Welcome to my blog, Writers of the Lost Arc. Here you'll find writing exercises and tips, Jewish stuff, and, well, we'll see.


Selected Works

"...an action-filled novel...a story of love transcending deformity, both inner and outer…extraordinary, delicate and memorable.” -- Ha'aretz
"… a captivating tale about modern day matchmaking…spellbinding..."
–Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life

BLOG: Writers of the Lost Arc

My Father-in-law and Rav Hutner

October 23, 2017

Tags: memoir, rabbi hutner, chaim berlin, stolper, chaim feuerman

Thirty-seven years ago, on the eve of Sukkot, a drunken driver smashed his car into my father-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Feuerman. His legs were crushed. After the 19th operation, he stopped counting. Unfortunately, the hospital botched up the surgeries, extending his stay there by months. Now my father-in-law was in a position to sue and (more…)

Harper Lee's Inspiring Bad Novel

November 23, 2016

Tags: Go Set a Watchman, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing exercise, Harper Lee's editor

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of those novels I’ll probably be reading and re-reading my whole life. Me, and a million other fans. I love those characters – Dill, Jem, Boo Radley, Scout, and her father, Atticus Finch, Calpurnia. How everyone wished Lee would write another novel but she never did. It seemed we’d have to content ourselves with re-reading “Mockingbird” every few years.

Then not long ago, a manuscript of Lee’s was unearthed – a sequel to her first novel – and the whole country went wild. The Los Angeles Times called it, “the biggest literary surprise of the 21st century: On July 13, 55 years after the publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird," the reclusive 89-year-old Harper Lee will publish her second book.” Advanced sales of the book – Go Set a Watchman -- pushed it to the top of bestseller lists, months before the novel got published.

Go set a watchman takes place in Maycomb, Alabama, Here’s how Amazon describes it: “Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—“Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her.” Sounds good. I was about to buy it on Amazon when the literary news came rolling in. The long-awaited novel not only made for mediocre reading, but it also portrayed the formerly noble-hearted Atticus Finch as a bigot. You can’t imagine the blow. Seemed the whole country fell into a depression, me, too. I couldn’t bear to read the book. I did not want my hero Atticus Finch to be messed with or tarnished. Nor did I want to see my literary hero, Harper Lee, to fall flat on her face. Finally, after a year, I got awfully curious. Really, how bad could it be? At the very least, I’d get to meet Dill, Jem and Boo again. (more…)

How to write a page-turner

January 13, 2016

Tags: Writing Tips, How to write a page-turner, Ian McEwan, the Art of Unease, Master of Dread, writing prompts

Here’s a great tip I came across. Make sure to end each chapter with something your main character longs to happen, or dreads will happen. Longing and dread. Good things to keep in mind. But how to create that?

Ian McEwan is considered a literary writer who knows how to hook the reader with novels of “page-turning excitement.” In this old New Yorker profile, (The Art of Unease, 2009), he quotes Henry James who said the novel’s main obligation is to be interesting. McEwan finds most novels don’t succeed at this basic level.

After reading the rather long profile, I came away with two tools to create narrative tension: (more…)

Nailing the Yiddish-flavored Accent

December 7, 2015

Tags: Chaim Grade, Sam Guncler, The Quarrel, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, Audios, Jewish novels, Israel novels

So thrilled to hear a great actor is narrating my Courtyard Kabbalist novel. The audio just got released today – timed with Chanukah? A number of actors tried out for the part and they were all impressive, but when I heard Sam Guncler’s perfect inflexion when he said, “milchigs and fleishigs” I sat up and thought: Who is this guy? He sounded like home. I checked his acting credits: The Good Wife, Law & Order, The Sopranos, nice, nice, nice, but then I saw listed “The Quarrel” -- and realized I’d seen Sam play the part of a former yeshiva student facing off against a Hassid in an intellectual/spiritual show down. (more…)

"31 books that will restore your faith in humanity"

November 19, 2015

Tags: Buzzfeed book lists, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, Year of Wonders, restore your faith in humanity

I'm not sure what "restore your faith in humanity" means exactly, but I'm jazzed -- thrilled -- to have my novel included alongside some of my favorites: Life of Pi, Year of Wonders, To Kill a Mockingbird. By what process did my humble novel even make it onto such an illustrious list? Ah, the mysteries of Buzzfeed. (more…)

Food & Proverbs

October 13, 2015

Tags: writing tips, writing prompts, food and fiction, proverbs and fiction, Anne Tyler, Digging to America, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist

I came across a writing tip from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Anne Tyler. She was trying to get into the head of her Iranian character, and she said (I wish I knew where) that she consciously uses food as an entry point into her characters, especially if they are from foreign cultures – capturing the (more…)

Exploring the Hassidic and the Kabbalistic

October 19, 2014

Tags: Orthodox Jews, Jerusalem, Joseph Berger, Jewish TV Channel, Hassidic Jews

Hey! I'm on Jewish TV with Joseph Berger (religion reporter, New York Times), he covering the Hassidic, me the Kabbalistic. (Among other things, I talk about a proposal I received -- ages ago -- from a wild kabbalist.)

Click here to listen.

Why I like Writing about Older Singles, Failed Men & Other Stuff

June 16, 2014

Tags: Modern Orthodox fiction, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, kosher fiction, writing about Orthodox singles, writing about failed men, Jerusalem fiction

Journalist Michael Orbach asked me a few questions for "Jewish Action" and I thought I'd share the Q&A:

Q: Was it difficult leaving Israel?

A: I remember my last day there, I felt like my stomach was getting ripped out of me. I’ll put it this way: In Israel whenever I got in someone’s daled amos, their four cubits of space, I could almost hear a song under the breath. There was this uplift, this musicality that was thrumming through Israeli life. When I came to America it felt a lot saner but there was just so much less beauty. I didn’t feel that underlying spiritual bass rhythm.

Q: Both your main characters seem flawed. What is it that attracted you to write about them?

A: I think that, if I’m honest, I’m very attracted to writing about failed men. Men who are on the verge; Isaac is the almost person: he almost became a rabbi; he almost married the woman of his dreams; he almost started a yeshiva. [I’m interested in] people who strive but are not quite there. People who are successful don’t always strike me as interesting. They’re not in a state of yearning because often a person who is successful has already arrived, at least in his or her own mind, and so they’re just boring to me, fairly or not.

That’s why I’m also attracted to singles, especially older singles. They’re in limbo, not there yet, whatever ‘there’ means. (more…)

"Saving Mr. Banks," and the psychic burdens children carry

January 17, 2014

Tags: "Saving Mr. Banks", In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, P. Travers, children who pity their parents, psychic burdens children carry

Oh, the things you'll tell a blogger you've never met that you wouldn't tell your mother or friend.

Deborah Kalb asked how I came to write about a certain character in my novel. Here's what I answered. " Then there’s Mustafa, an Arab janitor on the Temple Mount with a horrible case of torticollis – his neck twists permanently over one shoulder. Somehow this man so different from myself wandered into my creative unconscious and I had no idea why.

But then I recently saw the wonderful movie, "Saving Mr. Banks," and it touched so many chords in me. It becomes clear that Travers wrote Mary Poppins to save her talented drunk of a father. She carries the psychic burden of her father’s failures and it weighs heavily on her. My father’s life, his struggles, also weighed heavily on me. Like Mustafa, he suffered from a strange physical deformity – he was missing an ear from a car accident as a child. (more…)

"A crop of superb novels by younger writers keen to edge their fading elders from the spotlight"

January 5, 2014

Tags: Wall Street Journal fiction overview, Sam Sacks, is the novel dying, golden age for fiction, best novels 2013, celebrity dud novels, new novelists, Jhumpa Lahiri, "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, " Claire Messud, Donna Tartt

I'm happy my novel was included in the Wall Street Journal's overview of the best novels of the year. It's a provocative article. Here's the link, but if you're not a WSJ subscriber, I cut and pasted it below.


The Year in Fiction 2013
A crop of superb novels by younger writers keen to edge their fading elders from the spotlight.
by Sam Sacks

Nothing better encapsulates the state of fiction at the end of 2013 than the hoary motif of Father Time and Baby New Year. On one side are the old, the established, the reverenced; on the other, the young and fresh-faced, squalling for recognition and eager to nudge their elders from the spotlight. They will do it soon if the past 12 months were any indication.

No reading year is without disappointments, but it's noteworthy that in 2013 almost all of them came from A-list novelists whose books failed to warrant the attention they attracted. (more…)