The Story Behind “Lost Connections”

Brooklyn street 1920s
Photo courtesy NYPL

Background info for “Lost Connections,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Marilyn Feldman, Chana’s granddaughter, takes a virtual journey back in time to see her parents as children.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
I started writing “Lost Connections” when I was recovering from my father’s death in May, 2001. I wrote it very quickly while still coming to grips with the impermanence of life, and musing on how so many things can set our lives on courses that do not meet our own expectations. It was accepted and published in a wonderful specfic / literary journal called Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet from Small Beer Press in June 2002. It has been tweaked somewhat to fit into the book’s family trees and timeline.

One note of interest: The book itself was originally called “Lost Connections,” but as the manuscript progressed, a change of title seemed called for.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
The two families in this story — that of Chana and Abe Hirsch, and Millie and Sam Feldman — were based very loosely on the families of my mother and father. I emphasize loosely because none of what’s told here is based on real events; all the dialogue, personalities, thoughts and actions were generated completely by my imagination.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
The story takes place in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in the late 1920s. When I wrote about the Hirsch apartment, I pictured my grandparents’ apartment as I remember it from when I was a child. The Feldman apartment is completely imagined.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
There was a huge push to organize mine workers during the 1920s by the United Mine Workers of America and the more left-wing National Miners Union, a push that resulted in a good deal of resistance (to say the least) by mine owners and operators. In Kentucky, this eventually led to violent and deadly clashes between the mine workers and company men in Harlan County, Kentucky in 1931, although there were plenty of smaller clashes in the years leading up to it, as described by Abe. (I remember sitting in my grandparents’ apartment listening to an old recording of “Which Side Are You On,” a song about the Harlan County strikes.)


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.


 

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The Story Behind “Sabbath Wine”

Rabbi and wine during Prohibition
Photo courtesy The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

Background info for “Sabbath Wine,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
A radical Jewish man must find some wine during the first year of Prohibition when his young daughter asks for a Sabbath dinner.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
The first version of “Sabbath Wine” was very different than what it turned out to be. It started when I happened across a story that appeared in the NY Times from December 5, 1930, with the headline, “Rabbis Urge New Plan for Wine Permits, Charge Officials Discriminate Against Jews in Distributing Sacramental Beverage.” The short piece reported that Orthodox rabbis were complaining that applications for wine made by rabbis were not being treated in the same way as applications by Protestant and Catholic congregations. So that gave me the germ of an idea.

At first, the story was going to be about an immigrant rabbi in 1920 and a streetwise young boy who helps him negotiate the mysteries of the U.S. bureaucracy in order to get wine for his tiny congregation for Passover. I wanted some kind of fantasy element in there, and I gave it to the boy. Eventually, over I don’t remember how many rewritings, it turned into “Sabbath Wine.”

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
Malka isn’t based on any one person, but her taste in music is. My mother has told me how she would sit on the fire escape outside her apartment when she was a child, and listen to the singing from a nearby African-American church. This was, she said, the beginning of her love of jazz, and it is why Malka finds herself sitting on the steps outside a brownstone listening to a choir rehearse.

Abe is very loosely based on my mother’s father, whom I only knew as a child, since he died when I was eight. I remember him as a quiet, patient man who put me on his knee so I could “help” him play the accordion. But this was a man who was a soldier in a world war, lived through a revolution, immigrated to a new country, and took an active role in the fur workers’ union. So I always suspected he was more of a firebrand, at least when he was younger, than I ever saw.

There is also a family tale about the time (when my mother was a child) my grandfather decided nobody had the right to tell him that he had to wear a hat in shul. My mother and grandmother were climbing the steps to the women’s section when there was a roar from the men’s section, and a group of congregants stormed out and bodily threw my grandfather out. An incident like this is mentioned briefly in the story.

Finally, my mother’s cousin has told us stories of how, in his childhood, members of various political factions — the Communists, the Socialists, the Anarchists, and their various subsets — would occupy different benches in a local park and argue with each other. I loved the idea of that, and really wanted to use it somewhere. It ended up here.

David and his father Sam are completely fictional.

There really was a Prohibition agent named Izzy Bernstein, and according to all accounts, he was very good at his job.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
The area where this story takes place is supposed to be somewhere around the East New York / Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY, and a few streets from that area are mentioned.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
For much of my information about the early years of Prohibition and the exceptions made for religious uses, I looked into the NY Times archive. I also got a good deal of information from two books: Marni Davis’ Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition, and Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

The Odessa pogrom of October, 1905, was the culmination of a variety of social and economic upheavals, including economic uncertainty caused by war, the Potemkin massacre (portrayed in Eisenstein’s famous 1925 film Battleship Potemkin), and the Tsar’s October Manifesto, which promised civil liberties and an elective assembly (and was condemned by conservatives). According to Wikipedia, “Fear of a pogrom in April 1905 prompted the National Committee of Jewish Self-Defense to urge Jews to arm themselves and protect their property.” But, as Abe finds out, that didn’t help against huge numbers of well-organized rioters and an uninterested police force. Reports of the number of Jews killed during the three-day pogrom vary widely, but were at minimum in the hundreds.

For information about lynchings in the American South, I looked at a variety of sources on the web, but the book that convinced me that I had to include it in the story was Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America by James Allen. It is a necessary and horrific book. I also want to thank my friend Terence Taylor, who told me how, in the South, women would go out after dark to take down the victims of lynchings and bring the bodies home for burial.


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.


 

My Schedule at Readercon

The folks at Readercon have given out the schedules for all the participants, and so I thought I’d quickly post mine (which I’m very pleased with — thank you, Readercon people!). I’m very much looking forward to seeing all my friends there again this year.

Friday

Kaffeeklatsches: Jim Freund, Barbara Krasnoff
4:00 PM, Concierge Lounge
Jim and I will be having a Kaffeeklatsche together! That’s going to be interesting especially since it will be my first. (I wonder if they put us together because of that article that Elizabeth Crowens wrote about us in Black Gate?!?)

Autographs: Anna Kashina, Barbara Krasnoff
6:00 PM, Autograph Table
This is also my first time at an autograph table, because I will actually have a book of my own to autograph — and with any luck, you’ll be able to buy one there (assuming you haven’t bought one already…).

The Etiquette of Criticism
John Clute, Lila Garrott, Barbara Krasnoff (mod), John Langan, Arkady Martine
8:00 PM, Salon B
In 1938, critic Cyril Connolly advised writers to listen for “the critic’s truth sharpened by envy, the embarrassed praise of a sincere friend, the silence of gifted contemporaries.” How does etiquette influence criticism, and conversations among critics about criticism? How does the critic’s place within (or outside of) the field or community influence their criticism and how it’s received? This panel will tackle these and other thorny questions of critical etiquette.

Saturday

Group Reading: Tabula Rasa
Sally Wiener Grotta, Randee Dawn, Barbara Krasnoff, Terence Taylor
Sat 12:00 PM, Salon C
These are members of my New York–based writers group, and we’ll all be happy to see you.

Reading: Barbara Krasnoff
2:30 PM, Sylvanus Thayer
I’ll be reading a story from The History of Soul 2065. Haven’t decided which one yet…

Sunday

Graybeards Beyond Gandalf
John Clute, Elizabeth Hand (mod), Anna Kashina, Barbara Krasnoff, Robert V. S. Redick
11:00 AM, Salon A
Relatively few stories have protagonists much older than the target audience, and the traits commonly associated with heroism aren’t often associated with age. Yet in speculative fiction there are all manner of ways to break the link between age and infirmity, or to defy or redefine the concept of aging. Panelists will explore the potential of elderly protagonists.

A giveaway, an interview, and a convention

I promise that I will soon write up the second of my backgrounders for the stories in The History of Soul 2065, but right now, I have some more newsy items to report.

  • First, I’m having a book giveaway! Mythic Delirium, the publisher, has sponsored a giveaway on GoodReads for the Kindle version of The History of Soul 2065, which starts today — so go sign up! (Or, if you want, you can always buy the book — it’s in pre-sales right now.)
  • I’ve had my first interview as a writer! Well, as a couple anyway — Jim Freund and I were interviewed by Elizabeth Crowens and are now featured in an article about power couples in speculative fiction at Black Gate. It’s a fun article — we talk about how we met online on the old BBS system, how we got involved with spec fic, and who some of our favorite writers are, among other things.
  • I attended Balticon last weekend, and while I unfortunately had to leave early, I was part of some really good panels on Saturday. At one, Gender in Genre, I promised to distribute a list of some of the great books that were mentioned during the panel, and still intend to do that in the near future.

Be back soon! I promise!

The Story Behind “The Clearing in the Autumn”

anna
My grandmother as a child.

Background info for “The Clearing in the Autumn,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

The story in brief
Two young girls, one from Ukraine and one from Germany, meet in an mysterious, magical forest glade a day before World War I breaks out, and swear eternal friendship.

How it was written
“The Clearing in the Autumn” may be the first story that appears in The History of Soul 2065, but it was one of the last to be written. Along with “The Clearing in the Spring,” it’s among the few stories written specifically for this book, and it introduces the two girls whose lives begin this intergenerational saga: Chana and Sophia.

Notes on the people
Chana is loosely based on my mother’s mother, whose name was actually Chana (later changed to Anna after she came to America). My grandmother had four older brothers and a younger sister, and was well educated for a girl in those times — her parents were well off enough so they could bribe the local officials to let their daughter into the regular schools.

As I recall her (she died when I was 21), my grandmother was a sturdy, strong, intelligent, opinionated, radical woman. She did nursing in Russia during WWI, and also lived through a revolution, pogroms, and the chaos that followed. She and her family (including her new husband) emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920s, just before the door slammed on people from Eastern Europe and other “undesirable” areas.

Sophia — at least, at this phase of her life — is completely fictional.

Notes on the place
The glade where the girls meet has its origins in my own experience. Back when I was a tween, I went to a sleepaway camp where there was little supervision, and where I was badly bullied by the other kids in my cabin. There was a small wooded area on the grounds, and I found a clearing there where I felt hidden, and could sit and read my books without having to deal with any of the other campers.

Notes on the history
Lviv (previously known as Lvov or Lemberg) sits near the border of Poland and Ukraine, and after WWI ended, it was claimed by both countries, resulting in a small war (as if WWI wasn’t enough). There was a large Jewish population; they declared their neutrality, and organized their own militia in defense of the country. However, when the Poles (who suspected that the Jews were actually supporting the Ukrainians) occupied the area in November of 1918, they disarmed and interned the Jewish militia. Several days of violence followed. Accounts of the number of people killed and injured vary widely.


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.


 

This weekend: Balticon

Balticon symbolI know I promised to start talking about the background behind some of my stories, but it’s going to be a busy weekend, so I thought I’d first let people know that I’m going to be at Balticon.

This is going to be my first Balticon, and I’m really looking forward to it. Not only because it sounds like a lot of fun, but because it’s happening about the time I’m also looking forward to two publications: my upcoming mosaic novel The History of Soul 2065, and my story “Blaming Caine,” which just came out in Chuck Gannon’s anthology Lost Signals of the Terran Republic.

I’m going to be participating in several panels, doing a reading, and hanging out with friends. If you’d like to sit in on some of them (or just come by to say hi), here’s my schedule:

Saturday, May 25

How to be a Good Moderator
Room 8006, 11am – 11:55am
Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), D.H. Aire, Jennifer R. Povey, Jazmine Cosplays, Grig Larson
Moderating a discussion panel at a convention is both easier and harder than it looks. Experienced moderators share their tips for keeping order, steering the discussion, and fixing it when things go wrong.

Gender in Genre
Room 8006, 6pm – 6:55pm
Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), K.M. Szpara, Jo Miles, Jazmine Cosplays, Rosemary Claire Smith
The presentation of gender roles in genre fiction has evolved drastically over the last century. While we may think of scifi as behind ahead of the curve with regards to social development, that’s not always the case. How have societal expectations of gender been reflected in genre works and who’s exploring new ground today?

Weird Tales and the Problematic
Mount Washington, 9pm – 9:55pm
John Robison (moderator), Lisa Padol, Scott Roche, Ruthanna Emrys, L. Marie Wood, Barbara Krasnoff
Lovecraft, Howard, Lord Dunsany, Poe, and other authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have had a formative effect on the genres of sci-fi and fantasy. Their depictions of sex, gender, race, and class that disturb many in the 21st Century, but not in the way the authors intended. Recently there have been calls to end using their materials, particularly Lovecraft. Should we abandon these stories and forms, or should we try and reappropriate the themes into our more diverse world?

Sunday, May 26

Class Structure in SF and Fantasy
Kent, 12pm – 12:55pm
Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Lauren Harris, Sarah Avery, Ted Weber, Don Sakers
An invented society offers unique possibilities to examine our own. How would access to magic or powerful technology, or even a different path through history, alter larger communities? What fictional class systems have been too fantastical, and which have been depressingly close to reality?

Social Anxiety and the Modern Fan
Room 6017, 2pm – 2:55pm
Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Dame Dahlia, Sara Testarossa, Fred G. Yost
How do fans who are introverts or have social anxiety deal with conventions and other fan gatherings?

Readings: Avery, Doyle, Krasnoff
St. George, 6pm – 6:55pm
Tom Doyle, Sarah Avery, Barbara Krasnoff
Authors Sarah Avery, Tom Doyle, and Barbara Krasnoff read from their works.

The Story Behind: The Story Behind

The History of Soul 2065I haven’t talked a lot about my upcoming book The History of Soul 2065. Hell, in another month the word “upcoming” will no longer be appropriate, which strikes me as extremely weird — I’ve been anticipating it for so long that, psychologically, I feel almost as if it will never actually happen.

But it’s gonna be available soon — June 11th, to be precise — and I thought it might be nice to provide a little background for each story, just to provide a little extra interest. I’ll talk about which of the characters are based on real people, which incidents are based on something that either happened, or that I was told happened — and which stories are pure, unadulterated imagination.

So I will soon start with the first story, “The Clearing in the Autumn.” But first, I thought I’d give a bit of an explanation for the book as a whole.

The History of Soul 2065 is what has been called (appropriately, I think) a mosaic novel. In other words, it’s a collection of stories that are woven together by a common theme. It came about when (with the help of a friend named Carolyn Fireside) I began to realize that many of the characters in my various short stories were either the same person at different stages of their lives, or individuals from different generations of the same family.

So a couple of years ago, I began to pull the stories together into what I hoped what a coherent whole. I organized them, reorganized them, created two family trees for each of the two families they represented, and then reorganized them several more times.

In the end, the 15 stories (out of 20) that were previously published have all been altered in some fashion. Some were only tweaked very slightly; others went through somewhat more radical alterations (for example, one was switched from first to third person). The five stories that are original to the book have either been written specifically to fill in a few blanks, or were simply never published before. I’ll let you know which is which.

Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that, while several of the characters here are based on people in my family, none of the characters represent a real, whole, once-lived-or-still-living person. First, I couldn’t recreate a living person if I wanted to; the inner lives and the experiences of individuals are theirs alone, and not something that I have access to. Second — these are all fictional stories. Like many writers, I simply started with a person I knew, or something I had heard of, and went from there.

So there it is. Next up: What was behind “The Clearing in the Autumn,” the first story in The History of Soul 2065.


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.