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BLOG: Writers of the Lost Arc

Hosting Summer Fiction Contest (2019) -- Got stories?

Does anyone have unpublished short stories between 1,500 and 3,000 words that pull you in and won't let you go till the end?


I'm co-hosting a fiction contest with AmiLiving Magazine.  It's happening this summer, 2019.  Eight stories will be chosen (by me) for the July and August summer issues of AmiLiving.  Each story will get paid between $150 and $300, depending on its length. The final winner will be decided by Monkey Survey reader vote, and the winner will be awarded an additional $300. One runner-up will also receive a $250 gift certificate from Menucha Publishers, in addition to regular payment. Not too shabby!

All submissions are sent to: fictioncontest@amimagazine.org. Do not send any entries or questions to me, please.  Otherwise I won't have any time to read your submissions or write my own stuff.


Here are the questions I anticipate you may have:


If the story I submitted really happened, can it still be called fiction?

I won't tell, if you won't tell. Meaning, it doesn't matter if a sliver, or the core, or even the entire story happens to true. The main thing is that it reads like fiction. Oftentimes, a story may not be written so well, but the writer's sincerity and the fact that it actually happened carries the story and renders it publishable. Here, the truth behind the story won't give it any boost. (This is a long-winded way of saying, it's harder to write quality fiction than memoir.)


If my story is accepted, will it appear as is or be edited?

Rare is the story that wouldn't benefit from an edit. I will be working in collaboration with the author so that both parties are satisfied with the final result.


What if my story is 3,010 words. May I send it anyway?

No. Stick to the word limit. If your story is selected for print, and those ten extra words really mean the world to the story, of course they can be re-inserted.


What topics?

Any topic appropriate for a Torah-observant audience. I have a soft spot for awesome dialogue, 3-D characters, stories that explore fresh territory, have literary merit, and/or deepen and expand the reader's experience of Judaism/Torah/religious life. And most of all, the story must be compelling.



Are novel excerpts okay?



If my story isn't accepted, does it still have a shot at getting published in Ami?

Yes! Eight spots may not be enough to contain all the amazing stories Ami expects to receive. If a story fits the Ami bill, then the writer will be contacted and asked to hold his or her story in reserve for future publication. (Yes, men can submit, too. And people 19 and over.) Such writers would get paid like any regular Ami writer. The only difference would be that I wouldn't be involved in the editing process. I'm hosting this contest just for the summer issues.


What if the story was published online? Can I submit it?

If by published you mean it appeared on your blog which reaches maybe 100 people, then I wouldn't worry. Otherwise, worry.


What is the deadline?

The deadline for the July issue is June 20th, and the deadline for the August issue is July 20th.


Can I submit a story if I have worked with you in the past or have participated in your writing groups?

Yes and yes.


What about poetry?

Sorry, no poetry submissions. But who knows. Maybe this story contest will launch a poetry contest. Kayn yirbu.


About how long should I wait to hear if the story has been accepted?

Two weeks.


Happy writing. And remember. All submissions and questions should be sent to: fictioncontest@amimagazine.org

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My Father-in-law and Rav Hutner

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  Read More 
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Harper Lee's Inspiring Bad Novel

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. Read More 
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How to write a page-turner

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: Read More 
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Nailing the Yiddish-flavored Accent

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.  Read More 
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"31 books that will 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.  Read More 
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Food & Proverbs

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  Read More 
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Exploring the Hassidic and the Kabbalistic

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.

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

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.  Read More 
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"Saving Mr. Banks," and the 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.  Read More 
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