Time To Get Started

I am at the bitter, bitter end of finishing my latest novel, An Unorthodox Romance.   Two chapters need ‘some work,’ or so say my editors.  The proof reading will go on for what seems like months.  My graphic designer has come up with a cover that is unique, but blends with my previous novels, The Binding and The Rabbi’s Husband, so that if I ever get to box them together as a set, they will look like they are related to each other.

What’s left?  I know who I want to dedicate this book too, and I’ve got permissions to do that.

Now my publisher, and me  (this is still a shoestring operation) are looking for cover copy, known rather inelegantly as ‘blurbs.’  Even when they are promised things happen; family problems, people who have too many deadlines, even medical emergencies can sideline people who are actually willing to write cover copy, but somehow it doesn’t happen.

Still, short of the day when they bring you your baby in the hospital, there is nothing like picking up a new novel, your own, and seeing a couple of years of work transformed into a book.

So, it’s not bitter, it’s sweet, but it will be months, probably six months, before the book is really ready to go, and is in readers’ hands.

And, while there is a lot of discussion about ebooks, and the various readers, and certainly authors and those who market our books are  very aware of the need for this market, there is still something about a BOOK.  Hardback, or softback, it’s a book.  It’s sits on your shelf, a whole world wrapped up in something like 75,000 words.

I hope you’ll follow along with me, in this diary of the six months or so it takes to get a book from a manuscript to a book, a soft back, trade paperback book.  With a launch in a city or two and some accolades, (I hope) .

Here’s a question to be considered.  I’m a Canadian, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba.  True, it’s not a world center, but it’s a major city, with an unusually active cultural live, ballet, symphony, outstanding theater companies and major, wonderful book stores.  When I launch a book there it ends up on the best seller list, sometimes for weeks on end. How do I tell people about that, without sounding like I’m trying to be, as Woody Allen once said in a movie,   “World Famous in Poland?”

Think about that one, and let me know what occurs to you.



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The Milk of Human Kindness?

Here’s a very odd question.  Can a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy lactate sufficiently to consider nourishing someone, ever herself, on her own milk?

Okay, cut the ‘gross, ug’ and other remarks, and consider the question.  Recently this scenario popped up in a manuscript novel I was reading for someone.  What to do with this scenario?  I did what anyone would do.  I looked it up on Google. I looked it up on Bing.  It seemed unlikely say the authorities, at least those I could find.  There could be some production, if it was not a first pregnancy.  It was.   It could be only colostrum  (pre-milk).  It wasn’t.  I’m still wrestling with what to tell the author of this potential novel which is full of good solid spy stuff and much derring-do.

So, I’m asking you?  If this scenario is physically possible, should be be left in?  Should be be described as a physical anomaly in this family?  (That’s my best solution so far.)

Does anyone have a better suggestions? Any suggestions?  All suggestions are welcome.

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Connections are everywhere. Just watch for them


Let me set the scene:  I was standing in a store in Sherman Oaks, California.  I don’t live there.  In fact I don’t live anywhere nearby.  Rather, I live about 70 miles away in Southern Orange County.  But, we were visiting my elderly mother-in-law and the store was one I’d heard about so often that I had decided to visit despite the fact that it was a quarter to six and the store closed at six p.m.

I had been in touch with the owner of this beautiful clothing store but she didn’t recall my name.  When she asked me my name I said, “Brenda Barrie.”  At that point, from a dressing room about ten feet away, came a voice saying, “Is that Brenda Gallis? (My birth name)  And out popped a delightfully sunny face, one I did not know, who said, “Hi,I’m Jackie. I was in Bat Sheva, Your BBYO group in Winnipeg.”  And she was, and she had been.

We then had a conversation so rapid-fire and so familiar, with the names of so many people flying back and forth between us, my cousins who had been her friends, our mothers who had done major volunteer work together way back in the 5o’s, her neighbors who had been my friends, my friends who had been her neighbors, that I think some of the names must have stuck to the walls of the shop where they will exist forever.

I should say that this sort of thing happens a lot; running into people from Winnipeg, or people with a connection to Winnipeg.  That’s because a lot of people living in that very cold city in the middle of Canada, north of North Dakota, left for sunnier climes, and you can’t do much better than California for sunshine.  But, running into Jackie Sunshine  (and yes, that’s her real name) was a first, where the connection was so deep, so intense and so personal.

Jackie has been kind enough to let me use her real name.  It adds such a delicious dimension to this story. The interesting fact is that the two years in age that separated us in Winnipeg,  has shrunk down to nothing.  She has lived in Saskatchewan and then in various places in California.  My husband and I have lived in Alberta (one province over for those of you who think the world ends at the northern border of the United States) and then in a wide range of cities in the Midwest and on the east coast before moving to ‘California, where we hope to stay.  It took a chance meeting in a lovely boutique in Sherman Oaks, California to bring us together and to further re-introduce her to some people she’d lost touch with and some people I’d lost touch with through the magic of Facebook et al.

I did ask her how she knew the name Brenda Barrie, since that is not a name I used as a teenager, nor is it my married name, but rather my first and middle name, the name I write under.  She said, “I’m not sure.  I think I heard it from my mother, or something.  But I just knew it was you.”

As I’ve said,  “Connections are everywhere.  Watch for them.”




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Are Friends of Friends Friends?


For years I’ve played the game of  “Jewish Geography”  Come to think of it you don’t have to be Jewish to play.  It might be called Non-Profit Geography.  The people who run non profit agencies, all over the country, do political work, or other work where the work is hard to measure, since it isn’t sales and it isn’t production and it isn’t …. well it isn’t a lot of things.  Those people tend to know each other.

All over the country people are linked by the work they do, and the cities where they do it.  And, if, like me, you’ve moved a lot, you find you know a great many people.  For example:  I’ve lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba two different times, one when I was growing up and then again in my thirties and forties, for a period of about 15 years.  I lived in Indianapolis, Minneapolis; Madison, Wisconsin; Baltimore, Maryland and Southern California (also twice).  The result is, on Facebook, I keep finding listings of people I know that I know, and those whose name I recognize, and those who are complete strangers to me, as I’m  sure \ I am to them, but apparently we know a great many of the same people.  Facebook says so.

Occasionally I strike a lucky name and find I can correspond with someone I really admire, a writer,teacher, rabbi, religious leader, or a new and spiritually gifted human being I never would have known, except for the fact that we have seven, 13, 18 or even 23 friends in common.

I find that amazing?  I”friend them.’ And, sometimes, they ‘friend’ me back.  And sometimes they don’t.  I can hardly be upset if they don’t, because after all, we might have three, 13 or 23 friends in common, but we don’t really know each other.  But, perhaps we will get to know each other, through wonderful observations, through the photos they share, the comments they make, the messages they send, or what have  you.

And maybe, just maybe, they will find my listing and my blog just interesting enough to read my books, encourage my writing or at least tell me to get back to work on my novels, and stop fooling around.  It’s possible.  So, friends of friends of friends: I welcome you to my world.  I hope that what ever holiday you celebrate at this time of new life, the only two I’m familiar with are Passover or Easter, but I’m sure there are others, I wish you well. One day our worlds  may expand sufficiently so that we are actual friends, not just friends of friends.

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What I Saw In San Francisco, And What I Learned (Tomorrow, Part 2)


Scenes for a novel that will probably never be written, but ought to be.

1. Three of us were travelling to Haight Ashbury.  It  ought to be in a time machine, but it was a plain old city bus.  However there was a time machine in front of us. It was really a tour bus, painted like the old VW vans of the 60’s on their way to the Summer of Love. (1967)  Peace signs front and back, flowers and other foliage in wonderful colors, some of the finest graffiti ever.   And, pouring out of the windows-bubbles-lots and lots of bubbles, large and small. Seemingly from nowhere.  Nothing obvious, like little children with tiny plastic wands sitting at the windows.  It was as if the bus was producing the bubbles for our entertainment.  The bubbles floated back and up, just as magical as they always have been; rainbows captured for just seconds, and just for us on our way to a magical mystery tour.


2.  On the front steps of one of the most dignified of the cities ‘painted ladies’–the wonderful Victorian homes painted so imaginatively.  Paint jobs in multiple colors. As I said, this one had gone for dignified, navy blue, maroon, dark green and a lot of dark gold trim.  And there, sitting on the stairs painted pewter, about twenty people had gathered for a group portrait.  (Did I mention it was Saint Patrick’s Day?)  Each person on the stairs was wearing various shades of bilious ‘paddy’ green, hats, t-shirts, feather boas, sneakers, socks and jackets.  All shades of St. Pat’s green, all perfectly awful.  They had their green arms around each other’s green shoulders.  Some wore their green bowler hats and some had lent them to one or two of the leprechauns with them.    I’m sure they had just had green bagels for lunch, topped off with green cream cheese (shudder) And somehwere in the crowd I’m sure there was green beer.

I also think I saw the house trying to cringe away from them.  If that painted lady could have upped and walked away, disowning the whole bunch of them, I’m sure she’d have done it.

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Never on New Year’s First Day


Ever since I decided to go steady with a boy friend (while I was in High School) and we started on New Year’s Eve, I have avoided beginning anything in that particular period of time, from about six thirty p.m. the eve of New Year, to midnight the next day.  As you can probably guess the course of that true love did not run smoothly.

I came to the conclusion that New Year’s Eve and Day were a bad time to start anything new, except the year.

So, I begin this effort, to get the news out about my second book, The Rabbi’s Husband, and the re-issue of my first book, The Binding, today, an anonymous day in December 2012 with nothing special ascribed to it.

I hope many of you will come to read my blog regularly.

And, when you get to 2013 I hope only good things come your way.

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And the Rockets’ Red Glare

Last night in Israel, my granddaughter and her husband (they are very newly married and settling in Israel) we going home on a regular area bus when terrorists threw two Molotov cocktails at their bus.

One hit my granddaughter’s window, but did not go off, and the other rolled under the bus.

Fortunately no one was hurt.

During the Gulf War of 1991, the one where Israel kept expecting gas attacks since Saddam Hussein had used gas on his own people, my daughter, her husband and her then three-year-old son, our oldest grandchild (now almost 25) were living in the north, in a kibbuitz that was regularly shelled.(That grandson is returning to Israel sometime in the coming year. He has revived his Hebrew – he was fluent when he lived there – and will return, possibly to work and maybe to make a permanent aliyah to live in Israel

There are an awful lot of parentheticals in that paragraph. That is because the situation in Israel is complex and not easy to explain, not even on this personal level. When you watch the news, please make sure the coverage you see is balanced. The back and forth of this age-old (and that is literal, ages-old) problem is rarely covered with any deep understanding or true perspective. Who has the most heart-wrenching picture or story at the moment seems to be what gets covered.

Only now, after twenty years, I find I can use the 1991 war in a book with some ease. Grist for the mill, fodder for the story, etc. But so tragic. So many lives shortened, blighted, traumatized. When the book I’m currently working on is finished, perhaps I will have ‘digested’ the 1991 war somewhat. As to this current situation: That could take the rest of my life.

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Word Games

What else would an author play but word games?  Currently I play Scrabble, Wordscraper and Lexulous.  I’m afraid to investigate Word with Friends or any other such games, because, as everyone knows, word games are addictive.

So are Solitaire and Angry Birds and Farmville, I’m sure.  When I got my first computer I actually developed carpal tunnel playing Solitaire.  And I don’t like cards, don’t play cards and am not very happy with numbers in general.  I wish my bank account and my credit card each had a name, not a series of numbers.  My husband knows all his credit cards by their sixteen-digit ‘first name’ and by their security ‘last name’ but I do not.

You’d think that as an author, a one-time editor and one time-feature writer, etc, I’d be good at word games?  I am not, at least not especially.  I play with a few friends where we are evenly matched, and with a couple of people who beat me (and, it seems everyone else they play with) all the time.  It keeps one humble, let me tell you, even if one already has a lot to be humble about.

There are some young folks, including my own daughters, who beat me consistently.  I didn’t know why—and it seemed downright un-filial—until I saw my oldest daughter actually play a game.  She uses the computer to find words, searching out endings and beginnings of words and generally playing the computer along with the game.  I’ve decided not to go that route, win or lose.  If I play without too many aids—maybe just the odd look at the two-letter-word lists and the odd peek at the dictionary before I play—at least I’ll know what is stored in my brain.

Right now though, despite this column, and the unfinished manuscripts that await me (my next two books) the games of Scrabble, etc., look very attractive.

So let me go back to work.  (You decide whether that is to manuscripts or games) and take this opportunity to wish you the very happiest and most thankful of Thanksgiving.

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Want to experience Rebirth?

Take one novel.  In this case The Binding, which was originally published in 2005 but that had been a part of my life since 2000 when I submitted it, in an early version, for my M.A. thesis at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

After pretty good sales and good publicity, my publisher said she was no longer publishing paperback novels, only e-books, and so I had an ‘out of print’ book.

This is something of a misnomer, since the book was published originally by ‘print on demand’ technology, which was then apparently synonymous with ‘self-publishing’ but actually only meant the book was digitally printed and so the file, and therefore printing it, could go on forever.   No one had to warehouse The Binding.

However, The Binding was not going to go on forever.  By that time my second novel The Rabbi’s Husband had been put out by a different small publisher.  (Good bless small publishers and all their doings, by the way.)

At any rate, the same publisher offered to ‘reprint’ The Binding.  Now, recognize that much of this language is out of date.  We’re just hanging on to it in the same way we use the names of horse-drawn carriages to describe cars (coupe, salon, etc.).

So, today, the second edition of The Binding came into my hand. It has a new and very beautiful cover, designed by a gifted friend, Rena Konheim, with the cooperation of the art glass company that created a stained glass window about The Binding of Isaac and the church that houses that window.

This is rebirth, nothing less.  I have another chance to put out the word on The Binding, my book that deals with the lives of the three men, all sons of Holocaust survivors.  Oddly, I have just resurrected an old manuscript about a woman who is, unknowingly, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.   No, I don’t think it’s a theme, and no, I’m not the child of survivors, any more than our whole society is a survivor of that darkest period of recent history.

If you have a chance, look up The Binding on Amazon, and soon, on Kindle.  In its first iteration it has been very kindly reviewed, was a best seller in Canada and now appears on the college curriculum, both in Holocaust studies and religious studies departments, a several universities.

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The Land of Counterpane

It is said that those who were often sick as children, spent a great deal of time looking out the window and reading.  Apparently many writers, including me, share this common background.  Why not? Illness can certainly make a child a reader. And readers often aspire to be writers.

Now, as an adult, I am facing a couple of weeks in bed as foot surgery heals. “Just two weeks” the doctor says and I find my anxiety level rising as the surgery (Friday the 18th of May) comes closer and closer.

I have all sorts of plans: a stack of magazines to read.  Just the copies of the Times Literary Supplement, my special weekly ‘treat’ from the The Times of London, ought to keep me busy.  Deliberately, I haven’t read the last four editions.   And of course two more will arrive while I’m in bed.

I have a stock pile of 14 novels and four non-fictions books that I should have read years ago, but never took the time.   (Any novel any time is my reading philosophy.  The rest when you have time.)

Then there is my real work. There are proofs to read on the re-issue of The Binding with a gorgeous new cover as my first publisher, RockWay Press, is packing it in.  (Thanks RockWay, you made all the difference in my career.)

There are also the two novels I’m currently working on.  I do not know where the habit of working on two at a time comes from, but it might be from my habit of reading several books at one time. (No, not simultaneously) A friend of mine recently said something like this: My upstairs book is a mystery. My downstairs book is a romance. My book in the car is a thriller,   That’s exactly how I am, exactly.  Thank you, Judy Seid for stating it so well.

And of course there is this blog. Hard to know if I ever would have got around to  blogging if I wasn’t facing time in bed.  Perhaps this is like the idea that there was something useful about having been a ‘sick kid.’ Nice to think that time had it’s uses and that this time facing me will be useful too.

Here is Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem on the subject.  (I first read this when I was a kid in bed with a wonderful set of gift books called My Book House.


When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

–  Robert Louis Stevenson





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