Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—At the butcher shop


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 will be coming 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!

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and Sparky (real name Katherine), her mother, her oldest brother Gary (born Friedrich), her best friend Cinnimin, and Cinnimin’s older brother M.J. are buying food for the Smalls’ half of the joint household’s feast. They’re now at their final stop, a kosher butcher.

Cinni held back after Gary opened the butcher’s door for her. Since she didn’t live on a farm and never helped in the kitchen if she could help it, she wasn’t used to seeing animal carcasses hanging up and strewn over tables. It was bad enough when she’d seen that fish head at the Smalls’ Rosh Hashanah supper.

“We usually go to a kosher butcher in Germantown, but this is much closer,” Gary said. “It’s not practical to haul all this stuff back on the streetcar, to our regular butcher, and back onto the streetcar again. I wish we’d settled in a place like New York or Newark, where all the Jewish resources we need are within a five-block radius of our home instead of a long ride and walk, there and back.”

Mrs. Small set her baskets down and approached a small pen of live turkeys. Cinni watched in amazement as she picked several up, felt for the meat on their bones, inspected their eyes and talons, and blew on their feathers. Mrs. Small might’ve never eaten a turkey or selected one for butchering, but she sure knew what to look for in her poultry.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Food, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—A joint holiday celebration


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” 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!

There have been a lot of religious conflicts during December 1938, as young immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) and her family are inundated with symbolism of a holiday they don’t celebrate, and a variety of responses to their refusal to adopt Christmas as a secular holiday “everyone” celebrates. However, Sparky’s family has agreed to come together with their hosts the Filliards for a joint celebration of the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

Painting by Yelena Flerova

The Smalls had brought schnitzel, Kartoffelpuffer, chicken soup, brisket, candied carrots, bolussen, applesauce, and, best of all, plenty of Berliner Pfannkuchen, while on the Filliards’ side of the table sat roasted goose with stuffing; dried fruit compote; mushroom soup; gołąbki; pierogi stuffed with chopped mushrooms and mashed potatoes; kotlety; stuffed mushrooms; mazurek stuffed with dried almonds, chocolate, and apricot jam; chocolate sernik; zefiry; and several heaping platters of cookies. There’d be more than enough for everyone.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Mrs. Filliard said as she cut into a gołąbek. “You’ve been generous to share your food, and oughta taste some of ours in return.”

“Perhaps next year, we can cook by your recipes in our kitchen,” Mrs. Small said.

“It’s ‘with,’ not ‘by,’” Gary gently corrected her. “You’re making the mistake of directly translating a German expression into English. Sometimes being too literal results in improper English.”

“My mother and I made that mistake too, when we were learning English,” Mr. Filliard said. “That expression translates from Russian the same way it does from German, and it took a long time for me to realize I wasn’t being grammatically correct.”

Kartoffelpuffer are German latkes; bolussen are Dutch sweet rolls; Berliner Pfannkuchen are jelly doughnuts. Among the traditional Polish and Russian Christmas foods, gołąbki are cabbage leaves wrapped around a savory filling (usually including meat); kotlety are small, pan-fried meatballs; mazurek is a sweet, flat cake; sernik is cheesecake made with quark; and zefiry are similar to meringues.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Judaism, Religion, Sparky, Writing

Tashlich 1938

This post was originally scheduled for 7 September 2013, as part of the now-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First, which has since undergone even more edits.


In loving memory of the one and only Keith John Moon, greatest drummer ever, who passed from this life, far too early, 35 years ago today.

In honour of Rosh Hashanah, which spanned 4-6 September this year, this week’s post comes from my chronological first Atlantic City book, The Very First. (I know it needs a much better title, but after over 20 years, I just can’t think of it by any other name!) Chapter 12, “High Holy Days,” covers the full cycle of the fall holidays in 1938.

New immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) is struggling to fit into her new town and American life. Her new best friend Cinnimin, whom her family lives with, thinks Sparky should make some compromises to be a real American girl. Each girl tries to convince the other, in a respectful way, of the merits of her side.


Monday after school, Cinni was skipping stones at the pond with Tina and Gayle when the Smalls appeared on the horizon, along with a bunch of other people Cinni didn’t recognize.  When she saw the man with the beard, she figured it must be their rabbi.  None of the other gentlemen had beards.  Perhaps he felt it were his duty to set an example and appear very religious on behalf of everyone else.  As it was, beards seemed so pre-modern, on a man of any religion.

“Would you like to skip stones with us?” Cinni asked. “It’s nice how your folks ain’t against having fun on a holiday.  I’ve heard some Christians in the olden days useta just sit and read the Bible on holidays and Sundays, and wouldn’t let their kids play or listen to music.”

“We’re not here to have fun,” Barry said, sneaking a look at Cinni. “We’re here for tashlich.”

“We’re going to throw crumbs into the water to symbolically cast off our sins,” Gary explained.

“Don’t you get rid of your sins by doing all that praying?  And I know you fast on Yom Kippur.  This seems like a silly superstition, like sacrificing children or spitting to ward off the evil eye.”

“It’s not meant to take the place of prayer and repentance,” Barry said. “It’s just a nice ritual done in addition to praying.  Some really religious folks spin a chicken or fish around their heads to transfer their sins to the animal.  We’re not nearly that goofy.”

“Barry and I are too young to fast on Yom Kippur,” Sparky said as the adults assembled a short distance from them. “We’re encouraged to not eat for part of the day, but we’re not supposed to fast the entire day before we’re obligated to keep all the commandments.  But Barry will be bar mitzvah in January.  He’ll have to do it next year.”

“Would you like to come to my bar mitzvah party?  I’ll give you a seat of honor at my table.”

“Sure, that sounds fun.  I ain’t a fan of most religion, but if there’s a party involved, it can’t be that boring.”

Cinni moved to another part of the pond with Gayle and Tina and continued skipping stones.  They watched the ceremony out of the corners of their eyes.

“I don’t understand what in the world they’re doing, or why, but I think it’s neat,” Gayle declared as she selected a round, flat gray stone and skipped it quite a distance across the water. “I wish Methodism had rituals like that.  I like religions with fun stuff.”

“Why do you even read about religion?” Tina asked. “It’s grownup stuff.  Grownup stuff is boring.  I only like reading stuff like comic books and magazine stories.”

“I like opening my mind to new worlds.  I don’t wanna look like some stupid American who only cares about her own culture and community.  When I grow up, I’d like a job where I can use my interest in these things.  Maybe I’ll be a fortuneteller or an astrologer.  Or maybe I can do what Mrs. Malspur does in her séance room, only make money for it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what I really wanna do when I’m a grownup.” Cinni pulled a candybar out of her skirt pocket, ripped off the wrapper, and took a huge bite. “For now, all I wanna do is fill my stomach and have fun.”

They watched the man they assumed to be the rabbi reading from a prayerbook as some of the group followed along in their own prayerbooks or from memory.  At the conclusion of the brief prayer service, someone passed around a bag of breadcrumbs mixed with fish food, and people took turns going to the water’s edge to cast the crumbs into it.  Cinni noticed that there weren’t many young people in the group.  Sparky probably felt lonely.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Halloween costumes at the bus stop


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m switching to my yearly Halloween-themed snippets, in a section from the book formerly known as The Very Next. This is my chronological second Atlantic City book, set from March–December 1939.

During breakfast, antagonistic, longterm houseguests Urma and Samantha Smart had some very choice words for the Halloween costumes and decorations on display, and the holiday itself. Now Sam has gone out to the bus stop, and stands out like a sore thumb among all the other kids.

This has been modified somewhat to fit ten lines, and been given more paragraph breaks. Gyll is pronounced like Gil, not Jill. Like his oldest sister Liylah, I was too used to the alternate spelling to want to change it after my kreatyv spylyngz phase ended. Cinnimin’s name was an honest misspelling, not an attempt at creativity, but I kept it for the same reason.

Cinni had dressed as a devil, Sparky was a dog, Babs was a friendly witch, Stacy was a wizard, and Elmira was a princess.  Barry and Gary, standing off to the side, hadn’t worn costumes, though they could use the excuse of being too old and boys besides.  Babs was now in eighth grade, and in a minority coming to school in costume.  She got away with it for one more year because she was a girl.

Violet and Mandy came out to the bus in their own Halloween costumes, an angel and an antebellum girl, respectively, while Tina and Gyll came dressed as pirates.  Terri and John, like Barry and Gary, were too old to come to school in costume, though that hadn’t stopped John from dressing up as a dapper ringmaster.

The Valli children from next door, fifteen-year-old Lotta and thirteen-year-old twins Robert and Jane, had also flouted the unspoken rule against older students coming to school in costume.  Lotta was a ballerina with a little too much skin showing, Jane was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Robert was the Cowardly Lion.

“The holy roller didn’t dress up, I see,” Lotta said. “I don’t know how anyone could possibly shun Halloween, since you get free candy and money for doing nothing, you get to wear a costume all day long, and the parties are always fun.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Judaism, Religion, Sparky, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Rosh Hashanah Dinner

(My Ghosts blogfest post is here.)

I drew this book cover on 30 June 2000, when I was 20 years old. My drawings of people are actually a lot better than they used to be, since they used to have only dots for noses and sticks for hands! Left to right: Katherine Abigail Brandt (nicknamed Sparky), Cinnimin Rebecca Filliard, Maxwell Stanley Seward, Jr. (Max). Cinnimin’s nickname is pronounced SEEN-ee, not SIN-ee, and Sparky’s family has temporarily changed their surname from Brandt to Small to avoid anti-German sentiments. Her older brothers Fritz and Otto have similarly changed their names to Gary and Barry. Barry’s name is pronounced with a long A.

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from The Very First, the chronological first of my Atlantic City books. It was far from the first one I wrote, but it’s the first one in terms of the timeline. Because Rosh Hashanah starts on Sunday night, I’m sharing a holiday scene from Chapter 12, “High Holy Days.” It’s September 1938, and Cinni has been invited to have dinner with Sparky’s family, who are living in her house after her father helped them leave Europe.


Cinni usually spent Sunday evenings listening to the radio or reading a magazine while she ate candy.  It felt rather exciting to try something new and have dinner with Sparky’s family in honor of a holiday she’d only vaguely heard about before.  She hoped Mrs. Small was a better cook than Mrs. Filliard, and that none of the food would be too exotic or unpalatable.  Cinni never ventured too far from the food she was already familiar with, but knew something couldn’t become a new favorite food unless she tried it first.

Sparky had advised her to wait until they were done blessing their wine and challah, so she wouldn’t feel like a foreigner or embarrass herself.  Sparky also didn’t like the idea of an outsider watching their religious rituals and feeling on display like a circus animal.  Cinni patiently waited up in her attic bedroom till Sparky came to get her.  It was just as well to Cinni.  The idea of praying over food and delaying a good meal wasn’t her idea of fun.

“Welcome to our table,” Mrs. Small smiled. “I haven’t really met anyone in your family but your father so far.  I like how you all give us our space, but it’s nice to finally get to know one of our hosts.”

Cinni took in the candles on the table and the lavish display of food, not all of which looked that foreign.  She reached for the large challah in the center of the table and ripped off a huge chunk, stuffing it down her mouth.  As she was chewing, Sparky nudged her and passed her the most shocking thing she’d ever seen at a table, either in person or in the movies.

It was the head of a fish, all the scales still on it, its eyes wide open and bugging out.  Cinni struggled to regain her appetite as she set it in front of her and pushed it as far away as possible.

“You’re not gonna eat my mother’s wonderful fish?” Gary asked. “It’s certainly not dangerous to eat the scales.  It’s supposed to give you wisdom.”

“No thanks.  I’ll just take your word for it that it’s delicious.” Cinni reached for the plate of chicken and helped herself to a very large piece, then helped herself to salmon, various pieces of fruit, and several apple slices.

“You’re supposed to dip the apples into honey for a sweet new year,” Sparky said. “Even if you’re not Jewish, it’s a nice thought.”

Cinni shrugged. “I prefer hot fudge or caramel, but honey is good enough if you ain’t got the good sweets.” She plunged her apple slices into the small bowl of honey. “What are you people having for dessert?”

“Honey cake, honey cookies, fruit salad, and chocolate pie,” Barry said. “Don’t you want to try any of my mother’s wonderful vegetables?  You shouldn’t only eat meat, fish, and fruit.”

“I insist,” Mrs. Small said as she passed down a bowl of carrots with raisins, green beans, and stewed tomatoes. “Moderation is the key to life.”

Cinni took small servings from each dish, trying to make them just big enough so as not to appear as though she didn’t want to eat her host’s cooking, but not big enough so she’d be trapped eating too many vegetables.  As far as she was concerned, sweets were the food of the gods, and vegetables were just an unpleasant, unavoidable warm-up to the true main course.