I hope you had a wonderful Hanukah. It is strange to have Hanukah finished and we’ve barely started the first week of December. Frankly, my best present was getting my website back up and fully functional. In case you hadn’t noticed, my server went down under attack back in September and had so much trouble trying to recover all the pages that we ended up switching to a new host. What an aggravation – loosing all emails sent to email@example.com, having no access to my web schedule just as I was leaving on a 3-week book tour, and never knowing if a particular link was going to work. It appears to be all better now, but what a wakeup call about how dependent I am on all this e-technology.
And just in time, too. I’m excited to share that I’ll be speaking at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial convention next week in San Diego. I am honored to be on a panel along with Jewish historical novelists Anita Diamant and Zoe Klein. According to the URJ website, we will share our inspiration and insights, reflecting on our Jewish journeys and how our faith has influenced our writing. I expect us to talk about much more than that. I still can’t get over that not only will I be on the same stage as Anita Diamant, but that our session sold out over 2 weeks ago.
This is a huge networking opportunity for me, as approximately 5000 Reform Jewish machors attend, all of whom I wish would invite me to speak at their synagogues. I’ll have time to meet many of them at the convention bookstore, where I’ll be signing copies of my books along with other authors in attendance. I expect I’ll be hanging out in the lobby and vendor area as well, which I hear are the best places to network.
No sooner do I promise to continue a subject in my next post than something comes along to make me eat my words.
In this case, the Jewish Book Council contacted me about writing a short “peek behind the scenes” article about Rav Hisda’s Daughter for their website, so book groups can add a little extra tidbits to their discussion.
The JBC suggested some questions for me, all of which were very applicable to my novel. I was able to address all of them except the one about what I ended up cutting, which deserves an entire article by itself. I will probably end up writing about that as I describe my editing process. So here are the questions, and to see my answers, visit the JBC link above.
-How you came up with the names of the characters
-If there was a different direction that you saw the book heading when you first started out (without giving any spoilers!)
-Was there something (or someone) in particular that inspired your writing of this story
-Did you discover anything surprising while writing the book
-Was there anything that you ended up having to cut from the book
-Ideas for a themed menu or wine list that would go along with your book (for book clubs that try to match the food with the book)
I saw my eye surgeon this week and he was very pleased with my progress. The bubble is so small I can pretty much see around it, which means I can use the computer as much as I want, and hallelujah, I’m now cleared to drive again.
So, you may ask, where does this leave Book 2 [Enchantress] of "Rav Hisda’s Daughter"? That’s what my next several posts will focus on. To bring you up to date, I finished the entire first draft [or puke draft, as some unknown author called that initial effort where the job is merely to get the story down and worry about details later] just before Rosh Hashana.
Like Book 1 [Apprentice], Enchantress consists of two parts. In Bk 1 those parts comprised ten and seven years of my heroine’s life, but while the first part of Enchantress is similar in covering ten years, the second part was quite a challenge since it encompassed her next [that is final] fifty years. Obviously I had to do a lot more narrative summary and skipping of years. Yet plenty of other novelists have written books that take place over a character’s lifetime, even generations, so it wasn’t impossible. But it was a challenge, and I had to leave out many interesting pieces of Talmud and history [more on this later].
I know I write ‘long,’ so to make it easier for myself, I don’t flesh out the dialogues. Nearly everything is ‘said’ rather than whispered or screamed, etc. and many are merely some talking heads rather than set in any particular location. My descriptions of people and places are minimal or nonexistent. I know that when I start editing, more than a few scenes, and even characters, will end up on the cutting room floor [to mix metaphors]. In my early novels, I wasted a lot of time detailing these things only to excise them in subsequent drafts.
My daughter had finished reading, and criticizing, Pt 1 when I completed Pt 2, so I immediately went back to the beginning to start editing. I’ll explain how I started revising the second draft next post.
My eye is recovering well. The air bubble they put in at surgery to hold my retina in place while it healed has shrunk to the point where I can see around it. My vision with my current glasses is a bit blurry, but not too bad. All things considered, things went much better than when my other eye’s retinal detached, even though that happened in Los Angeles and this time I was three time zones away.
Here is where the magical thinking comes. Whenever I speak at a synagogue, I like to check out the gift shop for amulets. And despite this being the 21st century, I almost always find some. Usually these are hamsas [often with an eye in the center], car mezuzahs, and keychains with Tefillat haDerech [the traveler’s blessing/incantation that Rav Hisda recites in Tractate Berachot]. Sure enough, Congregation Moses had some. But one amulet was unusual and a frankly a little creepy [see photo]. It was a Jewish Star charm hanging on a red fabric bracelet, and in the center of the star hung a small blue eyeball that rotated 360 degrees. In other words, it could turn to ‘look’ in any direction. With the red threads and blue eye, it was clearly an amulet for protection from the Evil Eye.
But what if it was the opposite? My first thought was how strange it was that I noticed my detached retina with an hour of receiving this bizarre amulet – an occurrence that forced me to abruptly cancel a week’s worth of speaking events in Chicago. A week later, after my successful surgery, my husband had me see things differently. Surely my retina was already tearing and starting to detach hours, if not days, before I got this amulet. And look what happened after I actually came into its possession.
Coincidentally, my host turned out to be a doctor affiliated with the local medical school. More amazing, he found an ophthalmologist who saw me in his office and made the diagnosis within hours, and on a Sunday no less. Incredibly, my own retina surgeon back home was on call Sunday night and answered his cell phone, whose number I had on my laptop. After he scheduled surgery for the next day, Monday, I was able to get the last seat on an early morning nonstop back to Los Angeles.
It gets better. The eye exam when I returned showed the tear had worsened, but my retina was still attached. Thus I needed a less complicated procedure than previously, one without general anesthesia. My surgery went so well that I was able to forego the uncomfortably positioning [lying facedown or on one side for 45 minutes out of each hour] that many patients endure for a week or more. Better yet, I had none of the common complications, two of which [bleeding and double vision] I suffered the first time.
So I ask you: did that Evil Eye amulet curse me or did it protect me? Or was the whole an exercise in magical thinking?
By the way, I didn’t even realize I had that amulet in my purse with me the whole time until I got home from the hospital.
The morning after my retina surgery, I had my first follow-up appointment and the bandage came off. Lo and behold, my surgeon pronounced the procedure a great success, so good that I could forgo the usual positioning restrictions of spending 45 minutes of every hour either face down or on my right side. Yes, I should lie in those positions as often as possible rather than sit up, and I should never lie on my back facing up. But I could use the computer a few hours a day. To be cautious, I ended up watching a lot of DVD’s and Neflix streaming while lying on the couch on my right side, plus reading the newspaper online via my husband’s iPad.
After all, I still had one good eye. The affected eye, however, was useless since it was filled with an air bubble whose purpose was to keep the retina in position while it healed. This meant that looking through that eye was like having my eye open underwater; I could see colors and shapes moving around but not much else. So I kept it closed most of the time or wore an eye patch. My grandson provided me with a cool pirate eye patch [see photo] that was more comfortable than the one Kaiser sent me home with and allowed me to wear my glasses with it on.
Note that I’ve said nothing about pain. That is because I haven’t had any. None when my retina tore and started to detach, none during surgery, none post-op, and none as I’ve recovered. The most uncomfortable part has been dealing with 3 kinds of eye drops at 2 hour intervals, one of which stings and leaves my eye dilated all the time, forcing me to avoid bright light unless I keep my eye shut.
But one week follow-up appt got the drops down to 4 times a day, and that’s a small price to pay for what looks to be an excellent recovery. Even my current glasses seem to still work now that the bubble is small enough for me to see around it.
Next post will be an exercise in magical thinking.
As I left off in yesterday’s post, I was back in LA, heading for pre-op. The good news was that I would have a vitrectomy [google it] instead of the scleral buckle that my other eye had undergone, and thus wouldn’t need the general anesthesia that had previously so debilitated me. Anticipating surgery, my last meal had been dinner in Kalamazoo the previous night, so I had now been fasting 24 hours.
Once in pre-op I learned a more serious emergency was taking more time than expected, so everyone else was in line for the one other operating room. My delay would probably be around two hours. But no problem, other than my growling stomach. My husband had his smart phone loaded with all kinds of podcasts. We tried Science Friday but I couldn’t concentrate, so he suggested Old Jews Telling Jokes of which he had 76 episodes. Talk about relieving my anxiety. The nurses and other patients must have thought we were crazy because we were laughing so hard in our curtained-off cubicle.
Finally the anesthesiologist came to tell me I was next. She also explained that I would receive a nerve block for the pain and some sedation, but I’d be awake while they operated. I’d hear what was going on and while there wouldn’t be pain, I’d feel the pushing, pulling, probing, etc in my eye. OMG, I thought, I’m going to have eye surgery and watch it happening from the inside. At least it wouldn’t hurt, and if all went right, neither would my recovery since that area of the eye has no pain receptors. That’s why I’d felt no discomfort so far.
When I finally got into the OR, I hadn’t eaten for 30 hours. To my surprise, somebody said they had Pandora and asked what music I wanted. I immediately said “the Beatles,” which was received with enthusiasm by the OR staff. Then came the awesome part. As the surgeon did his thing in my eye, instead of seeing him, I saw the most incredible light show. For those of a certain age who saw various Laserium shows in the 70’s, this was orders of magnitude better. It was like fireworks of every color were going off, with shooting stars, rainbows, dancing flowers, and stuff I can’t even describe. I was sad when the images faded away in the recovery room. But boy was I famished. I downed 4 cups of cranraspberry juice and umpteen crackers, then ate dinner when we got home.
To be continued in my next post.
Those of you keeping up with my travels may be thinking: “Oct 28, Maggie is back from her East Coast and Chicago book tour.” You’d be right, but missing the important part, which is that I was forced to return a week early for emergency eye surgery to repair another retina detachment.
Yes – I suffered one in the other eye in Feb 2011, less than a week before my son’s wedding. Other than a post announcing the bad news, my blog went on hiatus for 2 months. While that was indeed a harrowing experience, it doesn't compare to recognizing an impending detachment while away in Kalamazoo, Michigan [my home is Los Angeles] – and on a Sunday no less, a few hours after speaking at Congregation Moses. Obviously this was bad news, but what following was a string of incredibly good luck.
First, my hosts included a doctor on the medical school faculty, who promptly called its hospital to find the ophthalmologist on call. The fellow called back in less than 30 minutes and told us to forget about the ER, but go directly to his office. There he made the diagnosis that I knew was coming, but there was good news as well. My retina had only torn and was not yet detached. He recommended getting back to LA asap, the first step of which was a train to Chicago.
Once back in Chicago, I remembered that I had my LA retinal specialist’s cell number. Hoping he’d tell me I could take a few days to return [and thereby finish my tour], I called him. Instead, he said to get on the first plane back to LA Monday morning, then go directly to the hospital where he was scheduling me for surgery that afternoon. Luck was still with me as SWA had one seat left on the 8:30 nonstop. When I arrived at Kaiser WLA ophthalmology, my doctor saw that though the tear had worsened, my retina was still attached. I had gotten home just in time.
That’s enough computer time for my eye today. Tomorrow’s post will continue my story.
Next week [Oct 14 and 16] I’ll be speaking in New Jersey on Oct 14 and 16. Here’s a nice article in New Jersey Jewish News on what I’ll be discussing.
Interesting that I’m getting a lot more requests for interviews in advance of my upcoming Fall book tour than I did before last Spring’s tour, even though Rav Hisda’s Daughter: A Novel of Love, the Talmud & Sorcery is 6 months older and some of the locations [New Jersey and Long Island] are the same. My publicist says it’s because the sorcery angle is a great hook just before Halloween and I’m now an expert on ancient Jewish magic.
Here’s a great article in the Maryland Gazette, publicizing my appearance next Sunday at Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg.
I hope this bodes well for the sequel, Enchantress, which has a pub date of Sept 30, 2014.
The newest episode of The Book of Life podcast, hosted by librarian Heidi Estrin, features an interview with Maggie Anton, author of Rashi’s Daughter series, and of the new series that kicks off with Rav Hisda’s Daughter: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery. This is Book I: Apprentice, with more exciting sequels to follow. Maggie shares the background on how she wrote the book and even recites some actual spells, so don’t miss it!
You can hear the podcast online by clicking this link.
I'm off and running again on another book tour, this one for the 3 weeks leading up to Halloween - a perfect time to talk about ancient Jewish Magic. I'll be visiting six states: Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Michigan and Illinois. For more details, including exact locations of my venues, see my web schedule.
Oct 10 - 7 pm. Temple Torah, Boynton Beach FL
Oct 13 - noon. Kehilat Shalom, Gaitersburg MD
Oct 14 - 6 pm. Alyssa Hadassah, Forsgate Country Club, 375 Forsgate Dr,Monroe Township, NJ
Oct 16 - 7 pm. Rodeph Torah, Marlboro NJ
Oct 17 - 11 am. Greens Hadassah lunch, So Huntington Jewish Center, 2600 New York Ave, Melville NY
Oct 17 - 7 pm. North Shore Synagogue, Syosset, Long Island NY
Oct 20 - noon. Congregation of Moses, Kalamazoo MI
Oct 22 - 7 pm. Congregation Kneseth Israel, Elgin IL
Oct 23 - 7 pm. Beth Judea Sisterhood, Long Grove IL
Oct 24 - noon. Aviva Lilah Hadassah lunch. 60 Revere Drive, Northbrook IL
Oct 24 - 7 pm. B'nai Torah, Highland Park IL
Oct 26 - 10 am. West Suburban Har Zion, River Forest IL
Oct 27 - 1:30 pm. B'nai Yehudah Beth Sholom, Homewood IL
I hope I'll get to see many of my fans there.
It would be easy to blame the High Holy Days for the long time between posts, but while that is a small part of the delay, along with a visit to my son’s family in Phoenix, the main reason is that whoever hosts my website has been under attack. Thus all of maggieanton.com, including the sites for rashisdaughters.com and ravhisdasdaughter.com, have been down, making my blog inaccessible. Today the blog site seems to be functional, so I’ll hurry to post something.
I have used my downtime well, I think, by finishing the first draft of “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” just before Rosh Hashana. I’d sent the first half to my daughter to edit while I worked on the second. As expected, she came back with a large number of improvements. Many were simply the word ‘boring’ [mostly about the Talmud scenes], while others pointed out the need for more explanation or suggestions that certain secondary characters should either be fleshed out or deleted. For a novel titled “Enchantress,” she thought there should be more magic. Now I’m working my way through implementing [usually] her ideas while she slogs through Part 2. Then Part 1 goes to my editor, who will certainly have even more ways to improve it.