A Difficult Year

As we all know, 2023 was a hard year. Runaway inflation, the likes of which we haven’t seen in 40 years; undocumented migrants pouring into the country, the intentions of many are not yet apparent; and the Russians massacring civilians, raping women, and torturing prisoners of war in their invasion of the Ukraine. Communist China is eying to take over the tiny country of Taiwan, a democracy. The opioid crisis is shattering families, and the deep-seated corruption of the U.S. government is now on full display.  Then, a few months ago on October 7, during the Jewish festival of Shemini Atzeret, Hamas terrorists from Gaza infiltrated Israel and massacred over 1,200 Israelis, which included raping women, burning whole families alive, decapitating babies, and taking Israelis and foreigners from multiple countries as hostages. Taking in all these horrific events, I have felt disoriented thinking about all those suffering worldwide. At this moment, my heart is aching just imagining the fate of those kidnapped in Gaza. But my sadness reached a personal level when my writer friend Jacky passed away in November. She spent 38 days in the hospital become she succumbed. It seems a short while ago I saw her lively and busy, sharing her medical articles for her community newsletter and her poetry for special days on the calendar.  Now she is gone.

Jacky did more than write medical articles and poetry. She was a nurse for 55 years and a beloved mother and grandmother. She had many good friends because she was a good friend. I knew her for about 8 years as a member of the Word Lovers writing group. After I wrote and published my first novel, Jacky invited me to discuss it at her community book club. I’ll never forget her kindness and support.

My parents passed away five months apart in 2020.  I felt lost and adrift then, and it’s the same feeling I have now. A lifelong news junkie, I now have trouble watching the news and hearing about all the everyday horrible events. It seems as if evil reigns. Many feel the evil winds are similar to when the Nazis came to power in Germany. Forces of hatred have been unleashed.

But I have to tell myself that it’s not all darkness. I still meet many wonderful people. I was also gladdened Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania and Claudine Gay of Harvard were forced to resign for tolerating antisemitism on their college campuses. Major donors to these schools are pulling out and large corporations will not hire graduates with a history of supporting hate. News is swirling that pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Biogen Inc are preparing to introduce a drug to finally put an end to Alzheimer’s, which would save so many people and their families from the anguish of a cruel disease robbing people of their minds. And of course, babies are still being born, a sure sign that life must go on.

And we have elections in 2024. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the American people elect wise leaders who put the citizens of this country before their own self-interests so the United States can once again be a beacon for good in the world. For the world desperately needs it.

Unfortunately, tragedies and senseless violence will not automatically end, but what the world needs is a reason for hope and optimism that life can improve for all.

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Elvis-Jewish connection

Book Review: The Jewish World of Elvis Presley

TITLE: The Jewish World of Elvis Presley

AUTHOR: Roselle Kline Chartock

ISBN: 979-8-6866-0444-5

PUBLISHER: McKinstry Place Publishers, November 24, 2020

Elvis Presley and Jews. Whatever is the connection? Lots, according to author Roselle Kline Chartock in her book The Jewish World of Elvis Presley. OK, you may say, there were many Jews in Hollywood and in the rock and roll world. That’s true, but his connection actually began long before that. Elvis developed close relationships with Jewish people while he was growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, the Deep South where Jews were not always welcome in the 1950s.

Consider these little-known facts in Chartock’s book:

  • At one time, a Rabbi Fruchter and his family lived upstairs from the Presley family for over a year. Elvis was in high school then. Jeannette Fruchter, the rabbi’s wife, described the Presley’s as “very poor but very refined” (p.16). She and Elvis’ mother were as close as sisters. When the Presley’s couldn’t pay their utility bills, Jeanette would loan Gladys money and she always paid it back. Once a month the Fruchter’s had the Presley’s over for their Friday night Sabbath meal. Elvis particularly loved the challah, the matzoh ball soup, and the tzimmes. During those meals, Elvis would wear a yarmulke. He also was the family’s Sabbath helper, turning on lights or making phone calls for them as needed. It was customary to tip the Sabbath helper, but Elvis would never accept a tip, telling them “It was his pleasure” (p.18).
  • Bernard Lansky, whose family were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, owned the Lansky Brothers clothing store in Memphis.  They dressed many of the local Black entertainers. The story goes that Elvis, who worked as an usher at the Loew’s State Theater nearby, would stand in front of the Lansky Brothers store and stare at the clothes in the window. One day Bernard invited the teenage Elvis into the store and asked if he would like to try on one of the outfits. “No, sir. I ain’t got nothin’. But when I do, when I save up some money, I’m gonna come in here and buy you out.” Legend has it that Bernard answered him, “Hey, do me a favor, don’t buy me out. Just buy from me” (p. 60).  And Elvis did for the rest of his life.  When he became famous, the Lansky Brothers would advertise they were the “Clothier to the King.” Whenever anyone asked Elvis where he got his clothes, he would always reply, “I bought it at Lansky’s on Beale Street” (p. 64).
  • Hal Levitch owned a jewelry store on the same Beale Street where the Lansky Brothers had their clothing store. Levitch, who grew up poor in Memphis, was a big fundraiser for those in need. He even set up a fund to provide new shoes for students from poor families. He helped many of Elvis’ friends and possibly Elvis himself. When Elvis became famous, he bought jewelry from him, including the wedding ring he presented to Priscilla. Levitch also custom-made watches, one with a Christian cross and a Star of David on the face. It was a symbol of brotherhood and Elvis gifted this watch to his friends. They were lifelong friends, and at one point, Levitch wanted to stage an intervention with others to get Elvis to enter treatment at the Mayo Clinic when they saw him getting sick. Unfortunately, they weren’t successful.
  • Dr. Lester Hofman and his wife Sterling were close friends of Elvis. They visited him at Graceland when Elvis’ mother passed away. They were invited to the reception that Elvis made for his Memphis friends when he got married and to a special buffet when Lisa Marie Presley was born. He bought the Hofman’s Cadillacs and gifted Sterling a TLC (Tender Loving Care) necklace that he gave to women friends. When they once visited Presley at Graceland, Dr. Hofman admired his organ, so later that night, Elvis had it packed in a truck. The truck followed the Hofman’s home where the organ was installed in the dentist’s living room.

There were other Jewish people who were close to Elvis before his career launched into superstardom. And there were many in the music and movie businesses when he became famous. Even his entourage, known as the Memphis Mafia, consisted of many Jews. But I found those friends in the early years to be particularly touching. Everyone interviewed said he was polite, well-mannered, and never forgot a kindness. But Chartock’s book also contained a shocking revelation that may be true but is little known: Elvis Presley’s great great grandmother was Jewish. Nancy Burdine lived in Memphis in the 1800s. Her family came from Lithuania. She converted to Christianity when she married and had a daughter, Martha. When Martha grew up, she married and had a daughter, Octavia. Octavia married and had Gladys, Presley’s mother. If this lineage is confirmed, Elvis is Jewish by halachah (Jewish law).

As the reader can see, there are indeed many connections between Elvis Presley and Jews.

Who would’ve thought?

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Man crashing his head on his laptop

Welcome to the Simple, Stress-Free World of Technology

Today I am digressing from my usual topics of books, writing, and causes to share my thoughts about our wonderful world of advanced technology.

Whenever I call any type of company or organization now, there are no longer live human beings to communicate with. Instead, a recording informs me to choose from a list of options and press the number that applies to my request. After I press the designated key, the recording then instructs me to wait for my turn. This wait can be anywhere from five minutes to 40. I’m just outta luck if I happen to be in a hurry, but this is our new world of advanced, sophisticated technology.

Being middle-aged, I am used to conducting my bank business by physically entering the bank and speaking to a teller. But those days will soon be gone—a bank representative recently told me that the bank will be doing away with tellers sometime in the near future. If I want to do bank business, I will have to do it on my cell phone, home computer or through their automated tellers. Just think what fun that will be when I may have an urgent question or issue?

Seeing fewer cashiers at the stores? Who needs people working for a living when there’s self-checkout! Load all your overpriced items yourself and follow the automated machine’s instructions to complete the transaction. At my local supermarket the other day, a few of the cash registers were open and they had long lines, so I used one of the automated machines. I encountered a problem and had to hunt down a store employee, who was busy helping another patron. I stood waiting until she was free. That certainly made my shopping experience easier and more pleasant.

Isn’t it so much easier now to look for a job? Downloading your application often doesn’t work the first time and if there’s a required question you don’t understand or doesn’t apply to you, that’s just too bad. Even better, many of the job ads are not even worth the time crafting a cover letter for because they only land in cyberspace and is seen by no one. Just think about all those hours wasted.

On my street young children often gather to play ball in the street. What a pleasure it is seeing children meet together for actual human contact. Most are holed up in their homes communicating via cell phone or playing fantasy video games that encourages social skills (I’m being facetious here.).

And don’t forget the social media giants who are now controlling what we are allowed to say and think. Who needs independent thought and opinions in the age of technology when if you voice a statement that does not align with the powers that be, you can get canceled and ostracized?

Yes, we are so lucky today to be living in our great sophisticated world of technology. Who needs the old days when people were treated like human beings, more people were employed, and you could express your own opinion?

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Book Recommendation: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Title: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Author: Renni Browne and Dave King

Publisher: HarperPerennial (A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers)

ISBN: 0-06-270061-8

Pages: 240

Publication Date: March 1, 1994

A writer friend of mine suggested I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and I am so glad I did. The book is not only helpful for editing, but it also offers a wealth of guidance during the actual writing process. Authors Renni Browne and Dave King have worked at The Editorial Department for a number of years, and they offer sound, practical, and easy to follow advice. Each chapter covers the most important aspects of story writing like showing rather than telling, paying attention to point of view, and pointers for writing dialogue. The following are a few words of advice Browne and King offers fiction writers:

  1. They write about beats in dialogue. “Beats are the little bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes—the literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as stage business” (p. 102). Beats can also include interior monologue, or a character’s inner dialogue. Beats serve three purposes: 1.) They give readers insights into a character’s personality. 2.) They add rhythm and variety to dialogue. 3.) They allow readers to form a picture of what is happening in the scene. But at the same time, Browne and King caution too many beats can interrupt a scene to the point that it loses its tension or flow.
  2. Be careful about proportion in your writing. Do not fill in every detail and leave nothing to the reader’s imagination. Example: “Joe saw the orange and white cat with the light green eyes and short whiskers run across the sixteen-foot oak tree whose leaves had fallen down this past month.”
  3. Avoid needless repetition. Example: “Sue missed the house she lived in while growing up. The house was spacious and comfortable and her parents had hosted many parties at this house. Sue thought about the house often.” The writing will not flow and interfere with the readers’ enjoyment of the story.
  4. Stay away from cliches, such as “Think outside the box” and “The pot calling the kettle black.”
  5. Avoid -ly adverbs. Strive for strong verbs in place of a weak verb with an adverb. For example, replace “Angrily she put the book on the desk” with “She slammed the book on the desk.”
  6. Do not overuse as and -ing constructions. Although they are grammatically correct, a writer should not use them in a story because, as Browne and King explain, they “…take a bit of action…and tuck it away in a dependent clause” and “they sometimes give rise to physical impossibilities” (p. 156). Examples: “As she unpacked her suitcase, she glanced at her mother from the window” or “Unpacking her suitcase, she glanced at her mother from the window.” Better: “She unpacked her suitcase and glanced at her mother from the window.”
  7. Do not overuse interior monologue to the point where it is constantly interrupting dialogue, repeating what is already mentioned in the actual dialogue, or packing them in with too much information.
  8. Use dashes (–) for interruptions and ellipsis (…) for gaps in the dialogue.
  9. This is probably the flaw fiction writers hear the most: Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling readers a man is greedy, show him paying his workers a meager wage while keeping all the profits for himself. The authors also write, “Are you describing your characters’ feelings? Have you told us they’re angry? irritated? morose? … Keep an eye out for any places where you mention an emotion outside of dialogue. Chances are you’re telling what you should show” (p. 11).
  10. Do not keep shifting the point of view. The point of view may be in the first person, it may be omniscient (not inside any of the character’s heads), or third person. When choosing third person, keep it consistent. If the writer wants to change the point of view, there has to be a scene or chapter break.
  11. When writing dialogue, be sure to use contractions (I’m, can’t, etc.) because you want to write the way people talk. You can also include sentence fragments. Avoid using complex words with many syllables unless that particular character uses them all the time. You want to write dialogue that sounds natural.

Important points to keep in mind!

The book includes a checklist and exercises at the end of the chapters. I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as a reference book. For this fiction writer, I found it truly helpful in the writing and editing processes.

Idelle Kursman is an editor, proofreader, and SEO copywriter. She is also the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations.

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Robynn Honeychurch

Interview with Romance Author Robynn Honeychurch

I had the pleasure of interviewing Robynn Honeychurch. She writes beautiful and heart-warming romance novels– but that’s not all! Robynn is passionate about homeschooling and wrote a book to inform and guide parents who are considering this avenue to educate their children. We spoke about her background, her writing, and the benefits she found in homeschooling her child.

Q.  Tell me about yourself and your background.

A. I grew up in British Columbia, Canada, to hippy parents who moved around a lot. I met my husband in University and it took us a while to decide to settle down on Vancouver Island where my parents and sisters are.  When we moved into the little house we purchased in the small town of Comox it was my 64 move!  I had my daughter at 31, and, due to a lot of challenges she has faced, committed to homeschooling her.  I also worked online as a homeschool support teacher through a government funded program until last year when I decided I’d have enough of doing what I was “supposed to” do.  It was time for me to return to my dream of writing!

Q.  When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing?

A. I began writing poems in earnest in grade 5, and that’s about the time the idea of being a writer formed in my mind.  In grades 8 and 9 I wrote many short stories and had several published in anthologies and the local paper.  In grade 11, I published my first book of poetry through my aunt’s printing press.  And although the dream of being a money-making published author has stayed with me all these years, life has gotten in the way.  I did, however, publish a children’s book in 2002. Now, though, I have the time to dedicate to this dream, and I am focusing on my desire to write novels!

Q. What challenges have you encountered and overcome as you published your books?

A. As a parent, my biggest challenge right now is finding the time to write, edit and learn to market my books.  The second biggest challenge is not to get disheartened by how difficult it is to break into the writing market and actually become a recognized author, so that I can make money at this profession.

Q. What writers have influenced you?

A. Over the years I have been influenced by SO many writers and poets, that I really don’t have any favorites.  I can’t say I am a loyal fan of any particular authors, to be honest, though I do love Nora Robert’s romances and the poems of Mary Oliver.

Q. How do you come up with ideas for your novels?

A. I use experiences I have had and locations I have been to as a base for each novel.  I imagine characters with flaws and goals and create problems that they’ll have to solve to make the goal of a happy romance possible.  I never base my characters on people I actually know– I much prefer to use my imagination.

Q. What is your marketing plan? Has it evolved as you have published more books?

A. I am now paying a marketer (personal assistant) to help me so that I can focus more of my limited time on writing.  However, there still seems to be so many pieces of this task to do.  I still feel very busy! I am focusing these days on building my mailing list of supportive readers, growing the number of reviews on my books, and learning to successfully use Amazon ads and Facebook ads.  Next, I will focus on learning to use Book Bub to increase my sales as well.

Q. Are you working on a book now?

A.  Yes!  His Hometown Lady is in the editing stages… and then I have to decide what’s next!

Q. I see you also have a non-fiction book about homeschooling. Please tell me about it.

A. In my 11 years working as a teacher supporting homeschooling families, and homeschooling my own child, I learned so much about this process and wanted to offer a concise support guide to get families oriented towards this task.  The book is an overview of what parents need to know to get going with homeschooling in the least stressful way.  I have two follow-up books on learning that I want to publish as well… maybe they’ll be my next project!

Q. Please tell me briefly what you think are the benefits of homeschooling.

A. Personally, with a child with extra needs, the benefits have been that I am able to make sure she is getting the extra help she needs so that she can learn and graduate.  Students with extra needs can get lost in the shuffle, and a lack of resources can prevent public-schooled children from getting the additional support they need.  For children who are not struggling, homeschooling can still offer so many advantages, such as maintaining a closer bond with family and really absorbing a family’s values and belief system, having opportunities to travel, pursue personal passions and do schoolwork on a non-standard schedule. Homeschooling offers families and students more freedom of choice as far as what is taught, and it offers children the advantage of being able to pursue learning that is personally meaningful.  Homeschooled children usually end up with a stronger sense of self as well as knowing their own passions and having self-drive to pursue them.  Homeschooled children also have more experience functioning in the “real world” and interacting with people of all ages, as they are almost always out in their community more.  I fully believe that if a family is able and inclined, homeschooling can be a real blessing for the whole family.  I guess that wasn’t brief, LOL.  You can tell this topic is a passionate one for me.

Q. Your novel Greek Holiday: Greece captured her heart, but can he? takes place on the Greek island of Aegina. How did you conduct research for this exotic location?

A. I went there twice!  I love travelling and although I haven’t done much yet, I intend to travel more in the future and use this as my inspiration for future novels.

Q. Do you belong to a writing group?

 A. Yes, I am part of the Vancouver Island Romance Authors group!  It has been a great support for me as I launched into trying to be a money-making author. We communicate online and this works well for me.

Q. Do you attend writing conferences? If so, which one(s)?

A. At this time, I have not.  I am a real introvert and don’t enjoy large groups of people, so this hasn’t been an interest of mine.

Q. Please tell me about your newsletter.

A. Thank you for asking! I share about my writing and offer opportunities for free reads to my subscribers, on the first and fifteenth of every month.  I also love getting readers opinions on topics such as book covers, and whether I should produce audiobook versions of my books, etc. Connecting with my readers is SO fun!

Q. Is there anything more you would like to add?

A. Thank you for interviewing me!  It’s been fun! I have more ideas and creativity than I have time… so I will be busy long into the future!

Thank you, Robynn, for this interview! Robynn has worked hard to bring her engaging and informative books to the public. To learn more about her, click on her website https://robynnhoneychurch.com/ and check out her books on Amazon.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the True Mercy, a thriller focusing on autism and human trafficking, and The Book of Revelations, a story of a woman who must deal with her secret past.

True Mercy is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

The Book of Revelations is on Amazon and Draft2Digital.


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