Sweet Saturday Samples

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This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Chapter 6 of The Very First, “Stepping Up Sparky’s Makeover.” Cinni’s goofy uncle Jasper, strange aunt Lucinda, and one-legged cousin Elmira have come home, and Cinni has been telling Sparky a bit about them. Cinni’s mother, however, isn’t quite so happy to hear her youngest child telling such unflattering stories about her own relatives, even if these people are so odd she doesn’t even need to lie about their bizarre habits.

***

“Why did your grandparents make your aunt marry a crazy guy?”

“He was loaded.  And I guess they weren’t that happy with how my mom married a guy who wasn’t rich.  Word is that Aunt Lucinda and Jasper have only been together as husband and wife thrice their entire marriage.  She’s always claiming her lady days, a headache, being sick, or spotting between lady days.  Jasper is so stupid he buys it every time.”

“I’m glad I got the better husband,” Mrs. Filliard said as she drank a beer and read a romance novel. “But Cinnimin, please try to refrain from talking badly about our family in front of outsiders.  You don’t want to make us look bad before Sparky even has a chance to get to know us.  Polite society people never speak about such things.  It’s the same reason children’s books never have pictures of udders on cows.  We all know they’re there, but decent people don’t want to admit to it.”

Cinni snickered. “Your views of the world are coming to an end, Mom.  Real people know life ain’t all flowers and puppies.  Sometimes you have to talk about things that upset you.  It’s better to speak your mind and be as honest as you can than to tell a lie.  I don’t care who I offend in speaking my mind.  Daddy says it’s good to be brutally honest.”

“One day, Cinnimin, it’s just going to be me.  Your father is indulging and spoiling you because you’re the youngest child, but when he’s gone, you’ll have to grow up and accept more adult responsibilities.  Being an adult is about more than having a bustline, wearing garish makeup, staying out late, using curse words, and reading romance novels.  You know your father’s heart was weakened after his rheumatic fever, and it’s not going to get better.”

“Doctors ain’t God.  Kit is always saying how so many doctors and nurses think they’re God.  Modern Western medicine is a baby compared to the ancient wisdom.  Kit says society took a big step back when men took over medicine and childcare.  They convinced everyone, particularly women, that the way they’d done things for thousands of years was bad.”

“Kit is another one who needs a lesson in what it really means to be a grownup.  Instead of reading so many advanced books, spouting off radical ideas, and misbehaving to annoy her mother, she should be learning manners and the meaning of respect.”

Cinni ignored her mother’s lecture. “Sparky, why don’t you meet my daddy?  You ain’t met him yet, and I’m sure he’d like to meet you.” She stood up and led Sparky off by the hand.

Mr. Filliard was in his office typing on a red Remington portable when his favorite child came in with Sparky.  Cinni immediately went to the bowl of chocolate-covered cherries on his desk and popped a handful into her mouth.  At least her father didn’t get on her case about her sweet tooth and how she liked to eat.  The way Mrs. Filliard told it, Cinni were as grossly overweight as Mrs. Seward instead of just a little bit overweight.

“Sparky, this is my daddy, Holden Grigóriy Filliard.  His name was Grigóriy when he was living in Russia with his mom, but after they came to America, his dad thought they should give him a less Russian name.  So they moved his first name to the middle position.  He goes by H.G.”

“You’re an immigrant too?” Sparky asked.

“I was born in St. Petersburg and came to America with my mother in 1905, after a failed revolution.  My parents met when my father was stationed with the Army in Russia.  For reasons I never understood, my mother’s parents forbade her to marry my father, and let her have a child out of wedlock.  She tracked my father down after we came to America, and they finally got married.  That’s my father in that painting on the wall, the fellow in the uniform and holding a sword.  Captain George Filliard.  So I know what it’s like to be an immigrant and why it’s important to help people get out of harm’s way.”

“Pleasure to meet man who brought my family to America,” Sparky breathed in total awe.

“Daddy, can I take Sparky to Blatt’s?  I have to buy her some new clothes and jewelry.”

“Sure, have fun.” Mr. Filliard dug out some bills and handed them to Cinni. “I trust you’ll pick out some nice things for her.  But for the love of God, please wash that hideous makeup off her face before you go anywhere.  I think it’s safe to say you don’t have a future as a makeup artist.”

“Yeah, I’ll clean her up.  I don’t want people staring at her even more.  It’s bad enough everyone stares at her ‘cause she doesn’t look like an American yet.”

Sweet Saturday Samples

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This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from the opening of Chapter 5 of The Very First, “Starting to Settle In.” Cinni and Sparky have been out rather late (but not nearly as late as they were out in the first two drafts of the book!), and Sparky’s brother Otto, now called Barry (with a long A), is quite bemused to see them coming in at that hour as though there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. Then young Cinni gets her first good look at the slightly older Barry, and so begins the genesis of their forbidden, secret, knowingly doomed interfaith love story, which plays out over eight books.

***

Sparky’s favorite brother Barry had fallen asleep on the davenport in the living room.  At the sound of the front door opening, he leapt up.  If this were a burglar, he had no idea what he was supposed to do.

He calmed down when he saw his sister and Mr. Filliard’s youngest child walking in together.  Then he looked at the grandfather clock and back at them.  He couldn’t believe they’d been out till after midnight.  If only they’d been resettled in a large city like New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco, he thought.  Those places had rules and regulations and didn’t let young people wander around after dark without even telling their parents where they were going.

“Do you realize what time it is, and how long you were gone?” he demanded in Dutch.

“I am very well aware of the time,” Cinni said calmly as she took off her shoes. “My parents don’t mind if I stay out late sometimes.  This ain’t a big city like New York, where you could get shot or robbed alone at night.  Sparky, tell this over-reactive brother of yours what we did.”

“Cinni taught me all about her friends, and we saw my first American movie!  Then we went to the amusement park and I got my hair done.  I am grateful forever to Cinni for teaching me to be American!”

“An’ from now on, no more Dutch.  I overheard some of your English the other day, Otto, an’ it is absolutely atrocious!” Cinni suddenly noticed Barry giving her a look.

“Call me Barry.  Judging from your lifestyle, I bet was dirty movie.” He saw her giving him the look right back.  He had just seen the most beautiful girl he’d yet come across in America, and, wonder of wonders, the fact that she wasn’t Jewish wasn’t even bothering him.

“It was comedy.  Much American slang I didn’t understand.”

“Yes, Sparky, I have to buy you a Dutch-English dictionary of popular slang.” Cinni eyed Barry intensely.  He was the most handsome boy she had ever seen yet, and the fact that he was Jewish and a fair bit older only made the attraction seem even more exciting.  Unlike Julieanna, Cinni didn’t think she was quite old enough yet for a practice boyfriend, but she knew she wouldn’t mind doing boy-girl things with Barry when she was a little bit older.

“Well, Kätchen, while you were out, Mutti and Vater found a kosher butcher across town, and a Conservative synagogue.  It’s a good thing this city isn’t some hamlet you could throw a rock across.  I’ve heard a lot of small cities in America don’t have a Jewish community.”

“You can tell your sister about this stuff later.  Right now, it’s time for bed.” Cinni dragged Sparky upstairs.

Sparky was relieved to see Cinni had a changing screen in her room.  Even if Cinni was another girl, it still would feel awkward to undress in front of another person and to watch another person undressing.  Cinni let Sparky go behind the screen first.  When Sparky came out in her long nightgown, Cinni went behind the screen.  Sparky was a bit shocked to see Cinni emerging in a green lace nightgown of some sort that didn’t even have sleeves or meet the fingertip rule.

“It’s pretty,” Cinni said when she noticed Sparky staring at her. “I’d feel like an old grandma if I had to wear something like you’ve got.  Why do you even need long sleeves and a skirt coming clear to the floor in August?”

“Because you never know when you might need to look modest.  Even if you think you’re alone, someone could always come in without knocking, or you might have to leave the house if there’s a fire, God forbid.”

Cinni got underneath the bed and pulled out her paper bag of candy again. “Sure you don’t want something before we go to sleep?  It’s so delicious.  I carry food in my purse too.”

“No thank you.”

Cinni shrugged. “More for me then.” She wolfed down an entire chocolate bar and a small bag of purple gumdrops before climbing into bed. “Tomorrow I’ll show you something very, very special.” She gazed with adoring eyes upon the picture of President Roosevelt and blew a kiss to it. “Welcome to America, Sparky,” she whispered.

Sweet Saturday Samples

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This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from The Very First, the chronological first of my Atlantic City books, a mix of historical fiction, social satire, and spoof. This is from the opening of Chapter 3, “Sparky’s Americanization Begins.” Sparky’s dream is to be a real American girl without compromising her faith or customs, but at the beginning, she’s not so sure she can adapt to American life. Cinni meanwhile is also having a hard time understanding the world her new friend comes from.

***

Sparky watched Cinni’s various friends drifting out of the Tuna Paurlour as it started getting dusky.  The last two who remained were R.R. and Max, who were hanging out by the jukebox.  She felt hunger pangs as Cinni devoured a huge bowl of tomato ice-cream she’d just ordered, and as R.R. and Max wolfed down some candy they’d bought from a vending machine.

“Would you like a bite?” Cinni offered. “It tastes nothing like tomatoes.  Surely not everything in the world is off-limits to you.”

“My family’s not as strict as the Orthodox about keeping kosher.  We don’t need an extra-special hechsher on our dairy products.”

“Oh, so you could eat something that was kosher enough.  As long as you knew all the ingredients were okay, it wouldn’t matter if some rabbi blessed it.”

“That’s not what a hechsher is.  We bless our own food before we eat it.  We don’t need someone else to make it kosher through a blessing.  Someone watches over the food as it’s being prepared, or puts a seal on it to let us know all the ingredients are okay.  It’s the same when a restaurant gets approval to advertise as kosher.”

“So what exactly makes food not kosher?  I know you people don’t eat pork, bacon, ham, or shrimp.”

“I can eat a lot of things.  I just can’t eat milk and meat together, and I have to wait three hours between meat and dairy.  German Jews wait three hours, and Dutch Jews wait an hour.  The people in Eastern Europe wait six hours.  And it has to be cooked in kosher equipment.  I can’t trust the plates and utensils here.”

“But you have to eat something.  I’d like to take you out to see a movie, and you’ll starve if you don’t eat nothing.”

Sparky examined the menu. “Do they have paper plates?”

“What for?  This is a nice diner.  Can’t you just trust that they wash their dishes and utensils well enough?”

Sparky thought for a minute. “If something becomes not kosher if there’s a mistake, sometimes you can fix it.  You have to put it into dirt nine times and then boil it in very hot water.  Do they have any new utensils?”

Cinni couldn’t believe the things Sparky believed in. “They’ll think you’re nuts if you ask them to do that.  How do you intend to eat at my house?”

“My family brought their own plates, cups, utensils, and cooking equipment.  We have four sets of them.  One is for milk, one is for meat, one is for milk during Pesach, and one is for meat during Pesach.  My father shipped our furniture and household items ahead of us.  I guess they’ll arrive soon.”

“I’m sure they’ll think you’re nuts, but I can ask them to cook a tuna steak in your strange way.  I am dying to take you to the movies, and then we can go to the amusement park.  It’s actually gonna be shut down for the night by the time we arrive, but I know the older girl who works there during the evening shift.  She stays behind to sneak people in after hours.”

While Sparky’s jaw was still hanging open over this last piece of information, Cinni went to the kitchen to request the cook prepare a tuna steak wrapped in two layers of aluminum foil.  Remembering what Sparky had said about keeping all the utensils and cooking equipment separate and not trusting unknown food, she added that the steak had to be plain.  The cook looked at her as though she were crazy, but obeyed her orders.

When the steak was brought out to Sparky in the foil, she said something in a language Cinni guessed must be Hebrew.  Then she picked it up with her hands and started wolfing it down.  She periodically wiped her hands with napkins.  Afterwards, she said something else in Hebrew.

“You’re the only person I’ve ever met besides Laura who prays over her food.  At least Laura prays in English.”

“I have to say a blessing over food, and thank God afterwards.  It’s like stealing from God if you don’t give thanks.”

“Okay, now you’ve done your thing.  It’s time for us to go to the movies.  Then we’re going to the amusement park, and then I’ll take you to a salon.  I know one that stays open late.  That haircut you’ve got makes you look like Shirley Temple with black hair.  And that hairbow looks so babyish.”

“What’s wrong with that?  I like her movies.  And I think she’s about the same age we are.”

“Exactly.  She’s not a little kid anymore, even if she ain’t a teenager yet.  By keeping that little kid haircut, it makes her look like she’s stuck in childhood.  People don’t take you seriously if you look like a little kid past childhood.  And I can tell your hair ain’t naturally curly like mine.”

“I used to have long hair,” Sparky admitted. “My mother wanted me to have a new haircut for America.  She said I’d look like a moviestar with short curly hair.”

Cinni shook her head. “I ain’t met your mom yet, so I don’t know what she’s like, but I can tell you she was wrong about that.  All the glamourous women wear their hair wavy and a bit above the shoulders.  Me, I love my hair long, and I’d love to teach you how to look fashionable with long hair after yours grows back enough.”

“Your hair is very long.  Have you ever had a haircut?”

“Not since five years ago.  Me and my two sisters had the measles very badly.  The doctor told our parents to shave off all our hair.  It’s the same reason some people burn bedsheets and toys that came into contact with a sick person.  I still remember screaming as they took away all my hair.  I’d have to be nuts to want to go through that again.  My hair is staying long.”

The Writer’s Voice Entry

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This year’s Writer’s Voice contest is live, and I was chosen by the Rafflecopter as one of the entries. Even though I’ve decided to pursue indie publication for my longer books, I still haven’t entirely given up the idea of traditional publication for my much-shorter books. The contest is again hosted by Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Lee Drake, Mónica B.W. of Love YA, and Krista Van Dolzer. Twelve agents will be judging the finalists.

This year I’m going to be using my first Atlantic City book instead of Jakob’s story. I just decided that Jaap’s story probably works better as adult than YA in the current North American market, in spite of how he ages from 14-20. I’ve been calling this The Very First since its genesis in October ’92 and have a hard time thinking of it under any other title, but I’m open to suggestions on a more original title! Note: I deliberately made Sparky and Cinni’s age ambiguous during the radical rewrite and restructuring, though it’s stated that they’re under 12.

Query:

Dear [Agent],

When German-born Katherine Brandt immigrates in 1938, her dearest wish is to become a real American girl. She even accepts the American nickname Sparky to try to gain acceptance. But before she can realize her dream, she’s going to have to learn the ins and outs of the unusual town and group of friends she’s joined.

Sparky is taken under the wing of Cinnimin Filliard, who teaches her a thing or two about American life and their strange Atlantic City neighborhood. Sparky wants to believe Cinni is steering her right, but Cinni has some conflicting attitudes. Cinni is nice and intelligent, but she often cops a superior attitude just because she was voted Most Popular Girl. Particularly to neighbor Violet, whom Cinni is convinced is after her title.

Sparky will do almost anything to fit in, except compromise her Judaism. She longs to be Sparky to her friends while remaining Kätchen to her family and staying true to her values. But along the way, Cinni, who tries to tempt her into wearing shorter skirts and eating non-kosher food, slowly begins realizing that there’s more than one acceptable way to be a real American. Only one thing is for certain—on Sparky’s upcoming birthday, she’s going to wish to be a real American girl, and she wants that wish to come true, even if she has to make some modifications she once thought she’d never make.

THE VERY FIRST, a work of upper MG historical fiction with elements of social satire, is complete at 60,000 words.

I have a BA from [redacted] in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies, with a focus on 20th century Russian history and the World War II/Shoah era, and worked in the production room of an Albany, NY-based newspaper, The Jewish World, for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading articles.

First 250:

Cinnimin Filliard reached for the candy bowl on her father’s desk and popped a handful of gumdrops into her mouth.  Her father had said the five longterm houseguests they were expecting would arrive today, and she figured indulging her sweet tooth would help get rid of her nervousness and put her mind on other things.

“Can I see your photo albums, Daddy?  I wanna know what they look like before they move into our house.  I hope they’re nicer houseguests than Aunt Lucinda, Uncle Jasper, and stupid Elmira.”

Mr. Filliard smiled indulgently at his pet child, his deep brown eyes twinkling. “You know you never need my permission to do anything.”

Cinni took a photo album and plopped down on the floor. “Oh, brother, this Katherine girl really needs a makeover.  No one wears long skirts anymore.” She pushed her long curly hair out of her face. “Who better than the Most Popular Girl to make her over?”

“They’re religious Jews, I told you.  They do things a little differently.  I’m sure Katherine will tell you she’s got reasons of her own for wearing clothes that look a little out of fashion to you.  You know most girls these days have much shorter hair than yours, but you have your own reasons for never wanting another haircut.”

Cinni went to the front window and raised the curtain. “I don’t see their taxi yet.  Do you think they got lost?”

“Maybe their train was late, or their taxi got caught in traffic.  They’ll be here soon enough, and you can start getting to know them.  I hope you don’t mind sharing your room with Katherine.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—Finding the Haunted House

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My Alpha Male blog post is here.

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from a bit later in Chapter 14, “Happy Halloween,” of The Very First. Sparky is reluctantly going trick-or-treating with Cinni, Cinni’s favorite sister Babs, and their neighbors Quintina (Tina) and Violet. Because of Sparky’s level of religious observance, she hasn’t really been able to take any candy, only apples. During their traipsing around the neighborhood, Cinni decides to try to find the haunted house that’s said to stand on Jennifer Street. The only problem is, no one knows the address of this infamous old house.

***

Babs crept up to the next darkened house. “This might be it.  They don’t even have a car.  Everyone has a car nowadays, at least in the nice parts of the neighborhood.  This house doesn’t even have some old Model T piece of junk or anything.”

Cinni shone her flashlight into the mailbox. “No mail neither.  Boy, this thing’s got a lot of cobwebs.”

Tina squinted her eyes at it in the dark, trying to make things out from the light from nearby houses. “It does look pretty old.  I ain’t no future architecture student, but I know this ain’t the typea house they made even a hundred years ago.  Maybe it really was made in the Colonial era like the haunted house.”

Cinni tried the front door. “Won’t open.  Is anyone brave enough to wanna try the back door, or any other doors?”

“You don’t even know if this is your haunted house!” Sparky protested. “And what if someone really does live here?  He’d be really mad if he found you tryna break into his house.  And if he’s away, he’ll come back to find someone broke in.”

Babs tried the windows in front and found them all stuck too. “Perhaps this is the haunted house.  But it could also be the house my mom’s people useta have Summer vacations at.  I know that house is pretty old too, and no one’s lived in it for awhile.”

“What if the haunted house and your mother’s old family home are the same house?”

Cinni laughed. “That just ain’t possible.  They’re two different houses, wherever they are on this street.  I told you, the mystery of Charlotte Lennon’s descendants will probably always be a town unsolved mystery.  No one decent wants to admit to being descended from someone who was born outta wedlock, so that family tree, whoever has it, is lost to the ages.”

“Don’t they have records or anything in the library or wherever else they keep archives?  There were people on both sides of my family who served in the military when Germany was still Prussia, and my father took copies of the documents with him when we left Germany.  All important countries are supposed to keep records in the modern era.”

“Charlotte Lennon died in 1645.  I doubt most places in America even keep records that far back.” Cinni stepped back and craned her neck up at the upper stories, shining her flashlight into the windows. “Can anyone see movement?”

“I’m getting cold,” Violet whined. “And my feet hurt.  Plus we need to go to your party.  If I was Most Popular Girl, I’d never neglect my responsibilities as hostess to go playing detective and creeping around supposed haunted houses.”

Cinni shone the flashlight into her eyes, and Violet immediately threw her hands over her eyes. “You never will be Most Popular Girl, you damn dirty schemer.  At least you pretended you don’t have designs on my title by saying ‘if,’ not ‘when.’  Remember I’ve got eyes everywhere, you skinny twit.  I know what you’re thinking and planning before you do.  Any fantasies you have of stealing my throne will stay in your head.  Got that?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Violet seethed as they started the walk back to Maxwell Avenue.