When I heard my friend Sylvia Rouss had published a collection of short stories, A World of Blessings, I wanted to learn more about her book as well as her publishing endeavor, Apples & Honey Press. Sylvia was kind enough to share thoughts about her creative journey with me.
Barbara Bietz: Tell me about your new collection of stories. What inspired you to create a collection?
Sylvia Rouss: As a writer, I write stories because it is a creative outlet for me, not because I necessarily seek to have a story published. Often a human interest story in the newspaper will inspire me to put “pen to paper” as a way to capture and preserve the intrinsic beauty of a reported event. In my book, the story of “The Rabbi and the Firefighters” was such a story. It demonstrated the best qualities that we as humans have by coming to the aid of another without regard for our own safety.
Sometimes I am touched by a selfless act that I am privileged to witness. “Gifts of Love” was inspired by a friend’s young daughter who decided to donate her beautiful long tresses to Locks of Love. “Jognau, the Dreamer” is a story based on the real life rescue of Ethiopian Jews. I met the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia who was instrumental in arranging the airlifting of 15,000 Jews from a hostile country in twenty-four hours. News accounts from the time indicated that three children were born on the flights from Ethiopia to Israel. At the urging of the ambassador, I wrote a story of one family’s struggle with the decision to go because the mother is about to have her sixth child. Several of my stories were sold to publishing houses and during the recession they experienced financial difficulties and the rights reverted to me. With so many setbacks in the children’s publishing industry, my husband and I made the decision to create our own publishing house, asked friends to join us in the business venture, and began by publishing some of my favorite stories.
BB: You tackle some difficult topics in your short stories. What challenges did you face when writing about delicate issues?
SR: I lost my father at a young age and I can still remember the parents of my friends or teachers at school who were uncomfortable acknowledging my loss. It was my friends, eight-year-olds like me, who had no difficulty expressing their feelings about something that is part of life. As a teacher, I have dealt with families who are facing difficulties in their lives. Often when there is an illness or loss in a family, a parent will ask me to recommend a book that will help them explain a difficult subject to a young child. Unfortunately, books on these topics are hard to find. Writers are afraid they are too “dark” for young readers and publishers shy away from them because there is a limited market for such stories. I decided that these topics are important and I was determined to meet the challenge in the same way my young friends did with me when my father died — with sensitivity and honesty.
BB: Can you share the journey of Apples & Honey Press?
SR: My husband, Jeff, is my biggest fan and supporter. He deals with the business side of my writing. I like to create but negotiating with publishing houses is not something I enjoy. When my husband suggested that we begin our own publishing house, I was skeptical. It was a financial risk I wasn’t sure I wanted to take. It took some convincing on his part but I recognized that many small publishing houses begin in a similar way. We are beginning with my collection of short stories and we are in the process of publishing a picture book. This story, like some of my others, had been sold at different times to four different publishing houses but the rights reverted to me. I love the story about a grandmother sharing family memories with her grandchild. If this endeavor proves successful, we hope to accept manuscripts from other writers and become competitive in the children’s book market.
BB: Sylvia – Wishing you all the best with A World of Blessings!
Barbara Bietz is a freelance writer and children’s book reviewer. She is currently a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. Barbara is the author of the middle grade book, Like a Maccabee. She has a blog dedicated to Jewish books for children at www.jewishbooksforkids.com.