WeWriWa—A bad first impression continues

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, determinedly seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans.

My own prayerbook, bought in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The Smalls headed inside and found seats in the back. A few people introduced themselves, but stepped back after hearing the Smalls’ accents. Sparky stared into her prayerbook and Bible for the duration of the service, glad they were in both Hebrew and English instead of only English. If only the English in both books were modern, not the Elizabethan English no one used anymore. Sparky had never heard anyone using words like “thee,” “thine,” “wert,” “wast,” “dost,” “havest,” and “hath.” Maybe this was part of the reason why Cinni and most of her friends hated going to church.

After services, people began talking to their friends and drifting off. Only a few congregants approached the Smalls.

“Are you visiting Atlantic City, or did you just move to town?” a woman in a blue satin dress asked.

“We recently immigrated from The Netherlands,” Mr. Small said.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“Our original homeland is Germany, but we moved to Amsterdam after the Nazis came to power.”

“Why would you leave Holland or Germany?” the woman’s husband asked in Yiddish. “Those are nice countries. They’re hardly places like the old Russian Empire.”

“The writing’s on the wall.” Mr. Small responded in German, which was close enough to Yiddish for hand-grenades. “If we’d stayed, we would’ve been in danger from the Nazis. I don’t trust that madman will stop at Germany and Austria. He might seize more countries if no one stops him.”

“That’s fantasy talk,” a woman in a yellow silk dress scoffed, also in Yiddish. “You uprooted your lives for nothing, not once, but twice. Once the Nazis are voted out, you’ll feel very foolish.”

WeWriWa—Unexpected transportation

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, has just arrived at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. It’s quite a shock to see not everyone walks to synagogue. Though the Conservative Movement issued a Responsa permitting driving on the Sabbath for that sole purpose in 1950, the official position in 1938 forbade it.

Sparky’s eyes widened when she saw a few people getting out of cabs, and a few more arriving on bicycles. “Mutti, Vati, are you sure this isn’t a Reform congregation?” she whispered.

“The people we spoke with gave us a detailed list of all the synagogues and other Jewish establishments in this city and the nearby suburbs,” Mrs. Small said. “Beth Kehillah was listed as Conservative. A few people back home probably secretly drove or rode bicycles too. The polite thing to do is pretend you didn’t see it. Embarrassing someone is compared to murder.”

“If they don’t live in a city with a synagogue, why don’t they spend the weekend here at a hotel or with friends?”

The eight lines end here. A few more follow to close this portion.

“That’s between them and God. I don’t approve of it either, but perhaps this is the only way they can get any Jewish connection in their lives. Not everyone is lucky enough to come from a religious family or community, or to have strong personal beliefs to sustain oneself without family or community support.”

“They’re not getting out of a cab or parking a car a few blocks away and walking the rest of the way so no one sees them!” Gary protested. “They’re letting everyone see how assimilated they are!”

“People in America are different,” Mr. Small said. “We’ll serve as an example to them. They might be inspired to become more religious.”

WeWriWa—Arriving at Beth Kehillah

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

The book formerly known as The Very First released last week in e-book format. The print version, which has a different cover, will be ready for release by next Sunday.

It’s now the first Sabbath in Atlantic City for the family of Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky. At this time, August 1938, Atlantic City had a huge, vibrant Jewish community, nothing like its shrunken state today. But, as the Smalls are soon to discover, they don’t fit in with these second-generation Americans.

Source

Though there were over a dozen synagogues in Atlantic City, there were relatively few Conservative ones. Most of the others were either Reform or Orthodox, frequently offshoots of the city’s two original synagogues representing those denominations. For their first service in Atlantic City, Mr. and Mrs. Small had chosen Beth Kehillah on 901 Pacific Avenue, a somewhat large building with several different types of bricks on the façade, stained glass windows, and two columns in front of the entryway.

“I hope no one thinks we’re rude for not coming last night,” Sparky said as the building came more sharply into view. “I don’t want anyone to think we’re the kind of people who only go to one Sabbath service instead of both.”

“We’ll go to both next week,” Mr. Small promised. “I doubt anyone will look badly upon us for wanting a quiet Friday night our first Sabbath in our new home. If America is anything like Germany and The Netherlands, you and your mother will also be among the few regular female attendees.”

Sparky held back from the large crowd milling about outside. There were a lot of young people among this crowd, all dressed like proper Americans.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow:

The adults also dressed in modern American fashions, and held themselves with such confidence. These weren’t people who needed to worry about impressing potential new friends, since they were already secure, established members of the community. They took their American status for granted.

WeWriWa—A very special namesake

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

The book formerly known as The Very First was released today in e-book format. The print version, which has a different cover, releases in another week or two. I had to do 23 August as the release day because that’s the birthday of one of my protagonists. It truly was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that I chose that date all those years ago, since it turned out to be the Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of my favorite actor, Rudolph Valentino, and the birthday of Keith Moon.

The book opens in August 1938. Young Cinnimin Filliard is now in her attic bedroom with her new roommate Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky. Cinni’s father, a former immigrant who now works with immigration himself, helped to bring Sparky’s family to the U.S. from Amsterdam.

Sparky inspected the posters. “I’ve seen some of these people at the movies, except the man in the headdress. He has very deep eyes.”

“You haven’t seen him because he’s been dead for almost twelve years. This is Rudolph Valentino, a famous moviestar from the Twenties. He died when he was only thirty-one, before movies had sound. I was born on the anniversary of his death, and my middle name would’ve been Rudolph had I been a boy. My aunt Lucinda gave me my middle name. She still wanted to honor him in some way, so she found another seven-letter name that started with R, Rebecca.”

During the last major edit, I made the age of Cinni and her friends deliberately ambiguous. At most, it’s stated they’re under twelve. Long story short, for 7-8 years I’ve been struggling with the realization that I may have made them a bit too young when I created them.

Keeping their age ambiguous for at least one book leaves the door open for either slightly aging them up or keeping their age as-is and continuing to explain it as part of what makes this fictional Atlantic City neighborhood so deliberately unusual. Each choice has a lot of pros and cons.

WeWriWa—Guests wanted and unwanted

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP.

As last year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This week’s excerpt comes about five pages after last week’s, when Cinni, her family, and the longterm guests the Smalls sat down to a joint Thanksgiving feast. Cinni’s great-grandmother Leokadia, a very unwanted guest who invited herself, spent much of the meal arguing with the other side of the family. She hates the family her son Lech married into, and never misses a chance to let them know it.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit ten lines.

To change the subject, Babs and Elmira began chattering about what they were doing in school, and Lucinda name-dropped a bunch of brand names she’d added to her ever-expanding wardrobe and accessory collection. As soon as the immense feast came to an end and the table was cleared, Leokadia threw on her shearling boots and black mink coat.  No one spoke to her as she stormed out the door.

“So many people in my family are nuts,” Cinni whispered to Sparky as Leokadia drove away in her black Model B. “When I have my own family, I ain’t gonna invite relatives for Thanksgiving just ‘cause it’s expected of me; I’ll only invite people I want at my table.”

“You’re lucky you have so many older relatives, even if one of them is a bad person. I never met anyone older than my father’s parents.”

“You won’t hafta see my Prababcia Leokadia again, I don’t think. She shows up every so often to insult us, and then leaves. I like Pra-Prababcia Tanja and Prababcia Bogda most, since they always have neat stories about our ancestors, and they knew people who were alive in the eighteenth century.”