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A Self-Published David Faces His Goliath at the JBC Network Conference

Friday, June 13, 2014 | Permalink

Each year, authors participating in the JBC Network program gather at the annual conference to pitch their book to the representatives of over a hundred Jewish institutions, in hopes of being invited to speak at book fairs and community programs throughout North America over the following months. It is an event that delights our member sites and terrifies our authors. Delia Ephron dubbed it "the Jewish Hunger Games"; others have likened their experience to competing on American Idol. A couple weeks ago, 2014-2015 JBC Network author David A. Kalis saw it as his personal Goliath. He shares his experience with Jewish Book Council's online readership here:

Jews have a special place in their hearts for the underdog. The story of David and Goliath immediately comes to mind. Who would ever root for Goliath?

Last week, I had my own David and Goliath experience. I was at the 2014 Jewish Book Council Network Conference, promoting my new memoir on Jewish identity and heritage, Vodka Shot, Pickle Chaser. If you don’t know the details of the JBC Network Meet the Authors event, let me explain. Over 250 authors submit their  work and attend the conference in New York. Each is given a 2-minute opportunity to present their book and themselves to Jewish organizations from around the country, hoping to be invited for a speaking engagement at some point in the upcoming year. It’s stressful, and to top it off, the two minutes are just that: no more, no less. Well, less is acceptable, but more is not.

So, there I was with my heart racing, palms sweating, and thoughts swirling. About an hour into the program, the JBC coordinator called my name. I was on deck. I got up from my chair located in the corner of the synagogue and walked toward the 300 pairs of eyes feasting on the upcoming speaker, knowing I was to follow. Sitting in the on deck chair, I sat motionless, trying to run through my comments one last time. I had spent endless hours preparing my speech and then memorizing it, only to find out an hour prior that using notes was actually acceptable. Holding my marked-up rough draft as my security blanket, I glanced at it knowing there was nothing more I could do.

I tried to review my speech, but instead, I thought about how I got here and questioned whether I belonged. Yes, I wrote a book and it had strong Jewish content, it received a strong review from Kirkus Reviews, and thus far, people who read it, loved it. But, the quality of the writers and their experience here at the JBC Network was unmatched. The evening started with a university president, who was followed by a writer from a nationally renowned magazine, and then progressed with bestselling authors, professors, and acclaimed activists. Their presentations were polished, their stories were compelling, and their qualifications were impeccable. To top it off, most were published by large publishing houses.

Thirty more seconds and it was my turn. I kept thinking: David vs. Goliath. This was my first book, I was self-published, and I had never even been a contributing writer to my local newspaper. But here I was, which meant I had a chance.

When my two minutes arrived, I took a deep breath, gazed out at the audience, and spoke from the heart. My notes lay still, unused, allowing the passion for my creation to come through.

Following the speaking portion of the event, I attended a wine reception where a middle-aged man representing a JCC from Pennsylvania approached me. “I liked your message, well done. Tell me more about your story and if you’ve already been in front of audiences…”

A new underdog was on his way.

David A. Kalis is the author of Vodka Shot, Pickle Chaser: A True Story of Risk, Corruption, and Self-Discovery Amid the Collapse of the Soviet Union. He will be touring his book through the JBC Network program for the 2014-2015 year.

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A Foodie on Tour

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | Permalink

Throughout the past year, Mary Glickman has traveled around the country to discuss her first two novels, Home in the Morning and One More RiverBelow, she writes about her experiences as a foodie on a book tour. Mary will be touring the country once again for the Jewish Book Network's 2012-2013 season on her second novel, One More River. For more information about the Jewish Book Network, please visit here.

People ask me, now that I’ve completed a year’s worth of traipsing about doing book tours, what I’ve gained from the experience. First there are the obvious perks of having one's work validated at last: being taken seriously, the great gift of feedback from readers which will inform my future work, and hopefully, a growing audience. I’ve made a friend or two who I hope will be around the rest of my life. But on the most personal level, I have to say the most striking effects are: 1) the stress of post 9/11 air travel has thinned my hair, and 2) my generous hosts have made sure I piled on the pounds. So you might say the two most significant effects of touring have been going bald and getting fat. 

And it’s been worth every pound. 

Jewish women like to feed you and Jews like to eat, so there’s a natural process going on here. And my hostesses did our people proud. There was the New Orleans Booklover’s Luncheon that was tastier than a wedding supper. The menu: spring salad with white basalmic vinegarette, seared drum fillet with sugar cane beurre blanc sauce, wild mushroom orzo with red pepper confetti, and crisp haricots verts. When I told my hostess I’d never had such an elegant repast at such an event, she said: “Well, of course! This is New Orleans, darlin’!” 

I enjoyed lunches at south Florida country clubs where the menus provided healthy, low-fat options but where the homemade seeded flatbreads took a look at any resolve I’d built up to “go easy” and laughed in my hungry face. Loudly. I visited Hartford, Connecticut, during Passover. We had a catered dinner that was truly one of the best I had all tour: succulent salmon and roast vegetables in a gingery sauce that I can still taste. They even sent me back to my hotel with a pesadik coffee cake and fruit to enjoy for breakfast before my flight home. It didn’t last through Jay Leno. 

In Boston, my old hometown, I was taken by happy accident to a favorite restaurant I had missed since my move to the South. I ordered dinner but instead of taking half home as I used to do, I ate it all. (There was no fridge in my room, after all. What good Jew wastes food?) In Baltimore, I enjoyed a fabulous salmon and risotto dinner paired with rosé, personally prepared for me by a Jewish fox-hunting aficionado in an equestrian estate so palatial it shall ever be known to my intimates as “little Downton Abbey.” But damn her crystal dishes of chocolate-covered coffee beans in the elegant lounge where I presented my work. 

So here I am, ten pounds later, hitting the gym, snarling at Brie, and getting ready for this year’s Jewish Book Network auditions. This year I’m a 2011 National Jewish Book Award Finalist for One More River, so I’m hoping for a new tour; let me say Baruch ha-Shem on that one. And if it is His will, I intend to be in fighting trim next fall. When all those kitchens and hostesses urge me to “eat, eat!”, I’ll just smile and say, “bring it on!”

As for the hair, I’m thinking extensions.

Read (and watch) more about Mary Glickman at Open Road Media.

Between JDate and a Camel Auction

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber

How’s this for a challenge…take ten years worth of research, thought, and writing (aka blood, sweat, and tears) and boil it down to a two-minute presentation.

Think you’re up to it and want to go tour this fall’s Jewish book festivals? Registration is now open for JBC’s Jewish Book NETWORK program. Each year JBC sends nearly 200 authors on tours to JCCs, synagogues, Federations, Hillels, and other groups around North America. The season kicks off at the end of May with a conference in Manhattan and the famous  Meet the Author events, which bring authors together with the coordinators of over 100 Jewish book programs.

If you’re an author of a recently or soon-to-be published (between Oct. 2010 and Dec. 2011) book of Jewish interest and would like to find out more, click here to see the guidelines and how to apply.

Hello My Long Lost Friend

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 | Permalink

NETWORK author Angella Nazarian shares a touching anecdote from her Jewish Book Month tour with the Jewish Book Council.

When she wasn’t giggling, she talked in a rapid-fire, sing-song register. And her voice….her voice carried a slight raspy edge. We constantly whispered in each other’s ears and wrote notes to each other in the middle of class.

Although the courtyard in front of the strict and fear-inspiring English headmistress of our school was not the most popular place, we were there often challenging each other to a game of ping pong. And more often than not, we dared the other girls to squeeze through the metal railings of the fence that separated the courtyard from the playground. This led to many instances of classmates getting their heads stuck in the gaps of the railing. They blushed with anger and frustration but were too scared to yell out and call the attention of the headmistress.

That is what I remember of my times with my dear friend, Nagmeh, back in elementary school in Iran. Hers was the last party I attended in Iran, before we all fled and dispersed to different parts of the world. I have vivid memories of Nagmeh’s 11th birthday party. All the girls had gathered in her living room, huddled in a circle. We were thinking of a game to play and Nagmeh’s cousin suggested a dance competition– I guess you could call it a Persian version of a dance-off! The hot song straight out of the States was Boney M’s Ma Baker and we all sashayed to the middle of the living room floor. It was apparent even back then that I liked to strut my stuff on the dance floor, and I went home as one of winners.

Three months later I remember listening to Bee Gees’s Staying Alive in the States and wondering if I would ever see my friends again. We had left Iran in a hurry and thought we would return once things calmed down. But it never did. Iran was in the midst of a revolution, and I lost touch with all my childhood friends.

Imagine that just a few months ago I got a facebook message from my long-lost, childhood friend, Nagmeh. It didn’t take long for us to reminisce about our school, our friends, and her last party. We caught up on each other’s lives. I found out that she was married with two kids and living in San Diego–just a three-hour drive from me.

She knew that I was coming out to San Diego for a book event, but alas I would only be there for a couple of hours. The Jewish Book Council had booked me for another speaking engagement in New Orleans the next day, and I had to fly out of San Diego that afternoon. So Nagmeh and I made plans to see each other at another time, when we could actually sit and talk.

Then came her call the very day I was going to San Diego. “You know it’s crazy that you will be here in San Diego and we won’t meet up,” she said. The rhythm of her talk was still the same even though now, after thirty-two years, we were speaking in another language (English). I could even sense that she was smiling through the phone and the thought that she was on the other end made me smile. It was true. It was a shame that we wouldn’t get a chance to see each other, but other road blocks had presented themselves for the day. Nagmeh had taken off work because her son was sick with strep throat and she had no sitter. So, as disappointed as I was, I didn’t want to make things harder for her.

I got to the book fair in time and took a seat with some of the organizers before I was called up to speak. Five minutes before taking the stage, I got a text from her: I am sitting here in the audience! I stood up and looked around, but realized that I wasn’t even sure what she looked like as an adult. To tell you the truth, I still imagined her as a feisty eleven-year-old with short hair and round, brown eyes. She had sent a picture of her adult self to my blackberry that morning–only because I kept insisting that I needed to see who she had grown to become.

I searched around the room for Nagmeh, but she was lost in the sea of faces. I texted her: where are you? It didn’t help that the lights were particularly bright by the stage and they were hitting me straight in the eyes. I walked a little to the right. And moments later I saw a person in a red jacket stand up and wave at me. There she was, seated at a table on the left side of the room.

The program was starting shortly but I couldn’t wait. I made a bee-line toward her and we held each other tightly. Honestly neither of us would have recognized each other had we walked side-by-side in the street somewhere. Thirty-two years is a long time not to see a friend.

We still held on to each other’s arms while we looked intently at each other’s face. We were two grown women now. I guess I was searching to find my childhood friend in the now adult features. And without me taking notice, I found myself smiling in recognition and saying, “Nagmeh, its those eyes. You have the same eyes that I remember looking into when I was a child.” She smiled and looked back. She still held me tight and said, “And your smile. You have the same smile, Angella.”

Planning on Joining the Israeli Army?

Friday, November 19, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff has been blogging for the JBC on his NETWORK tour all month.

After my reading at the Dallas JCC last night, I was approached by a teenager who told me that he, too, plans to join the Israeli Army.

“Are you out of your mind?” I said, only half joking.

He smiled. “Were you?” he asked.

It’s not the first time this kind of thing happened. My book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade, is a brutally honest description of life in the IDF. There aren’t many other books like it, so it seems to be the book of choice among teenagers (and even some in their early twenties) who are seriously considering joining up.

In fact, ever since my book came out last spring, I’ve gotten quite a slew of emails from young Jews, both men and women, who want advice. They ask about induction procedures, the battery of entrance tests, and what kind of paperwork they need to file. But their number one question is: “Do you think I should do it?”

It’s a heavy question. Burdensome. A question with many implications and one I’m not necessarily qualified to answer.

So I always tell him or her the same thing: that I don’t want to be responsible for someone dying on the battlefield (or in training, as the case may be); but, if they feel like they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives if they don’t serve, then they should do it.

“But be sure to check out my book first,” I warn them. “You might change your mind after you read it.”

Check by later this month for most posts from Joel on his NETWORK tour.

This is a Soul

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Note: This post was originally written last week during the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly, a day after this one.

Two inspiring mornings in a row. NETWORK author Marilyn Berger (This is a Soul) shared her story with a very lucky audience this morning at the GA. Prompted by stories about Dr. Rick Hodes, Marilyn traveled to Ethiopia several years ago to learn more about the man who moved to Ethiopia in the early 90′s to help with Operation Solomon, an operation which helped Ethiopian Jews move to Israel, and never left. Dr. Hodes has spent the past twenty years helping Jews and non-Jews alike throughout Ethiopia, Africa, and nearby regions. This is a Soul tells not only the story about this incredible man, a man recently honored by ABC as a “Person of the Week” and a finalist in 2007 for “CNN Heroes”, but also Marilyn’s own story about traveling to Ethiopia and about a boy who changed her life.

An incredible book and an incredible story. Read more here.

Parents: Need an inspiring giveaway for your child’s bar/bat mitzvah? This is it.

Questions that Signal Success

Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff has been blogging all month for the Jewish Book Council on his NETWORK author tour.

Writing from Houston, TX, in the midst of the mega-est week of my Mega Tour. It began in San Diego on Sunday, where I ran into fellow author (and friend) Joel Hoffman. Then on to Walnut Creek, CA; Cherry Hill, NJ; a Houston day school this morning (Emory-Weiner School, which is a totally great name for a Jewish school), and tonight the Houston Book Fest.

I’ve noticed a recurring phenomenon: after a book event, someone will approach me and tell me that he or she is working on a book. The person asks for advice – and by his/her questions, I can tell whether he/she has what it takes to write a book.

Questions that signal success:

“How long did it take you to write it?”
“Did your editor work with you along the way?”
“What are your writing habits?”
“How many drafts did you go through?”
“Did you know when you were finished?”

These are all terrific questions. They are about the writing process, which every author struggles with. These questions show that the writer is immersed in his/her project and passionate.

And then there is the one question that tells me the person is probably writing for the wrong reasons and, therefore, won’t see it through. That question is:

“What are the residuals on book sales?”

Oh, boy. Residuals? Are you kidding me? The residuals on book sales are tiny. And they only come months – possibly years – down the road, if ever, because first you have to earn back your advance for writing the book and only then does the extra money come in. And even then it’s a pittance, maybe 15% of the profit on the book.

The most dedicated writers write their books without any thought for the money. Some even self-publish their books. Either way, writing the book is a two-year process at minimum, and probably more like 3-5. Anyone who’s writing the book for the residuals will probably be disappointed along the way and likely won’t hang in there.

Joel Chasnoff will be blogging here all month as he travels around the country on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour.

The Power of Half

Monday, November 08, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Jewish Book Council has been spreading the good (book) word down here in New Orleans. This morning we had the pleasure of presenting NETWORK author Kevin Salwen (The Power of Half) and we left the room inspired and charged to be more conscious of our actions and ability to help others.

Several years ago, Kevin and his family made the extraordinary decision to sell their Atlanta mansion, buy a house half its size, and give half of the sale price to a worthy charity. The experience took the family on a powerful journey across the globe, allowing them to understand how individuals can truly make a difference. In the end, the family devoted their money to help communities in Ghana improve their way of life through the Hunger Project. Author profits from the The Power of Half will be donated to charity, as well as a dollar from each sale.

Learn more about their efforts here.

And, hear from Kevin’s co-author, his daughter Hannah, below:

Crybabies in the Israeli Army

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade) has been blogging for the Jewish Book Council on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour. Missed the first two? Check them out here and here.

I’ve done quite a few of these book events now – half a dozen through the Book Council, and another ten or so after my stand-up comedy shows – and sometimes it feels like they all blend together.

But then, every once in a while, I’ll have an event where something truly incredible happens, guaranteeing that I’ll never forget that particular night.

Last Thursday’s reading at the Posnack JCC in Davie, Florida was one of those unforgettable evenings.

It all started when a guy in the front row asked me about the title of my book. I explained that “The 188th Crybaby Brigade” was actually a nickname that my officer gave to our platoon during basic training. I told the crowd that in my unit we had a number of mama’s boys who faked injuries to get out of guard duty and literally broke down crying during hikes in hopes that they’d get a ride back to base in a jeep. “Having grown up on the myth of the invincible Israeli Army,” I explained, “I was quite shocked by the sheer wimpiness of some of my comrades.”

Right then and there, an old woman raised her hand and shouted, “Excuse me, you!”

I looked at her, startled. “Uh…yes?” I said.

The woman stood up. She was short, and thin, with dyed red hair that matched her polyester jumpsuit – a typical South Florida bubbie, and with the spunky energy of Dr. Ruth.

The bubbie shook her finger at me. “You are the crybaby!” she wailed.

I chuckled. Part of me wanted to dismiss her. But I was curious. And she was entertaining.

“And why am I the crybaby, Ma’am?” I asked.

The woman stepped forward. “There are no crybabies in the Israeli Army. Israeli soldiers are the bravest in the world. The only soldier who’s crying is you!”

Half of the crowd shouted at her to shut up. The other half – mostly the older folks – cheered her on.

“Whoa, whoa, wait a second,” I hushed the crowed. “Ma’am – with all due respect, I’m not saying that Israeli soldiers aren’t brave. I’m just saying that, in my platoon – my experience – there happened to be quite a few kids who, quite frankly, didn’t want to be in the army and tried every trick in the book to get out.”

The woman shook her head. “Not in the Israeli Army I know!” she bellowed. Her supporters cheered.

I was warned that, sooner or later, this kind of thing might happen on my book tour. Israel is an extremely emotional topic. I knew people would react to my book in ways I couldn’t necessarily predict.

Not that I ever had an agenda. In writing my book, I did not set out to praise Israel or to disparage Israel. Instead, my goal was simply to tell my story as honestly as I could. At times in my book, I express admiration for the IDF – for example, when our officer sits us down during basic training and leads us in a discussion of battlefield ethics.

Other times, like when I describe our lack of training before deploying to Lebanon, I’m critical. But I was always honest and, in my mind, fair.

The fact is, however, that there are many, many people out there – usually older ones, but some younger ones, too – who simply refuse to believe that the legendary Israeli Army is not perfect. This South Florida bubbie was one of them.

I explained to the woman that I was not the first author to write about Israel’s imperfections – in fact, in Self Portrait of a Hero, Yoni Netanyahu’s posthumous autobiography, Yoni himself describes the crybabies in his unit and how these guys hold back his platoon. Or, I suggested, the woman should check out the movies Waltz with Bashir and Beaufort – both of which are Israeli made, were nominated for Oscars, and present less-than-perfect images of the Israeli Army.

But the woman and her cohorts refused to back down. She simply couldn’t handle an Israel narrative that diverged from her own.

After the event was over, the red-headed bubbie approached me. I feared another shaking down. But instead she said, “Keep up the good work, young man.”

“Okay,” I said, surprised. “But what about–?”

“We need people like you,” she cut me off. “We need you and we need your books. Otherwise, we Jews will have nothing to argue about.”

Joel Chasnoff (The 188th Crybaby Brigade) has been blogging for the Jewish Book Council on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour. Be sure to check back for his next post for the JBC Blog.

The big reveal–the list of 2010-2011 Jewish Book NETWORK authors is now posted

Thursday, August 26, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber

Every year, through our Jewish Book NETWORK program, we makeshidduchs between over 200 recently published authors and Jewish book programs around the country and help arrange tours for these amazing authors. With Jewish Book Month around the corner (November 2!), we can now share the list of touring authors with you (which includes some of your favorite JBC/MJL guest bloggers). We’re all reading our way through them. The huge range of topics and interests that are covered makes this a great reading list. And if you’re lucky, one of these authors might be coming to your city this fall–check here to see if there’s a NETWORK member site in your area.

Find out more about the Jewish Book NETWORK and how authors or book program/festival coordinators can join.