hochova, who was a survivor of three concentration camps: Terezin, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald. Like many Holocaust survivors, she did not speak much about her experiences during the war. She wanted to protect her children from the pain and weight of the past. She wanted to go forward. But how can one go forward when effacing the past? Because every time you turn around, there it is.

Sadly, I never knew Brana personally. She died very young, at 52 years old, a legacy of what she went through in the camps. However, she left behind a cassette tape where she spoke about her childhood and her life. Listening to this tape, her voice is very powerful, deep and soft, with a strong Czech accent, the accent of her youth, her identity. Listening to this tape, it was as if Brana was right there in the room with me. This tape filled in some of the white spaces...for me.

In fact, listening to Brana speak, after her death, I was struck by the power of voices, of story, after a long silence, how voices possess enduring life beyond corporeal life: they live on. How voices can be a link, a bridge, between the past and the present, the dead and the living, the lost and the found.

In my novel, Jana Ivanova, a Holocaust survivor also does not speak of her past. She wants to protect her only child, Willow, a marionette-maker and puppeteer, whose puppets become a kind of surrogate family, since she knows so little of her own.

Willow has so many white spaces, so much silence, that she does not even know who her father is. Her mother's struggle to spare her the pain of the past has left her incomplete, longing to find her missing history.

My novel explores the shadow side of silence, of too much white space, which becomes a white-out, an effacement, a kind of hiding, a negation of truth and identity.

Sometimes, one fills in the white space, the silence, with a new history, as the mother, Jana, does in my novel by creating a father for Willow: a French-Canadian man who loved Willow and died before her birth.

My novel explores the consequences of filling white space, of filling silence, with a fabricated recreation of history.

Toward the end of my novel, Willow loses her mother Jana, to a natural death, after a full, complicated, heroic life. Jana goes to her grave with some--but not all--of her secrets and silence. Now that her mother is dead, there are no more chances for Willow to speak to Jana or for Jana to speak to Willow.

"Willow has so many things she wants to ask her mother, questions she has saved up for a lifetime. Part of her feels like she is waiting for her mother to come to her, to speak. The questions, she knows, will remain open-ended. They will be the way she will miss her mother, through what she does not know and can never understand.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What's Coming Up: Mark Your Books

Dear Friends,

Some exciting events are forthcoming for me, and I wanted to get the word out to all of you.

First up, I will be doing my inaugural D'var Torah at Dorshei Emet, aka "The Cool Shul" in Hampstead, Montreal, on April 18th at 10 a.m. with Rabbi Ron Aigen. This D'var will discuss (Lev. 10:1) and my topic will be The Sounds of Silence, or Writing Out of Speechlessness. My D'var will be in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Tuesday, April 21st. I will be sharing a short excerpt of The White Space Between as well.

Next, on Friday, April 24th, at 4-5 p.m., I'll be participating in "Readings In the Afternoon" at BlueMet International Literary Festival here in Montreal. I'll be reading from The White Space Between and am honored to share the stage with three other interesting authors,Monique Proulx, Eric Siblin, and Andrew Steinmetz. A signing in the festival bookstore will follow. BlueMet will take place at the Delta-Ville Hotel, 777 University Street and our reading will be in the auditorium. The Festival runs from Wednesday April 22nd through Sunday 26th, so stop on by. A.S. Byatt will be reading and have an on-stage interview and other fascinating folks will be participating as well, such as two personal favorites, the brilliant journalist and memoirist, Daniel Mendelsohn, and the fascinating novelist and memoirist, Donald Antrim, both from New York City. Contact for more details.

Then I'm heading to the lovely city of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, home of my BFF. There, I will be doing a reading, talk, and signing at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park. My event will take place on Wednesday, May 6th at 7 p.m.

I am keeping fingers crossed about having a radio interview on Write On! radio in MN and will keep you posted on that.

Later in May, I'm off to the place of my birth, New York City, on May 31st-June 2nd to attend the Jewish Book Council's "Meet the Author" event during their annual Networking Convention. I will present The White Space Between and then attend the schmooze and dinner. I'm honored to be included in the JBC's Author On Tour program on behalf of The White Space Between for their 2009/10 season in the Big Beautiful US.

Look forward to seeing y'all around and about.

Check my website in the news and events section for further details.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Birth Day: When...but Where?

Hi Friends,

I recently needed to obtain an "official" copy of my birth certificate. I called each of my parents, neither of whom possesses one of these useful documents anymore, so I resorted to contacting the Vital Stats Bureau...but where?

I asked my 81-year-old Mom, down in Florida, and my eighty-five year-old Dad, down in South Carolina's Uplands.

"New Rochelle," my Mom stated unequivocally.

"New York," my Dad declared, definitively. "Mount Sinai Hospital."

Well, I figured Mom must be right, right? After all, she was the one who carried me above her heart for nine months and went through labor and delivery. So New Rochelle it was.

The website was not helpful, so I placed a call. I needed to send in a written request by post with my name, birth-date, have it notarized, to ensure I was me, and mail it along with a self-addressed-stamped envelope, oh, and the fee for each official copy to a specific address. Done. A tad expensive, what with the notary's fee and the fee for the document, but well worth the price.

A week or two later, I recognized my own stamped, self-addressed envelope. My birth could not be New Rochelle. Perhaps I had the wrong name! Or the incorrect date.

I called Mom back, peeved. She was fretful.

Very late that night, she phoned me.

"Ami! You were born in New York City at Mount Sinai Hospital. I remember the evening better than some things which happened to me yesterday. I left your Dad and Andy who was just 18 months old home in Larchmont and visited my doctor in New York City. Later that evening, I attended a performance of the opera Othello with my parents at the Met. You were sitting on my sciatic nerve, I was in agony. Then I went into labor.

"At four a.m., my parents took me to Mount Sinai Hospital. You were born at 8 a.m. the next morning!"

So, I have now made my request for my birth certificate for Amy Susan Brodoff (my real name, as opposed to my pen name) on March 18th to New York City's well-organized Bureau of Vital Statistics.

I am waiting. (Hmmm, maybe this is why Othello is one of my favorite plays and the Met one of my special places.)

This little splice-of-life burrowed into my mind. Why? I am fasccinated with the theme of identity. All of my stories and novels wrestle with this timeless journey. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Many of my characters don't have clear answers to these basic questions. Funny how I don't either. Despite the fact that I have living birth parents.

Hopefully, I can report back that I not only know who I am and when I was born, but where as well. (Because if it 'aint New York, there is no there, there.)

A New York City babe. I like that!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On My Stack: Nighttable That Is

Books are stacked up on my nighttable as always, and in mini-skyscrapers around the house, not to mention stored on our wall-to-wall bookshelves around and about.

The ones I am reading are usually by my bedside, where I can reach for them after the day's work is done or on those luxurious mornings when I can lounge in bed with a giant mug of fresh coffee and read my way into the day.

I just finished The Outlander, by Canadian author Gil Adamson, a debut novel by an extraordinary writer who also has a volume of stories and book of poetry out as well. The prose is gorgeous, rife with evocative images, yet always just right, fitting to the story. And what a story it is, an adventure. The book is about a young widow at the turn of the century who is on the run after murdering her husband. She is half-mad, wild, and poignant. We are entranced and worried about her as she is relentlessly pursued by her dead husband's two vengeful brothers and a pack of bloodhounds. I don't want to give anything away, but this novel has some of the most erotic, indelible, and powerful sex scenes I have ever read. And writers out there, you know, writing sex is a gift, a challenge. Adamson knows that we bring whomever we are into the bedroom, or in this case, the woods and forest. I am waiting and watching for Adamson's next.

I confess: I read junky mags to relax, a holdover from when my children were small and still watched The Lion King over and over or God help me, Barney,The Wiggles, or the late and beloved Mr. Rodgers. I could snuggle and cuddle with them and have my junky mags to flip through when the sight and sound of Barney sharing and caring was nearly emetic.

My husband Michael's escapist reading is thrillers, but they have to be well-written. This is how I happened to borrow the intriguingly titled Death of a Writer by Michael Collins from his stack.

Anyone who is amused or involved in the constant literary brawl that is going on out there, anyone who has been the victim or the object of writer's envy, will get a kick and a hoot out of this book. It is about author Robert Pendleton, who after his brilliant debut has not published anything "dazzling," and his smarmy nemesis fellow-novelist Allen Horowitz, whose latest autobiographical work has occupied the New York Times bestseller list for a year and has made a fortune. When their paths collide, death seems Pendelton's only option...but he botches his suicide attempt. While convalescing, one of his own early novels which he has hidden in the basement is discovered, and causes a storm of publicity. Pendleton may have his moment yet, unless he is accused of an unsolved murder. Fun stuff written in a muscular, cinematic style.

On my stack, you will also find Aussie Joan London's novel The Good Parents, Elizabeth Strout's linked story collection Olive Kitteridge, and Margot Livesey's latest novel The House on Fortunte Street. I love reading women writers, the best of them, and crave a woman's voice in fiction, which makes me feel I have a dear friend by my side whispering in my ear.

I am just into London's work and am enjoying the story and her limpid, lyrical prose, and will report back on the others in time, but I am well set for my end-of-winter reading.

Friends and fellow booklovers, please comment on what you are reading, I am always eager to hear about wonderful books.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Enough About Love...Now to Work

Freud had it right, love and work, work and love are the keys to meaning in life.
First of all, thank you all for sharing your own love stories in response to my Valentine post, I am grateful to have them.

As we approach March, I am struggling to get back to work! This coming Monday, my short story workshop RE-VISION: SHAPING SHORT STORIES begins through The Quebec Writers Federation. Check and workshops for details. There may still be a place left for you! I'm looking forward to this class, as I love teaching, when it comes to teaching my passion: fiction. The group in this workshop is intimate (under 12) and we really get the chance to know one another through our writing.

I am also writing and imagining into my new novel tentatively titled All But Forgotten, a literary mystery of sorts, character-driven, like all of my work. But you know, I am finding modern technology distracting. I can manage to NOT answer the phone (sorry, but true), unless I hear that it is something important involving my children or husband, and I can easily avoid turning on TV or radio, but it's the bloody internet that is my problem. Going on email, FACEBOOK, checking my favorite sites throughout the day, looking in on news...hey, it beats the blank screen!

Back in the day, when we all wrote longhand or on our typewriters, this wasn't the problem. The only distraction was gazing out the window or deciding suddenly to clean the house in a whirl-wind or do a load of laundry.

So, any friendly advice most welcome.

As I must bear down, get tough with myself, and get stuck into this book which beckons.

And now back to work...oh, maybe I should just check in on email....



Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Long and the Short of It: A Valentine

When my husband and I go out in public—daily, many times a day—we’re assailed with stares, bemused looks, as well as rude, crude, and crazy comments. My favorite after twenty-one years of marriage: “How do you …kiss?” Let me explain. My husband Michael stands six foot, eight inches, while I am five, four…okay, in truth, five, three, which leaves a gap of seventeen inches between our respective statures, or so you can picture the discrepancy, about a foot-and-a-half.

These days, with busy lives up here in Montreal, my work as a novelist and teacher of creative writing, my husband’s as a biotech consultant, a teen and pre-teen, as well as a Hollywood star of a Bernese Mountain dog to look after, I don’t have much time to dwell on my husband’s height. (About that dog: I guess I do like big males.)

In the early days of our courtship and marriage, the gazes and gawks of strangers bothered me terribly, invasions that left me feeling furious and exposed. What struck me was how stunned, though not dumb-struck, alas, people were by the unusual, particularly the physically different. It was as if they stared, not at a person--but at a statue--deaf, blind, and insensible.

Back in the day, my MO for these uncouth intruders was to rush up into their faces and give them as good as we got: I stared, I made faces, I spewed out my own outrageous comments. They came to, as if from a fugue state, realizing with horror that this freakish couple were, in fact, sentient, alive, human.

Michael, a gentleman to the core, did not care for my manner of dealing with rude strangers. He preferred to hold his head high and go about our business. Throughout our years together, he’s remained kind and patient with the artillery of stupid questions, asked again and again, with so little imagination. “Do you play basketball?” How tall are you?” “How’s the air up there?”

Though I met Michael on a blind date during my New York City days, I was prepared for his unusual stature by his sister. (She is tall, too.) Helene and I shared a country house in the Berkshires with a bunch of other singles one summer. She told me her brother was a “super fellow” and asked permission to give him my number. I later found out that she’d also slipped him the numbers of two other women in our house. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why he took so long to call.

Time passed. The tall super fellow didn’t call. I gave Helene a nudge. More time passed, but eventually, a rather shy guy did ring my apartment in Brooklyn and we set up a date to meet at a cozy bistro in the West Village on the corner of Grove and Bedford. This was 1986. I was thirty-one, Michael, thirty.

The novelist in me could not wait to meet this giant in a fairy-tale. Despite my rich imagination, I simply could not wrap my mind around six, eight. I’d dated my share of guys, but no basketball players.

When I entered the restaurant, there he stood in an elegant suit, a midnight blue shirt, a tie adorned with swirls of mauve, apricot, and purple. A handsome man with large dark eyes, a full and expressive mouth, silky black hair falling over his collar, and lovely fair skin. He reminded me of a British boarding school boy all grown up, which in fact, he was. I noticed his extraordinary hands-- manly, well-shaped, and expressively carving the air as he spoke—they looked as if they’d been sculpted by Michelangelo. And I loved his voice: deep, calm, and soothing. He listened with a concentrated focused attention I had not experienced with other beaus and his dark eyes took me in.

Over a good French wine, we told each other our stories. Apparently, I babbled for the first hour until Michael interjected, “Okay, I’ve heard a good deal about you, let me tell you about me.”

I was dumbstruck. Later, after our first anniversary, I said, “I couldn’t believe you said that to me!” And he replied, “I was smitten and didn’t want to be a cipher. I wanted you to know me.”

I confess I fell in love with Michael’s story before I fell in love with him. I’m a devotee of Victorian literature and Michael’s life might have been penned by Dickens, had Dickens written about Jewish orphans.

He and his sister were raised in England. They never knew their father. Michael and Helene lost their single mother when my husband was only sixteen, his sister, twenty-one. They looked after one another, and later, moved to New York City, Helene to take up the jewelry business, Michael to go to Columbia.

Michael’s mother, Brana, a Holocaust survivor, died at fifty-two, a legacy of the camps. (She was imprisoned in Terezin, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald.) She was a loving, self-sacrificing mother fiercely devoted to her two children, in fact, her life was in them.

At our first dinner and many subsequent ones, I learned more about Michael’s lost and extended family. His mother, Brana, was one of nine children born to a Hasidic Jewish family in Solotvino, or Slatinske Doly, as she called it, a small rural village nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains in Czechoslovakia. Her father, Mehel, and mother, Chanca, lived in the front room of Grandfather Yankel’s house on Synagogue Street. Her father was known for his extraordinary height, six feet, five inches. In fact, the family’s last name, “Hoch,” means tall in German.

Michael, named for the grandfather he never knew, inherited the legacy of tall stature, as have our two children, Tobias (who at fifteen is six foot, three and growing ) and Rosamond (who at twelve has bigger feet than I do and is inching up fast). I suppose, in a way, we are the march of the living tall. That is, except for me.

During my single years, longing for a life partner, my beloved physician father
advised me to “keep it light,” a glimmer in his gem-green eyes. And my psychiatrist mother—and many well-meaning friends—admonished me that if I was really ready to marry, I would see my rag-tag bunch of beaus in a different light. Any of them would’ve, could’ve, should’ve been the one.

Many of my past boyfriends shared my father’s perspective: they were allergic to my intensity. I had to make myself small, be that smiling floaty woman, light and bubbly as champagne.

Over that first memorable dinner with Michael, I knew he was different. My giant in a fairy-tale didn’t shy away from telling me his story and didn’t flinch when I shared mine. I felt he could take me in and contain everything I had gone through, and though moved, not be shaken. He would come out the other end. And so would I. At long last, a mensch.

This was a man who would later accompany me to a mental hospital to visit my schizophrenic brother, staying by my side, and helping me to rebound and go on with daily life afterward, though my heart was breaking for my brother and I was wracked with guilt for being the one who got away. A man who could stay strong and calm during financial difficulties and uncertainty, ugly fights with family, the tsuris that is part and parcel of raising two talented, feisty children.

Which brings me to my understanding of what keeps our twenty-one year marriage going strong. Though we have much underlying commonality--a love of literature and the arts, travel, hiking-- our temperaments are complimentary. Where I am a worrier, quick to lose my temper, Michael is calm and steady. I fear the worst and Michael maintains a sensible optimism. At times, I take myself too seriously and Michael has taught me to see the humor in most situations and people.

What have I taught him? To get organized, to figure out what you want and need and not be afraid to ask for it. To trust intuition and the wisdom of the imagination. To give up the burden of being, Saint Michael.

The strength of our union lies in its resilience. We’ve both managed to grow and change over our twenty-one years together, and our marriage is stronger for the evolution, fertile ground to grow further.

Six months after we met, we returned to that the West Village bistro and Michael got down on one knee and proposed, sliding an engagement ring on my finger, a Deco mosaic of diamonds he’d found in an antique jewelry store. I was seized by a fit of convulsive laughter, but managed to catch my breath and accept. (He eventually forgave me for laughing, but it took time). His sense of humor was not that good.

We tried to return to our bistro on an anniversary and found a different restaurant had taken its place. Later, the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets became the site of the fictional home of the F.R.I.E.N.D.S characters. What lives there now?

I often wish my mother-in-law Brana could see us now. How happy she would be to see her beloved son settled. Michael always tells me that she and I would get along famously, both of us believing that life is too short for anything but the truth. And what a joy to meet her grandchildren. If only.

I miss Brana. Even though, we’ve never met, I feel as if I know her. Through the many stories and memories Michael has shared with me over the years. Through the few albums and memory books she lovingly kept and managed to preserve. And most of all through her voice.

Brana left behind a cassette tape that she made for family about her childhood and life. Listening to her voice, I felt she was right there in the room with me. Though she had passed on, her voice was very much alive. I was struck by how powerful voices are, stories, they maintain enduring life, beyond corporeal life.

Today, I don’t notice Michael’s height much, at least when we are home with our family. Though not terribly observant, I do feel blessed to have put down new roots. These days, the grown up British boarding school boy now looks almost rabbinical, with a dark black beard, the proverbial male compensation for an almost bare pate, and those dark flashing eyes that drew me in the first place. Here’s to the next twenty-one years. That’s the long and the short of it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Soon I will venture down to South Carolina's Upcountry to visit my beloved father and "other mother." My Dad, at 85-years-old, with thick white hair and a salt-and-pepper beard, is active and still practices internal medicine and endocrinology part-time. My other-mother is a wonderful artist, a painter in oils, who helps to run a local gallery and leads an active, yet serene life.

I look forward to spending time with my folks, catching up, sharing meals, as well as savouring the quiet to write into my new novel,"pen" a book review, keep up my journal, and read the novels, short stories, and magazines I will stuff into my duffel.

I intend to take long country walks in the rolling hills, forests, and woods, spotting animals I don't see in the frozen north, listening to the roar of cascading waterfalls, digging my hands into the thawing red clay earth, venturing out on a hike or two in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I will eat grits and the best corn muffins ever, have a glass of sweet tea--a Southern summer refresher--though it is still winter Upcountry.

Though the American South has much shame in its history (who or what place does not share some of this shame) there is also a wealth of stories. Some of my favorite authors--Faulkner, the playwright Tennessee Williams, Donna Tartt, Cormac McCarthy--hail from the American South.

What I relish most about going down Upcountry is the slower pace, living for a short time in a place where people take time, for whatever task they are engaged in, for one another,and nearly everyone possesses good manners.

I look forward to passing a stranger on the lonesome road and hearing, "hey!" a friendly greeting simply because I am another person in the world.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Yes We Must

Dear Friends,

I am eagerly looking forward to Barack Obama's inauguration this coming Tuesday, the day after tomorrow! Dear friends are down in Washington with their family to witness this historic event and I look forward to hearing their report from the front lines, or more likely, the way back.

It was deeply fulfilling to cast our absentee ballot votes this November, though the process was unnecessarily Kafkaesque. As with many challenges in life, we were tenacious and persisted, and finally, we were counted.

In an extraordinary blast-from-the-past profile of Barack and Michelle Obama in The New Yorker (January 19,2009) with a charming photograph of the two of them and an interview by Mariana Cook from May 26, 1996, "A Couple in Chicago," Michelle is quoted thus:

"There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it's unclear. There is a little tension with that. I'm very wary of politics. I think he's too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism. When you are involved in politics, your life is an open book...I'm pretty private, and like to surround myself with people that I trust and love.... There is a possibility that our lives will go that way (into politics), even though I want to have kids and travel, spend time with family....In many ways, we are here for the ride, just sort of seeing what sorts of opportunities open themselves up."


And here Barack Obama speaks more personally, even poetically, about his bond with Michelle and the mystery of what makes their marriage work:

"...what sustains our relationship is I'm extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways....It's that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about that other person."


Yes we can. Yes we must.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Out There

Before I moved up here to the North Way, I never talked about the weather much, that was a sign of a bore, or a boor, but up here in Montreal, it's one of the ways we bond with loved ones, friends, and strangers.

Today, yesterday, the day before that, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, it's been hovering and will hover around -30, that's Celcius folks, the wind chill making it even more bitter. The kind of weather where your face burns and your toes and fingers go numb, even with gloves on. Don't go out with wet hair, as is my habit (being a swimmer, indoors lately) or you will don a halo of icicles!

My old beater of a van is now stuck on Old Orchard. I thought I was being a good citizen not parking in front of someone's driveway and inadvertently slogged myself into a mini-snowbank. New "winters" notwithstanding, no body could free that sucker. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, I had lots of help, and there will be more tonight.

But there are some nice sides to these Arctic temps, so enjoy some of my own favorite winter pleasures.

Huddle in front of ... a blazing fire

Drink some... hot, sweet, milky tea... or strong, rich coffee and warm your hands on the sides of the cup, your face in curls of steam

Find yourself an enveloping read...or two and catch up on that stack of unread magazines, journals and newspapers

Bundle up and go a great film (I'll be viewing Defiance)...or watch one on dvd curled under flannel sheets and a cloud of duvets and blankets

Take comfort in...the warmth of friends and loved ones

Slow down your pace and relish some...luscious indoor time to write, dream, and think

Stay warm if you live up here

And send me news from warmer climes if you are down south.


Monday, January 12, 2009


Response to literature--indeed all art--is subjective, like falling in love. A review is one reader's response, albeit a public one. The best reviews strive for balance, given that most readers of the review won't have read the book being discussed or dissected.

Gang reviews do a disservice to authors and readers, though they are expedient for busy, overloaded literary editors with too many books and too little space. These round-ups barely allow room for a rudimentary thumb's up or thumb's down. They coerce the reviewer into a beauty contest, dealing with each work primarily in comparison to the others, choosing a winner. Often the works discussed share little in terms of vision, style, or voice. Such comparisons are reductive,odious,as they are in the human realm.

Each book, new to the world, deserves being analyzed and discussed as a unique entity.

As a novelist with three works of fiction published and one on the way, I've done some reflecting of late about what is ultimately most important to me regarding each of my book's lives in the world. I savour and cherish reader responses after the long years of ass in chair time imagining and writing into my volumes of short stories and novels. I also hope for a life beyond the internecine Montreal literary scene (gotta love it) and beyond the small and shrinking market here in Canada (O Canada, adopted home, I love you too)!

The White Space Between, my latest, will be published in the U.S. this spring. Check my website in a bit for events there, certainly New York, my home town and Minneapolis, MN, home of my BFF and a wonderful literary city. Other venues as well.

I long for The White Space Between to be translated into other languages and to reach foreign countries. So Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Korea, France, Japan, Israel, my fingers are crossed. Not to mention you French publishers here in Quebec.

It's a great big world out there. Thank goodness for that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Acts of Faith

Dear Friends,

Today, on this cold winter Friday, the sun just a platinum shimmer in a silvery sky, I plan to crack my novel-in-progress. I've been away from this book for awhile, out and about on behalf of The White Space Betweeen, celebrating the holidays with my family, doing freelance projects.

I'm anxious, the pile of printed paper, some 100 pages or so, possesses a forcefield around it. Wish I could have a stiff drink to help me belly up to the task...but it's too early! And I'm not a big drinker anyway.

Why is writing so scary? Well, what's inside can be as terrifying, compelling, as what is outside.

Why so daunting? There is that pesky gap one must bridge between the glimmering conception of a story and the actualization of that story, the distance between the perfect idea and the dishevelled jumble of words, characters, and notions on a page that compose most first drafts. Usually, something in there glows, there is a nugget to build on. One must persevere, have faith, put that ole critic out on the back porch, even in the outhouse for awhile. Writers must be kind to themselves in order to keep on keeping on, kind and tough and uncompromising.

Got to commit to serious ass-in-chair time to do the work.

Writing is an act of faith. Good work accomplished by venturing into unknown territory, taking risks. For me, stories are how I make sense of my life and the world, how I attempt to create some order--and beauty--out of chaos.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Settling In to 2009

Hi Folks,

I think I'm over my re-entry blues and managing to get stuck-in to 2009. Yesterday, we took our daughter sledding on Mount Royal,the Beaver Lake Hill, and enjoyed a brisk crystalline walk with our Berner Monty-Booh after a few thrilling, chilling runs down the hill en famille, squeezed onto the same ole boogy board we just used to ride the waves in Delray Beach last week. I'd been horizontal on my couch refusing to brave the cold and had be literally dragged outside by Rosy,who was her usual feisty, gung-ho self...but it was well worth it.

Ye Old Winter Sports and all that. (These northerners have something there.) With glowing eyes and wind-burned cheeks and the wonderful physical tiredness that January exertion brings, I enjoyed my cozy evening fire and hot sweet tea and enveloping book all the more.

I'm warming up the material on my next work-in-progress, my third novel and fourth book, tentatively titled, All But Forgotten, reading over the 100 pages or so that I've written, imagining into the characters and stories. It feels wonderful to be creating new work. I feel most myself when writing and am out of sorts when I'm away from it for too long. How good to be back.

Taking time out as well to explore an edgy new short story writer whom I'm reviewing. Stories about loss but written with great verve and humour. That's all I'll say for now. Wait for the review.

Speaking of reviews, when you have a moment, check out the perceptive, connected piece on The White Space Between on the blog Buzzing Blue and the reader reviews on, that's right .com

Apparently, more in-depth articles and reviews of the novel are in the works and reader responses have been so fulfilling. Thank you for those.

Now, back to that blazing fire, that cup of hot, sweet, milky tea, that novel....


Friday, January 2, 2009

Re-Entry Hell...or back to real life

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year to you and yours. I hope '09 brings good, sweet,and easier times for those suffering under this world-wide recession.

I am back after a paradisal visit en famille to balmy Florida and my 82-year-old Mom,travelling from Montreal's winter palette of black,white and silvery-gray into heat and explosive tropical color. We all pile into my mother's modest condo, kids on air mattresses on the floor, and spend lazy days strolling the beach, frolicking in the waves, soaking up sun, sand, and the beauty of the bursts of fuschia, golden and scarlet flowers. Not to mention those palm trees.

My mother is extraordinary for 82, still beautiful, very active, and completely compus mentis. She has mellowed with age, or perhaps I have mellowed with motherhood and life experience. This is the first visit in a long while where we haven't had an altercation (what a great euphemistic word, how mild and clinical it sounds, nothing like what it means, love that) or two...or three altercations...not to mention not even one knock-down-drag-out that only passionate mothers and daughters can suit up for and knuckle down into. Enough. I've already had a lifetime's worth of those conflicts. Mom and I got along well. In fact, we actually all enjoyed one another's company, playing Apples To Apples, or smacking tennis balls around the clay courts, or enjoying twilight or nighttime swims which seem totally cuckoo, loco, to Floridians during their "winter."

It was fulfilling to give my mom a copy of The White Space Between, which is dedicated to her and my two other mothers. She read it while I was there, with great pride and enjoyment, though perhaps connecting too many dots between Willow and me. Ah well. She's a shrink, after all!

Evenings were cool and refreshing, clear skies scintillating with stars. We pointed out the constellations, letting the day's sweat, salt, and sand dry on our oiled skins.

I always experience seasonal disorientation while down in Florida--thinking that it is summer--that I will return to find it summer. This confusion begins on arrival, as my daughter Rosy bursts out each year when we exit the Fort Lauderdale Airport's sliding glass doors into the balmy heat: "Does anyone love these palm trees as much as I do?"


Outside the gated communities of the comfortable were storms of foreclosures, signs everywhere that despite the beauty of sunny Florida, many were in crisis, barely feeding their families, losing their homes. These tough times are bound to continue for another year or two.

Articles in the paper featured skate-boarders looking for foreclosures, cleaning the scum and rats from abandoned pools, enjoying new challenges on their boards as night set in.

We can only hope that Obama, our hope, will slowly, steadily put our world to rights, narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, the have-too-much's and the have-little's.

There were the heart-warming stories. Like the head of Barnes and Noble who financed new homes for a group of families in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans who had lost their homes, restoring faith in these people's hearts that there are decent folks in the world who are not just grasping and grasping more and more and more.

We've returned home with a coconut and plan to smash it tonight as snow drifts down outside, drinking its sweet milk, and chewing on its flavorful meat, perhaps with a glass of champagne for Michael and I to celebrate, well, life, family, the hope for better in the New Year.

Now I have to belly up to re-entry chores, re-entry hell. Clean out the mucky fridge, do laundry, buy food (yeah, this family's gotta eat), slog through my email...take loads of leaves ('member I told you 'bout the ones that don't fall till the snow falls) to the dump and warm up the material for my fourth book, my new novel, the one I began before the launch of The White Space Between.

Not to mention enjoying, savoring the pleasures of home. Like a cuddle with my gorgeous winter dog, Monty Booh, a Berner who as I write is outside on a cloud of snow, in heaven, nipping at drifts.

Write me!