October 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm (Uncategorized)

The other day, I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” There’s a shot of a sign that says “Hammonton, Blueberry Capital of the World.”

While it’s true that Hammonton does accurately call itself the Blueberry Capital of the World, was it true in 1920? I had my doubts. After all, it wasn’t until 1916 that Elizabeth White, after working for five years with Frederick Coville, of the US Department of Agriculture, to develop a commercially viable blueberry, succeeded in hybridizing one that was large enough, durable enough, and tasty enough to be marketed. Four years later, when “Boardwalk Empire” takes place, it wasn’t Hammonton that was the blueberry capital of anywhere, it was Whitesbog, the cranberry operation begun by White’s grandfather and still (to this day) owned by his descendants.

But maybe I was wrong. Strange as it may seem, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have on occasion been mistaken. So, I did what I am best at, and researched the topic. I already knew that Hammonton, in Atlantic County near its border with Camden County, was nowhere close to Whitesbog, at the border of Burlington and Ocean Counties. What I didn’t realize was how far apart they are – thirty-seven miles and, at today’s speeds, a fifty-two minute drive. In 1920, what was the likelihood that Elizabeth White had traveled to Hammonton to transplant their high bush blueberries? Consider, too, that in 1920 the roads in the Pine Barrens were not paved, and the predominance of congestion and traffic lights today are not enough to make the trip longer than it was then.

But I could find nothing about when Hammonton began to call itself the Blueberry Capital of the world. Nothing, that is, until I came across a posting on with the obituary of former Hammonton mayor George A. Mortellite. The relevant passage: “During his tenure as Mayor he signed a proclamation on March 28, 1987, proclaiming the town of Hammonton as the Blueberry Capital of the World.”

Talk about anachronisms. It was sixty-seven years after the events portrayed in “Boardwalk Empire” that the first “Hammonton, Blueberry Capital of the World” was erected.

Anachronisms bug me. I’m not sure why, as I’m generally able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy even the most absurd premises. (I am a huge fan of British science fiction TV series.) And so I try to avoid anachronisms in my own writing.

CHANUKAH GUILT takes place the end of November-beginning of December, 2002. UNLEAVENED DEAD, the next book in the series takes place the end of March-beginning of April, 2004. Trying to keep track of movies, weather, TV shows, is easy – I have bookmarked several sites which give me the information. More difficult is trying to remember what technology was in common usage.

Facebook, I know from the release of the recent movie “The Social Network,” was just getting started. But what about texting? I’ve been trying to remember when my husband and I first started. I know it was after our older son had been doing it for a while, and he got a detention his senior year of high school (2006) when he had forgotten to turn off his phone and my husband sent him a text. But how much earlier were we texting? I decided to take the easy way out and not mention texting.

Generic MP3 players and DVRs? Brand specific IPods and TiVo? Safer not to mention them.

I did find references to Internet cafés by then, but not to free wifi. I have my protagonist Aviva and her niece, the computer whiz, in such a café, but avoid the issue of how Trudy connected to the ‘net.

I checked on the status of same sex marriage in 2004 and what the current regulations were then. Some have changed since then, but at least it is accurate (I hope) for the time. The same is true of local laws about carbon monoxide detectors in private homes.

I’ve tried my best to avoid anachronisms in my books. I just wish HBO had done the same. I know – it’s called fiction because the writer can make things up. But it still bugs me.


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August 26, 2010 at 2:39 pm (Uncategorized)

My latest guest blog entry, this one on Patricia Stoltey’s site. The topic is “Sources of Inspiration.” Check it out and leave a comment!

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Article in Orange County Jewish Life

August 1, 2010 at 10:48 pm (Uncategorized)

Thanks to my namesake, fellow writer, and redhead Ilene Schneider for the nice write up about my presentation at the Orange County JCC two weeks ago.

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July 28, 2010 at 11:49 am (Uncategorized)

SEE PHOTOS OF THE TRIP ON MY FACEBOOK PAGE:!/album.php?aid=32564&id=1675915483

Is it a book tour when the author is going to be in an area anyway and arranges some readings and signings herself? And combines the “tour” with a vacation? And does it matter? (Besides, of course, to the IRS, but I’ll leave it to our accountant to figure it out.)

On July 13, I presented a program on Talk Dirty Yiddish at the annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies in LA; the next day, I repeated the program at the Orange County JCC in Irvine, and appeared at the Mystery Ink Bookstore in Huntington Beach for a signing of Chanukah Guilt. I sold books throughout the conference (and at the JCC and the bookstore). And I reread what I had already completed of Unleavened Dead and rewrote entire sections. But here’s the context of the “tour”:

When Gary and I were both asked to present programs at the IAJGS, we decided to take advantage of our temporary empty nest and go a week early so we could have a vacation. A real vacation, no agenda, no plans, no chores, no cooking, no cleaning, no laundry (that awaited our return home), no kids. It was the longest we’d gone away together, minus kids, in, oh, about 22 ½ years. (Natan is 22. Do the math. We did.)

We were in full tourist mode, sightseeing and eating our way through LA and environs. We took a “hop-on, hop-off” bus tour (no celeb houses, though – we figured we’d only see gates and lawns – but lots of tourists looking for celebs), went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and LaBrea Tar Pits and Santa Monica Pier (2 birds I’d never seen before , aka “lifers”: Heermann’s Gull and Western Gull) and the Grammy Museum and the Paley Center for Media and “South Pacific” (where we bought Ari a t-shirt, since he was in the play at camp) and Olvera Street . . . and ate . . . and ate . . . and ate. We even experienced an earthquake. (Epicenter 150 miles away, but the hotel swayed. Fun only because there were no injuries, no damage, and it lasted only a few seconds. Felt longer.)

The highlight of our eating adventures was the Mexican ice cream festival at a restaurant next to the hotel. Even without the kids to witness our transgression, we felt guilty eating dessert for dinner, so we had a guacamole appetizer first. Then the ice cream. Mexican chocolate (cinnamon made it different) and blueberry and Mexican cookie (cinnamon again) dough and sweet cream and, my favorite, the most intensely flavored mint I’d ever tasted, laced with ribbons of Mexican chocolate and topped with pomegranate sauce. I’d better move on to another topic before I short out my laptop from the drool.

After the conference began, Gary was busy attending sessions. So, the ever devoted spouse, I rented a car and took off on my own. I went up to Griffith Park, home not only of the iconic Griffith Observatory, film location of the observatory scenes in “Rebel without a Cause;” not only of a bird sanctuary, where I saw a lifer black Phoebe; but of the newly (to me anyway) iconic Greek Theatre. I had no idea the pseudonymous site of “Get Him to the Greek” was an actual place. It was, unfortunately, closed, so I had to look elsewhere for an Infant Sorrow t-shirt for Natan.

I continued down the hill (mountain? Earthquake-created mound?), around the corner, and up the hill to the LA Zoo. (Another lifer in the rushing water feature at the entrance: American Dipper. Don’t ask why I didn’t take a picture. Truth: I didn’t think of it.)

Then it was off to Franklin Canyon, where I discovered the joys of driving a car on 1 ½ lane switchbacks with cars coming in both directions. It’s also where I discovered that a GPS with spoken directions is much safer than trying to look at a printout from Google Maps (often inaccurate) while driving on said switchbacks. For once in my life, I drove with both hands on the wheel, my foot hovering over the brake, and my eyes firmly on the road. Fortunately, I made it; unfortunately, the nature center (but not the grounds) had closed 10 minutes earlier and the ranger wouldn’t unlock it for me. But I did get another lifer: an Anna’s hummingbird. Two, in fact, flittering around a tree. Not even at a feeder.

I ended the day at the Milky Way, a Kosher dairy restaurant owned by Lea Spielberg. Yes, the mother of that Spielberg. She greeted me at the door, showed me to my table, was very gracious, asked me about myself and then told the other patrons (no celebs, alas; at least none I recognized) that I was a rabbi from New Jersey. She was particularly tickled when I told her I lived near Haddonfield, where the family lived when Steven (may I call him “Steven”?) was growing up. I gave her one of my cards with info. about my books and fantasized for about 2 minutes about getting an email from her son. I told her how much Ari likes Schindler’s List, which he saw as part of his class on literature of the Holocaust, and she told me proudly how Steven had taken her with him to Poland. She said she every now and then looks in the mirror and thinks, “I’m WHOSE mother?”

Oh, did I mention that we ate a lot of great food?

On the way back east, we took the redeye to Minneapolis, a puddle jumper to Rhinelander, WI, rented a car, drove to the middle of nowhere, turned left and kept going until we reached Camp Ramah in the North Woods (aka Conover), WI. We had missed visiting day because of our LA trip and came for Shabbat instead.
It was a wonderful experience, unhurried, uncrowded, peaceful.

But hot. It’s supposed to be cold, or at least chilly, up there. It wasn’t. So we didn’t need all the sweaters and long pants we’d brought (bringing our individual bags to just under the 50 lb. limit for each). We did, however, need insect repellant. Ten days later, and I’m still scratching.

Best of all, of course, was seeing Ari and witnessing for ourselves what a terrific and successful summer he’s having.

Worst of all was getting home again. The trip was fine. And Natan picked us up at the Philadelphia airport. It was great to see Natan, who had not only kept the plants on the back deck alive but had planted new ones on the front porch. We could tell he hadn’t taken advantage of our absence (not that we expected him to) and had a wild party, because the house was as messy as we had left it. (If he’d had a party, he would have had to straighten up first and his friends would have left the place in better condition than we had.) It was the transition back to “real life” that was tough. I may have been away from work for 2 weeks, but it then took another week to get caught up.

Ah, well, it was fun while it lasted. But Unleavened Dead won’t write itself.

Did I mention we ate our way through LA?

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So. CA signings

June 17, 2010 at 8:14 pm (Uncategorized)

In addition to my presentation on Yiddish at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies convention in LA at 2:00 PM on July 13, I have two other readings/signings scheduled, both on July 14:

10:30-11:30 AM:
“Books and Bagels”
Orange County JCC
1 Federation Drive
Irvine, CA

1:00 PM:
Mystery Ink bookstore
Goldenwest Plaza
7176 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
714 960-4000

Hope to see you there!

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THANKS . . .

June 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm (Uncategorized)

. . . to the Connecticut Jewish Ledger for recommending Talk Dirty Yiddish in its article on “Jewish style” Father’s Day Gifts!

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May 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm (Uncategorized)

A fellow writer divides authors into “pantsers” (who write by the seat of their pants) and “plotters” (who outline every twist and turn). I’m in the first category, which is why I sometimes feel as though I’m not moving ahead with my writing. I just added another 2,000 words to Unleavened Dead, but they were additions to an already completed (I thought) scene. Then, of course, I had to go back and add bits to earlier scenes so the newly expanded one would make sense. In the meantime, it looks as though I haven’t accomplished anything, except to move page 177 ahead to page 186.

To me, “plotting” would be “plodding.” I would get bored putting muscles and flesh onto the skeleton of the outline. I like the adventure of the unknown. (At least when it comes to writing fiction. I’m not sure it would be as much fun in real life. Or to writing non-fiction. Talk Dirty Yiddish was definitely planned in advance. I had the lists of words before I began to write the definitions or examples.)

I’ve tried to outline my fiction, but it doesn’t work for me. It’s a cliche for authors to say their characters “write themselves,” but they do sometimes take on a life of their own and lead me in unexpected directions. I told Gary a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t know what time I’d get home: I had to finish writing a scene to find out what was going to happen.

This “organic growth” approach can cause problems, though, and I can find myself writing my characters into a corner and having no idea how to get them back to the center of the room. Yet, somehow, it always seems to work out. As I’ve said before, I do my best thinking in the shower, and can be very clean when I’m on a roll.

I’m on a roll, so I expect our water bill to increase.

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How I Spent My Day Off

April 28, 2010 at 6:35 pm (Uncategorized)

I had the day off today, as I do most Wednesdays. The up-side of working part-time is that I can flex my time. The down-side of working part-time is that, well, it’s part-time. The only things on my schedule today were:

1. to take my 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid in for its 40,000 mile maintenance check. I’m heading to Arlington, VA, for Malice Domestic on Friday and didn’t feel like taking the trip with the annoying “maintenance required” (or “main req”) notice flashing at me.

2. to call a JCC in the LA area (okay, an hour away) to arrange a book presentation. Easy to do.

3. to be “on call” in case I would be shuttling my son to his community Jewish high school class tonight.

Should be no problem at all to knock off at least a few of the approximately 37,000 words left until I can type “The End” on the manuscript of Unleavened Dead, right? Yeah, right.

The car was going to take about 2 hours. Again, no problem. I had the laptop and the customer lounge had free wifi. I turned on the laptop, spent about 20 minutes figuring out how to access the wifi (some servers come up automatically; some don’t; this one didn’t), & discovered the “h” key is sticking. (Still is, but usually does work. Do you have any idea how many times the letter “h” is used?)

At some point in the late night, or, more likely, early morning, I realized I had given the sexual predator dead guy in my book too common a name. I spent a lot of time googling names (including “Aviva Cohen” – found a doctor and an artist and a few others, but no rabbis), and “John Cummings, Ph.D.” (I found several listed, including some therapists, which my character is. Was.) morphed into “John Quincy Moorhouse, Ph.D,” of whom there were none (even without the Ph.D.). I opened my “first draft” and “character” files and did a find-and-replace. What did we do before computers? I remember having to write papers by chiseling each letter into a rock. Boy, was that a pain to edit.

I was expecting some important emails, so I had to check my 3 yahoo accounts (and the Library Friends account, too, as long as I was already in yahoo) and, of course, facebook. Then I had to reply to all the messages.

Finally, I was ready to start writing, but first I had to reread what I had last written. I realized there were some things to add (and delete, but the number count didn’t change much). I was going to start writing the next chapter, when the mechanic came to tell me the car was fine. Yes, they did have to change the accelerator pedal and floor mat “as a precaution,” even though the hybrid was not on the official recall list.

Had lunch with my husband at our favorite Japanese restaurant. (The server already knows what we’re going to order.) Had to make some phone calls, had to check work emails and voice mail, had to reply to some of both. (Classic definition of part-time work: full-time work for part-time pay.) Decided to go to the library to pick up a book on hold that was going to be given to the next in line tomorrow. Went back to the car to call LA (no reception in the library, and rude to use cell phones there anyway). Decided to get the thingy (I can never remember what it’s called) that holds the drill bit onto the drill. Too many choices, decided to return to the hardware store with the drill. In the meantime, texting and calling both of my sons and my husband.

I’m off duty tonight – my husband is doing the driving – so it’s off to Borders to write. Which I am doing. This posting, not the book. Well, still 2 1/2 hours till closing time.

Wonder if anything new has shown up on facebook in the past 15 minutes?

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April 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ll be in LA in July, arriving the night of July 4 and leaving on the redeye on July 15 (midnight of the 16th) On Tuesday afternoon, July 13, I’ll be doing a session based on Talk Dirty Yiddish at the annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies. Otherwise, I’m willing, able, eager to visit synagogues, bookstores, libraries, book clubs – basically anywhere I can speak (and, not coincidentally, sell books (Talk Dirty Yiddish and/or Chanukah Guilt).

I’m also looking to add to my Life List by birding the west coast. Anyone know of any good pelagic trips? Or, for that matter, any birding outings? Hiking is not in my repertoire of abilities. But I don’t get seasick.

Please contact me privately at: if you have any leads (or offers).


I’ll be staying at the JW Marriott, LA Live, 900 W. Olympic Blvd.

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New review of Talk Dirty Yiddish

March 27, 2010 at 10:02 am (Uncategorized)

A short review of Talk Dirty Yiddish in a blog. She wrote: “Written clearly and with plenty of very useful explanation, Talk Dirty: Yiddish was one of the most educational and truly beguiling gag gifts I’ve ever received and I would definitely recommend it to anyone wishing to learn about their roots or merely to swear in public and not get reprimanded.”

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