Tag Archives: book

Josep follows instructions!

On several occasions, I have asked (or, um, in certain cases, my imaginary friend character Manuel has asked) for people to send me photos of themselves with my book/s when they get their copies. Well, Josep, for one, has complied:

My hope is that he’ll be so absorbed in the book tomorrow that he’ll forget to go out and protest and get beat up by Spanish police if/when Article 155 hits the fan… but I’m not optimistic. He told me he was reading “your first book” (a.k.a., the one that’s addressed to him) during a demonstration last week. So most likely, he’ll just bring it along.

Hey Josep–when I said that la llamada de la sangre is mentioned in the book, I didn’t mean I want actual blood of converso descendants on the book, okay?! Sheesh. You stay out of trouble!!!

*ahem*

Nu, so why haven’t the rest of you sent me book selfies yet?!

Letters to Josep Available for FREE–Limited Time Only!

Chanukah and Christmas are both coming up, and they coincide this year! And you know what might make an excellent gift for friends or family members celebrating one, the other, or both? 😉

If you’ve been thinking about buying a copy of Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism as a gift, but want to read it yourself first to see if it’s your speed–this is a perfect opportunity. The Kindle version of LtJ is NOW available for FREE download here on the book’s Kindle page. It will only be free through Thursday (December 15th), so don’t wait–download it now, and spread the word!

If you’ve already read the book–please consider leaving a review! Even Josep left one! I MEAN, um, some random, completely unrelated individual who appears to feel a strange sense of kinship with Josep. Yes. (If you leave a review, you can check it out.) Just click here, give the book as many stars as you think appropriate, and write a few words on what you enjoyed about it. You will have my eternal gratitude! (Seriously. Getting people to leave reviews is like pulling teeth!)

That is all. Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, etc. etc. etc.!

A Book Update & “Behind the Scenes”

I’ve been relatively quiet due to some annoying Internet issues which may or may not be fixed in the foreseeable future, depending on the good graces of Bezeq and its technician.

In the meantime, here’s a post about the book, since I haven’t babbled about it in hours!

Firstly:

pomeranz small 2

That is me, with a huge grin on my face, because I just found my book in Pomeranz Booksellers in central Jerusalem, on display right next to Rabbi Sacks’s “A Letter in the Scroll.” (Ahhhhhhh) (Have I mentioned that I am a huge fan of Rabbi Sacks?) (I am a huge fan of Rabbi Sacks.) (OMGmybookisnextohisinthestore) (Ahhhhhh)

Ahem.

If you happen to be in Jerusalem, drop by and buy a copy before the signed ones are all gone. 😉

Me signing books

And while I’m sharing pictures that make me very happy, here is another pair from a couple months ago. You see, my friend Jo happened to be traveling to Barcelona on business, so I was able to arrange a personal delivery of Josep’s signed copy, and a photographer to capture him reading my dedication. 😉

Josep reading my dedication

And also to have him sign my copy. Because I’m sentimental like that.

Josep signing my copy of LtJ

 

Also: this past Shabbat, a friend surprised me with a gift. We had Shabbat lunch at their house, and when I was walking out the door, he handed it to me and told me to open it when I got home so he wouldn’t have to see my reaction if I didn’t like it.

To say I liked it is a gross understatement.

kavitskys

Since the photo quality isn’t great: it’s three of the photos from Pomeranz, with the following written on it: “Lifelong dream= accomplished! May there be many more! Love, the Kavitskys”

Thanks so much, guys. It means a lot to me.

Anyway, the friend who gave me that picture, Mike, happens to be a writer himself, who is planning to start his own blog documenting his journey back to the USA for a year with his family. (Right Mike?!?! Now I’ve announced it on my blog, so you have to do it! 😛 ) When he was thinking about how to structure it, he asked me some questions about my own writing process, and I thought you might be interested to learn a little more about the “behind-the-scenes” of the blog.

Enjoy!


When writing to a particular (and real) person, how do you prevent that from affecting the universality of your message? How do you avoid catering your writing and concepts expressed to that individual or type of person?

Well, part of the appeal of the letters, I think, is that there’s a balance of both… and the personal touch paradoxically makes them more universal and relatable. It changes the tone of an essay on what may be a huge, grandiose topic from a grave or arrogant “I am telling the world something of deep importance,” to a lighthearted chat between good friends.

I make plenty of personal references in the letters, making it clear that I’m really writing to Josep, not just using the “Dear Josep… Love, Daniella” as a frame for an essay. But at least with letters written specifically for the blog, I’m keeping the rest of my audience in mind. So for example, I’ll clarify concepts that I know he knows but others might not, either with a parenthetical statement or a footnote. Or, when I relate to a personal story, I explain it in the footnotes. Here’s one example of a footnote that both explains a concept that Josep and I know but other readers might not, and tells a personal story. And here’s another example. 🙂

I often use our personal correspondence, both past and present, as a sort of launching point for writing about a topic that I think both he and others might find interesting. For example, in my head covering post, I started off with an amusing anecdote about our correspondence, even adding a picture of a gift I sent him recently, and used that to launch into the topic. Another example is the Holocaust education post, where I started off by relating both to Josep’s experiences of learning about the Holocaust and mine, and connecting that to the Yad Vashem guidelines.

Are you concerned, while writing your letters, about maintaining a broad “audience” and trying to avoid offending/alienating potential readers? If so, how does that affect how you frame your thoughts and does it limit your sense of authenticity?

Aha, yes. Good question. 🙂 Yes, I definitely keep the sensitivities of my broad audience in mind and will word things carefully to avoid offending or alienating readers. That does limit me and my sense of authenticity somewhat… but it also forces me to think harder about what I’m saying and if I can really stand behind it, which can be a good thing. For example, I sent Josep an e-mail a couple years ago (before the blog) about “different kinds of Jews.” Since I am writing from my own perspective as an Orthodox Jew, and he knows that, and it’s a private conversation between the two of us, I didn’t feel a need to be so careful in my description of movements I disagree with. But when I set about the task of turning it into a blog post (it eventually became two!), I realized I’d have to elaborate a lot more and word things much more carefully if I didn’t want to get myself in trouble!
Conversely, though, sometimes I find the fact that I’m addressing the letters to Josep specifically somewhat limiting, too. For example, there has been at least one topic I would have written about freely, but chose to avoid because I know it might be sensitive for him on a personal level.

How do you dedicate the time necessary to make your writing succeed if you’re not being paid for your work? How do you pace yourself? What are some of your goal-setting methods?

Before I answer this I have to qualify it by saying that most writers are not like me in this regard.

Setting daily or weekly goals (in terms of amount of time spent writing or amount of words written) is a good method for pacing yourself and staying disciplined and focused… for most other writers.

When it comes to me, I write because I can’t not write. I write because writing is like breathing for me. It wasn’t that I sat down and decided to write a blog and maybe a book. It’s that I was overflowing with these letters and I couldn’t stop writing them even when Josep himself was not really able to read and react to them. Seriously. The blog was just a receptacle for material that was already practically leaking from my pores. Writing LtJ is not work for me, it is play.

So the answer is, I don’t “dedicate time.” I don’t set goals and I don’t pace myself. I just do it when I am inspired. The disadvantage, of course, is that sometimes I feel like I’m on the verge of running empty, and that the time will come when I’m all out of material. Well, it’s been a year and a half, I’ve written more than 120 blog posts, and haven’t gone more than two weeks or so without posting, so it hasn’t happened yet… 😉

But like I said, most writers don’t work that way. Almost everything I’ve ever read giving advice to writers recommends setting aside a specific time for writing every day and doing that and only that with no distractions. I’ve heard countless writers say that you can’t wait for inspiration and that sometimes inspiration comes while you’re already fifty pages in. That approach doesn’t work for me, it’s just not how I roll. But it may work for you.


If you’re interested in more of my thoughts about writing, I recently started a new blog called The Rejection Survival Guide, which you might enjoy. Be sure to check it out.

Because I’m THAT friend.

Before I begin, I have some excellent news: Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism is now available on Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide! (Don’t worry about the book cover image, it’ll get there.) This was not true last night, and trust me, I checked, so apparently it went up especially in honor of Josep’s birthday. 😀

Josep himself has no recollection of this, but in the first year of our friendship I pulled off a little stunt in honor of his birthday, which involved giving his e-mail address to around a dozen friends and family and asking them all to “spontaneously” write to him to wish him a happy birthday.

…I am not exactly sure what by what feat of logic I arrived at the conclusion that this was a good idea. 😛 If he had done something similar to me, I probably would have been equal parts pleased, flattered, and mortified. (Then again, maybe that was the desired effect? 😛 ) I think the idea was that I wanted to show him that no matter how lonely he may feel, he has a group of crazy Jews on the other side of the Mediterranean (and a couple on the other side of the Atlantic…) who think he’s great and would love to meet him, for no reason other than the fact that think he’s great and am so pleased to know him. (Which, in my very humble opinion, is about as good a reason as one could possibly have.) Still, apparently it did not occur to me at the time that it might be a little bit… ah… intrusive of a gesture. As I said on this occasion last year,No one brings out the bossy, nagging, meddlesome, embarrassing-in-public, you-never-call-you-never-write-I’ll-just-sit-here-in-the-dark Jewish mother stereotype in me like my beloved Christian friend.” And trust me people–you don’t even know the half of it. 😛

In any case, he was very gracious about it, and still maintains that he thinks it was sweet of me, even though he was clearly so traumatized by the incident that his memory blocked it out. 😛

Well! Tradition is tradition, and today is Josep’s birthday again, and it is my solemn duty as his one-and-only stereotypical-Jewish-mother-friend to rally his ever-growing fan base to wish him a happy birthday. I’m not handing out his e-mail this time 😛 but you are most strongly encouraged to wish him well in the comments below. Especially if you happen to have taken part in the Great Birthday E-mail Invasion some nine years ago. (You know who you are. 😉 )

(Seriously. Do it. Now.)

And as for you, my poor victim–I hope you are spending today surrounded by people who love and appreciate you, and that this year brings with it many blessings, opportunities, and positive developments for you and all those you care about. Sending you all my best wishes on this day and always. 🙂

Impostor Syndrome and the Burning Bush

Dear Josep,

Well… as you know, the past few weeks have been pretty crazy, and I’m having what researcher and author Brené Brown calls a major “vulnerability hangover.”

It’s what happens when you do something really brave, something that involves exposing yourself to vulnerability and taking a risk, and then afterwards when you step down, you look at yourself and go, “WHAT did I just DO?” and all you want to do is crawl under your bed and not come out for a good few weeks.

Yesterday my father-in-law arrived with a little stock of the books, and I got to hold one for the first time. It was sooo bizarre. Was it like that for you too?! Like, there’s a book in my hands. It’s a book, and I wrote it. What.

My dear husband found me standing there in a daze staring at the pile of books, and took this picture…

After the kids went to bed I sat down with one of the copies and wrote you a dedication. But not before Googling “how to autograph a book.” (Yes. I literally Googled it. Don’t laugh, I got some good tips! 😛 ) I’ll have to apologize for the mess of scribbles all over your title page… I was emotional and my hand was shaking. I’d been dreaming of that very moment for a long time.

Today I started trying to work on building my author website (well, author/translator/premarital counselor/whatever-the-heck-I-am-these-days website). And I found myself at such a loss. I mean… I’m a content writer, you’d think I should be able to write content for my own website! But I also suffer from a severe case of Impostor Syndrome.

Have you ever heard of Impostor Syndrome? Caltech Counseling Center defines it as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.”

I have a beautiful example. You don’t know this, but LtJ was actually not the only book that came out this month with my name in the byline. A poem of mine was published in an anthology called Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women. During the process of preparing it for print, the editors sent us the biographies we had originally submitted to make sure they were still up to date. Mine started off with “Daniella Levy is a writer, poet, translator, and self defense instructor…” And my first thought when I looked at it was, “Poet…? Really? Can I call myself that? Just because I write poetry occasionally… and performed a spoken word poem once for a small audience… I dunno, does that qualify me?”

…And then it hit me that the bio in question was for a poem. That I wrote. That was going to be published. In a book.

How ridiculous am I?!

Thankfully, I am not alone in my ridiculousness. Studies show that about 70% of the population suffers from some degree of Impostor Syndrome. In fact, arguably the most important figure in the Jewish faith suffered from it, too.

I’m referring, of course, to Moses.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the scene whether Moses encounters the burning bush and first hears God speak to him.

This is how it goes down: Moses is tending his father-in-law’s sheep, right? And he comes across a really strange sight–a bush that is in flames, but is not being consumed by the fire. So he stops to check it out, and God calls to him and tells him to remove his shoes, “for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” He then explains to Moses who He is and tells him that He wants Moses to go to Pharoah and tell him to let the Israelites go.

So, let’s just imagine for a second this happened to you. God Himself appears to you in a burning bush and tells you to go to the Prime Minister of Spain and tell him to let Catalonia secede from Spain. 😛 What do you do? Do you start asking questions? Do you tell God He must have made a mistake?! No! You say “Yes sir!” and get moving! (Make a note of this! 😛 )

But that’s not what Moses did: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 4:11)  God tells him not to worry, that He will be with him. But Moses is not convinced, and argues that the Israelites won’t listen to him and won’t believe him. So God reassures him further and gives him the turn-the-staff-into-a-snake trick to help prove that Moses was really speaking on His behalf.

But then Moses keeps arguing! He’s not a man of words, he’s got a speech impediment, couldn’t God just send somebody else? And God’s like, “Dude, I KNOW. I’M GOD. I gave you that speech impediment, remember?! Have your brother talk for you if you have to, but GO!”

Seriously. God Himself appears to Moses in a spectacular feat of pyrotechnics and what does Moses do? He argues. He protests five times in that one encounter.

“Seriously, Moses. You’re pushing it.”

He truly did not believe he was worthy of the task–even in the face of “information that the opposite was true.” Like, for instance, GOD HIMSELF telling him he was worthy.

Boy, he had it bad…

And maybe it was precisely this that led God to select him for this task. As I’ve mentioned before, the unique thing about Judaism as a religion is that it does not attribute its revelation to a single person, but rather to a whole nation. A week and a half from now, when we read the Haggadah and retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we are not going to mention Moses’s name even once. The Sages left his name out of the Haggadah on purpose: because the miracles of the Exodus should be attributed to God alone. If Moses had been a little more vain, he might have taken advantage of his position of power to create a cult of personality around himself.

Actually, right after the sin of the Golden Calf, God offered to destroy the Israelites and make Moses and his descendants into a nation instead! And what did Moses say?

“Please! This people has committed a grave sin… please forgive them. But if not, erase me now from the book You have written.” (Exodus 32:31-32)

God grumbled back “Whoever has sinned against Me, him I will erase from My book!” (Exodus 32:33), but I’d like to think that God was secretly smiling to Himself… in a metaphorical sense, of course. This is exactly why He had chosen Moses.

Surprisingly, Impostor Syndrome can actually be a predictor of high achievement. It’s the people who don’t suffer from it–people who think they know exactly what they’re doing–who are more likely to be frauds.

Maybe God should have mentioned this to Moses from the bush. 😉

Anyway–I’m looking forward to getting that copy to you!

Much love,

Daniella

A Little Book-Related Update

Because I’m still totally in this mode:

chicken book

And I expect that’s not going to change very soon…

So first of all–I just want you to know that when I started out, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to sell more than 50 copies.

It’s been exactly a week since the book went live on Amazon, and I’ve already sold 54.

I love you all.

A few people have responded to my request to share photos of their copy upon receiving it. And while each one delighted me, I have to say, there is one in particular that is several leagues above the rest in its awesomeness. In case you didn’t see it on LtJ’s FB page or on the blog’s “About” page, where it has taken up permanent residence:

Doing what I've been making him do for ten years now...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, contrary to what some people apparently believe, he does exist! (I have had conversations in the recent past with three completely unrelated people who assumed that he was a fictional literary device. Why would I do that?!?! And why does it make more sense for me to invent a Catholic friend in Barcelona to whom to address my letters, than for me to actually have a Catholic friend in Barcelona to whom I enjoy writing?! I can’t decide whether to be insulted that people seem to think this is so unlikely, or happy to have confirmation that it is, in fact, unlikely enough to be interesting…)

Anyway. The book is now up on Ingram Spark, which hopefully means it will be going up on Book Depository within the next few weeks (though it could take as long as two months). Keep an eye out for it, and if anybody spots it let me know! It will also be available through all of Ingram Spark’s print book distribution partners, which means that pretty much any bookstore or library will soon be able to order it through their usual suppliers. So: if you have a local library, bookstore, community center, or university that you think might benefit from acquiring some copies–mention it to them! (Maybe in a couple weeks, so it’ll actually be available when you do.) In the meantime, retailers can buy it wholesale from CreateSpace Direct. And individuals can, of course, order from Amazon. 🙂

And, once again, when you’ve finished reading, remember to leave a review. The Amazon.com page still doesn’t have any! 🙁 <–that is me. Sad. Because my book needs reviews. 🙁 <–you know you want to make me happy. (What do you mean, it actually takes time to finish reading it? What is this nonsense of which you speak?)

Okay okay I will now stop ranting about the book! (Well, for the moment. I’ll be finally receiving my own copies this coming Tuesday, and I will probably be back to gush about it some more. Bear with me.) Shabbat shalom, y’all. 🙂

The Book Is Here!!!

With gratitude and praise to the Almighty, I am delighted to tell you that, b’sha’ah tova umutzlachat–may it be at an auspicious and successful time–Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism is now available to order! (…We religious Jews start spewing flowery Hebrew phrases when we get excited. Bear with me.)

This could be you!

How Do I Get My Copy?!?!

The eBook:

For the time being, the eBook will be available exclusively on Amazon Kindle here. (I will probably expand to other eBook distributors in a few months.) If you have Kindle Unlimited, you should be able to download it for free! (Don’t worry, they will still pay me, provided you actually read it. 😉 )

The USA:

You can order on Amazon.com here.

Europe:

You can order from: the UK here; France here; Germany here; Italy here; and Spain here. 🙂

Anywhere Else:

You can still order from any of the above places, they ship worldwide and the shipping isn’t terribly expensive. However, if you want to wait for better shipping rates, sit tight; I’m going to get the book on Book Depository (which has free shipping worldwide) and other booksellers across the globe as soon as I can, but I’m doing that through Ingram Spark, which could take a while (up to a few months). I will be sure to let you know when it goes up in other stores.

What Can I Do to Help?

Thanks for asking! 😉 Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy the book. Duh. 😛
  • Leave a starred review on Amazon. The more reviews the book has, and the higher my ratings, the more people will see the book. You don’t have to write much; just give the book as many stars as you think it deserves (which is five, obviously. 😛 ) and write a few words about what you liked about it.
  • Share the link to the book, or this post, on social media and add a few words explaining to your friends why you think they should buy a copy of their own.
  • When you receive your copy, take a picture of it (or better yet–a selfie with it!) and post it on social media, tagging me or Letters to Josep’s Facebook page! This will make me really happy. 😀
  • Mention the book in relevant contexts. Have a friend who expresses an interest in learning about Judaism? Belong to an interfaith group or forum? Mention LtJ!
  • The usual: “like” the FB page if you haven’t already. I am theoretically on Twitter, too, but I still haven’t quite figured it out, as I find the word limit super prohibitive. (When have I ever written anything in 140 characters or less?! 😛 ) But feel free to follow me: @DaniellaNLevy, and help me get a handle on it, so to speak 😉
  • Also, write a guest letter if you haven’t already, or write another one if you have! 😉 They help the blog reach wider and more diverse audiences.
  • If you belong to a synagogue or Jewish community center, or a church, mosque or other faith community that you think would be open to the book, please be in touch with me–use the contact form or e-mail me at letterstojosep[at]gmail[dot]com. I will be giving out signed bookplates in exchange for a photo of a flyer hung on the bulletin boards of such places. 😉

A Little Prayer

I composed for the occasion:

ריבונו של עולם,
גלוי וידוע לפניך
שהכול בחזקת סומין
עד שאתה מאיר את עיניהם,
והכול בחזקת אילמים
עד שאתה פותח את פיהם,
כך אין הסופר כותב אפילו אות אחת
עד שאתה מכוון את ידו.
לכן יהי רצון מלפניך
שתישא את פרי עטי אשר כיוונת,
לכל מי שיזדקק להם,
להיקרא על ידי כל מי שירצה בהם,
ולגעת בלב כל אשר יקרא,
ולהאיר את עיניו ואת דרכיו.
שלח לי הצלחה ושמחה ופרנסה ומנוחת נפש
ויקויים בי הכתוב “והוציא כאור צדקך ומשפטיך כצהריים”
בספר זה אשר אני מוציאה לאור.
חונני וענני, כי אל מלך רחום וחנון אתה.
ברוך שומע תפילה.

Master of the Universe,
It is apparent and known before You
That all are considered blind
Until You bring light to their eyes,
And all are considered dumb
Until You open their mouths,
So too the writer cannot write a single word
Until you guide his hand.
Therefore, may it be Your will
To carry the fruits of my pen which You directed,
To whosoever shall need them,
To be read by all who shall want them,
And to touch the hearts of all who read,
And to bring light to their eyes and their paths.
Send me success and joy and livelihood and peace of mind
And may the words “And He shall bring out your righteousness like light, and your sentences like noon*” be fulfilled through me
With this book which I bring to the light.*
Be gracious to me and answer me, for You are a gracious and merciful God and king.
Blessed be He who hears prayer.

*The Hebrew phrase for publishing a book is hotza’ah la’or, literally “bringing to the light.” And like in English, the word “sentence,” which in the original phrase in Psalm 37 (mishpatekha) refers to judgment, can also mean a sentence of words.

The Book Is Almost Here…

Anyone who has had the misfortune of interacting with me recently knows that this has pretty much been me for the past two months or so:

chicken book

My entire life has been revolving around the production of Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism and the process of getting it ready for publication.

It occurred to me that if publishing a book is like giving birth, self-publishing is like having a homebirth; while you have a lot more control over the process and freedom to call the shots, so much of it is still out of your hands. And sometimes knowing that you’re the one in charge can be a little scary, especially when you’ve been told your whole life to leave this job to the professionals. (And there will be critics. Many, many critics.)

So here’s where we’re at:

  • The “proof” (test copy) is on its way to my in-laws’, who will check it over, and, God willing, if everything’s okay–give the green light for releasing the print book! It will first be released on Amazon (in the US and in Europe), but for my Israeli customers, I will make sure it gets on the Book Depository ASAP so you can enjoy their free international shipping. (May I take a moment to whine about how shipping things to Israel is painfully slow and expensive?! If you live anywhere in the continental USA or Europe, you will probably get your hands on a copy long before I will. IT’S NOT FAIR) (Okay, I’m done)
  • The eBook is basically ready, except for the little tiny issues I keep discovering and going back to fix in a panic.
  • The audiobook… well… that’s gonna take a while. 😛 I’m very slowly blundering through this audio production business, and due to the fact that A) I have no idea what I’m doing and B) I decided not to even try to release it together with the other versions, it’s been low on the priority list… but it’ll get there!

Basically, I’m on schedule to release the paperback and eBook by the beginning of April, as planned!

!!!

And now that this phase is coming to a close, I want to share some of my favorite moments of producing the book with you.

My Favorite Moments of Producing Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism

1) Discovering, while working with Josep on the foreword, that our versions of the story of how we met are actually two completely different stories. You’ll see what I mean when you read the foreword. (Something to look “foreword” too. 😛 ) (Sorry, I had to.)

2) Designing the interior of the book. I had no idea how much fun that would be, or how exciting, when I printed out those two sample pages and shoved them in a book, giving myself a glimpse of what my book will look like!

3) If you’ve listened to me reading some of my letters on Jewish Geography, you can probably guess that I had quite a bit of fun recording the audiobook. 😉 (Less fun figuring out how to edit and master it. :-/ :-/ But never mind.)

4) Making Josep send me voice messages of himself pronouncing certain words and names for me. (For the audiobook.) Especially when he was in a public place and saying these random things into his phone and I’m imagining bystanders overhearing and looking at him like o.O. As the entire existence of this blog probably testifies, embarrassing him in public is one of my favorite pastimes. 😛

5) That awkward moment when your crazy Israeli friend decides to dedicate her book in memory of both of your maternal grandmothers… and she remembers your own grandmother’s name better than you do. (True story! 😛 ) (Okay, fine, he didn’t forget, he just accidentally gave me his mother’s surnames instead of his grandmother’s, and I’m the one who caught it. Thereby proving once and for all that Iberian naming customs are inordinately confusing.)

6) Doing the “author photo” session with super talented photographer Menucha Machluf, who also happens to be my best friend from high school. (I mention her in my post about my trip to Poland.) We hadn’t seen each other in a long time and I always enjoy every minute I spend with her.

She wanted to get some shots of me looking serious, but it wasn’t going very well, because I could not stop laughing. In attempt to stifle my mirth, most of the time, the best I could manage was a smirk.

Menucha: Think about, I dunno, laundry. Me: Laundry. Laundry is serious. I am very serious. I am an author. A serious author. Who writes about laundry. Menucha: This is gonna be a long day.
Menucha: You look… Jewish in this one. Me: What’s that supposed to mean?! Menucha: …Not that that’s a bad thing! Some of my best friends are Jewish!
“I say, old chap, this bookshelf background does look rather stuffy!”

What’s that? You actually want to see one of the good ones? 😛

Stuffy bookshelf background and reversed Chai necklace charm notwithstanding, this one was the winner.

Some beautiful shots, some very silly shots, and nonstop giggling with an old friend… what more could I ask for? 😉 (Thanks Menucha!!! <3 )

There were quite a few less pleasant moments–dealing with editing woes, for example, or just the generalized stress of sending the book out there and needing to accept that it isn’t going to be perfect and some people aren’t going to like it and some people are even going to hate it.

:-/

But the one thing I’ve been looking forward to, the image in my mind that kept me charging ahead despite my fears and misgivings, was the image of sitting down with a print copy of my book, writing a personal dedication to Josep, and shipping it off to him. 🙂 (Turns out, this particular enterprise is going to be a lot more complicated and take a lot longer to execute than I originally thought, because of the aforementioned shipping issues. 🙁 But never mind.) The book is, on surface level, a collection of letters–essays, really–about Judaism; but on a deeper level, it’s a tribute to an important friendship in my life, and the sweet fruit of a bitter struggle with a rather difficult period in both of our lives. I feel so blessed to have the privilege of honoring that friendship with something so tangible.

Oh, and one more thing:

By Waiting for the Word [CC BY 2.0]
By Waiting for the Word [CC BY 2.0]. I added the caption
😛

(Don’t get it? Click here)

A joyful Palm Sunday and blessed Holy Week to all who celebrate!

Book News: Sneak Peak & Cover Reveal!

I figured I would update y’all on what’s going on with the book, since I haven’t mentioned it since my announcement in December, and stuff has been happening!

Here’s the latest:

1) The professional editing is done; I’m still going over it to check for last-minute errors, so the text is not final yet.

2) I am almost done formatting the print book, which has been soooo much more fun than I thought it would be! Here’s a sneak peak of two sample pages I printed, cut out, and stuck in my beloved copy of Brené Brown’s “Rising Strong,” which is almost exactly the same size that LtJ will be:

The book will be printed on cream paper, not white. But isn't this awesome?!
The book will be printed on cream paper, not white (more professional-looking), but this is the general look.

3) I am also recording the audiobook! And taking advantage of the opportunity to go over the manuscript again to try and catch errors the editor may have missed. That is seriously fun too! (Wanna get a sneak preview of the *cough* melodious sound of my voice reading a letter to Josep? Check out the Jewish Geography Podcast here; I appear in several of them!)

4) It was determined that the book needed a subtitle, and I have settled on: Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism. I’m not really a fan of subtitles myself, but I want someone looking at the book to at least have some idea what it’s about, and someone searching for a beginner’s guide to Judaism to be able to find it. Titles are one of the things I struggle with most as a writer, and I’m embarrassed to tell you what an extensive brainstorming process took place before coming up with this super-obvious, simple, straightforward subtitle. (“The Non-Disputation of Barcelona1” and “Judaism for Religiously Confused People of Iberian Descent” were some of the sillier suggestions. 😛 )

4) I have designed the front cover/Kindle cover, and am still working on the back cover and spine for the print book. Ladies and gentlemen, the Kindle cover:

LtJ-cover-kindle

I made the original concept for the design with Canva (and a little help from Pixlr to remove the backgrounds on the stamps), but there was no way around moving to Photoshop at the end. Photoshop is way less dummy-friendly than Canva is and there was much hair pulling and crying out in despair before I finally got the design as I want it. But I’m very happy with it and extend my sincere gratitude to my poor patient husband (who is more experienced with Photoshop than I am and showed me how to do some things) and to the graphic design ladies on a FB group for creative people who made suggestions for fine-tuning it.

I have to say, this part of the process showed me the biggest appeal of independent publishing: getting the opportunity to do this stuff myself… and express some of my other talents and skills!

What remains to be done:

1) Finalize the text (which I will hopefully do once I’m finished recording the audiobook, and when Josep gets back to me on a little detail) (Yes, Josep, that is a hint!)

2) Finish recording, editing, and mastering the audiobook

3) Purchase ISBNs (which I’ll probably do through the Israeli authority, because the American one is ridiculously expensive and the resellers offering ones at much lower prices seem shady to me) and sort out some tax-related issues

4) Format and convert the eBook

5) Finish formatting the print book

6) Upload everything to the relevant websites, and order a sample copy to make sure the formatting is right

7) RELEASE MY BOOK TO THE KNOWLEDGE-HUNGRY HORDES

I cannot begin to describe to you how excited I am!!!

I’m estimating that the book will be ready by the end of next month, and probably in April, I’ll be “soft launching” it, releasing it on Amazon, gathering a few reviews and giving people a chance to catch any errors I may have missed before expanding to other distributors and getting more serious about promotion.

The one thing I could really use your help with right about now is gathering quotes from public figures in praise of the book/the letters.

These are those quotes that go on the back of the book and/or in the front, or in the book description on Amazon, by people whose opinion people care about.

My greatest fantasy would be something from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, but… yeah. He’s a superstar and I’m sure he has no time for things like this. I did send a request to his office, and got the auto-response I expected, which went something along the lines of, “Thank you for being in touch! Due to the volume of correspondence we receive, we will never get back to you ever.”

I have to say that this task combines all the things that are most difficult for me about promotion: not only tooting my own horn, but asking other people to toot my horn. Ugh. Not to mention the possibility that said people may not actually like what I have to offer. I’m opening myself up to a whole world of criticism and rejection here. :-/

So….. if you happen to have any connection with a public figure who may be relevant–a rabbi involved in outreach, a priest involved in interfaith dialogue, etc.–I would be so grateful if you could drop him or her a line to ask for an endorsement for me. Here’s an example of what you could say:

Dear [Adored Public Figure],

I’ve been following this blog that I’ve been really enjoying and I think is very relevant to your work. The author is going to be publishing a book in a couple months, and I think a quote from you in praise of her work would mean the world to her. She’d be happy to send you the whole manuscript if you’d like to see it, but even if you just read a couple of her posts and write even a few words on what you like about them, that would be really helpful. Here are three blog posts I think you’d particularly enjoy:

[insert links and titles here of posts you think they might like. A few suggestions: Shabbat: A Sacred Space in Time; Blessings: Finding God in an Apple; Prayer. Pt. I; The Battleground of Good and Evil; Days of Awe; I Forgave God]

With gratitude,

[You]”

If you do this for me I will love you forever. And if I get a good quote out of it, I’m sending you a free eBook & a personalized, signed bookplate that you can stick in your print copy, or frame, or whatever you like. Deal?

Again, thank you all for your help and support, you are awesome! I will keep you posted!


1. The Disputation of Barcelona. It was a thing. A dispute between Nahmanides (a.k.a. the Ramban, famous biblical commentator) and Dominican Friar Pablo Cristiani, in the 13th century. Here’s Wikipedia on it. 

Big News!

On December 21st, 2014–exactly a year ago–I started this blog by recounting the tale of how Josep and I met. Since then, I have published 85 more posts (holy cow.) and more than 12,000 people, from almost 80 countries, have visited!

And in honor of my first blogiversary… I have some exciting news to share.

You see, a number of months ago, I had a curious revelation. I had thought, all this time, that I was writing open letters to my friend in Barcelona about Judaism and Israel, and posting them on the Internet. And that was true.

But, turns out, I was also writing a book. Without even noticing!

That’s right, folks! Letters to Josep, the book, is coming soon to a bookshelf near you!

[insert tumultuous applause and cheering]
[insert tumultuous applause and cheering]
The book includes a selection of letters from the blog, adapted for print and in some cases expanded, focusing on explanations about the basic concepts of Orthodox Jewish life… and a foreword written by a mysterious individual from Barcelona, whose version of the story of the beginning of our friendship turns out to be fascinatingly different from mine. 😉

This is all very nice, you say, but why should I buy a book when I can read almost all the content in it for free right here on LetterstoJosep.com? I’ll tell you why:

1) It’s a book. Books are awesome.

2) The book does include some original content.

3) It’s basically impossible to read all the content of the blog at once. And I know there are people (myself included) who prefer to read from dead trees, or at least from a Kindle or other e-reading device. (Or to listen to audiobooks!) In other words, it will be a lot easier and more comfortable to read. (Or listen to.)

4) It makes an excellent gift for that relative or friend who wants to know more about the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Newly observant Jews, just think: you won’t have to explain a thing, just keep a pile of copies of Letters to Josep around and hand them out to anyone who looks at you funny. 😀 This could be especially useful for those family members who think you’ve gone off the deep end and joined a cult. It can deflect potential conflicts and disarm them with my charming, bubbly prose, opening up the possibility for respectful dialogue. How awesome is that?

5) …Or if it doesn’t work, you could always just use the book to hit them over the head as you yell at them to stop being so judgmental.

6) Okay I’m kidding about #5. I do not condone violence in any way, shape or form. Especially not against my book. 😛

7) This blog is a labor of love. Nothing makes me happier than hearing that someone, somewhere, found it interesting or useful. But I’ve put a lot of work into it, and obviously, no one is paying me for it. 😉 Buying the book is one way you can support me and what I do.

So why am I telling you this? Well, obviously, I want you to buy the book when it comes out! 😉 (I don’t have a specific date yet; I’m aiming for the general vicinity of March-April 2016. More specific info is forthcoming.)

But more than that–I need your help to get it there. As of now, I am planning to take the independent publishing route, but even if I manage to interest a traditional publisher, your help and support are crucial in getting the book to the people who will benefit from it. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Share, share, share. Tell your friends about the blog, and share your favorite posts on social media. If you belong to an online community that discusses religion, feel free to post links to letters to Josep that are relevant to the discussion! (And feel free to invite me to join!)
  • Write a guest letter! (Yes, you!) And encourage others to write them, too!
  • If you haven’t subscribed to the blog yet, hop to it! All you have to do is enter your e-mail address under “Subscribe to Blog via E-mail”; it’s in the sidebar on the right of your screen if you’re on a browser, or at the bottom of the page if you’re on your phone. You’ll receive an e-mail with a confirmation link; just click it, and you’re all set!
  • If you haven’t “liked” Letters to Josep on Facebook–now’s the time; better yet, invite your friends to “like” it too.
  • Do you know of a public figure–clergyman, interfaith activist, etc.–whose endorsement of the book would be valuable? Better yet, do you have access to that figure, and a way to help me get that endorsement? Let me know!
  • Do you belong to a community of people who might be interested in the book? Would you be willing to hang fliers on bulletin boards, share about the book on community mailing lists, or even potentially arrange to host an eventLet me know!
  • Stay tuned for announcements on the book’s release and further requests for help. Your reviews and ratings can make a big difference in the book’s visibility on Amazon.

If you have any information, comments or questions about any of the above, feel free to contact me via the contact form, or shoot me an e-mail at letterstojosep at gmail dot com.

I’m just gonna go ahead and put out there that I have never done this before, I have no clue what I am doing, and I am both super excited and terrified. Your encouragement, support, and enthusiasm mean everything to me, and they are what give me the courage to take the plunge and do this.

So. Um. Yay!!!