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.


 

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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.


 

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.


Apologies and a promise

IMG_20190503_082134I just want to apologize to anyone who may be following this blog. I haven’t been updating it. Hardly at all. You would think, wouldn’t you, that anyone who had a book coming out within a couple of months would be doing everything she could to promote that book, wouldn’t you? Like, for example, keeping her blog updated? On at least a weekly, if not a daily, basis?

Well, I haven’t. And I need to. And I will. I promise.

Here are my excuses, as lame as they are. First, despite all the evidence — the rewrites and final edits, the pre-sales announcements, the lovely blurbs and comments by people who have already had access to the book, my own lame attempts at PR — despite all these, I am having trouble believing that I’m actually going to have a book out in a very short time.

Second (and slightly less lame): I’ve been busy dealing with a new job (which I’m doing my best to do my best at), keeping up with household and family issues, and trying to get some additional writing done. I’ve been extremely bad at this last bit, and am very embarrassed by that. And so I avoid talking out bit.

So, here’s what I propose: The book coming out, The History of Soul 2065, is made up of interconnected short stories, many of which were based on family tales, personal history, etc. So when June (and the book) hits, I’m going to use this blog to make available a series of explanations, one for each story, of how it got written, why, and what got left out. (Sort of what I’m doing for the short stories that I’ve been posting at Curious Fictions.) That may be interesting for readers, and it will be an incentive for me to get something done.

How does that sound?

(The photo on this page, by the way, has nothing to do with the blog entry. It’s simply a nice photo I took recently. I thought you might like it.)