Friday, January 1, 2010

A review for Bend in the Road

I wasn't planning on posting reviews here, but I was so pleased with this one for Bend in the Road, that I just had to share at least a bit of it.
 Wilde Oats, an online magazine/review site I had sent Bend in the Road to back in August, reviewed it in their December issue and the reviewer, Piet Bach, had some very nice things to say about it.

Quoting just a snippet of the review:

"I will confess that I’m not a great reader of “romance”, either general or specifically male/male. But it isn’t often that a book with the special qualities of this one comes to my attention, either...The details of the troupe’s arrangements, how they travelled, how they ate, how they managed sets and props and costumes, who took which roles, are fascinating and accurate."

"Barrack’s style is simple and engaging. Reading the story with a background in theatre and a cultural Jewish heritage to draw on may have biased me in that the people and their surroundings were familiar and I found the characters deeply sympathetic."

"I would very much enjoy reading a continuation of her history, set perhaps in New York’s lower East Side in the 1890s, as her characters melt into the American pot."

Thanks so much, Piet

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chanukah, Chanuka, Hanukkah, whatever

You may wonder about the title of this post, but it's just a little reminder that the name of the holiday is pronounced and spelled differently in English depending upon who is reading the Hebrew, and most people who cannot read Hebrew must rely upon English transliterations that are not written in stone.

The Hebrew looks like this
The first symbol/letter (read from right to left) is most often pronounced like the hard *ch* in the word *loch* as in Loch Lomond. Of course, many people find that sound difficult to say and instead will use a soft sound like the *h* in the word *hat*. The second syllable, is frequently mispronounced. It should be *noo*, not *nah*.
In the Hebrew you'll hear in Israel, the last vowel sound is usually pronounced like the *o* in the word *cod*. Yes, not like an *a*. But that's only one way of pronouncing that vowel sound. In Ashkenazic Hebrew, the vowel sound would be more like in the word *caw*. My grandmother whose first language was Yiddish, pronounced the holiday *Chanukeh*. Even in Yiddish, depending upon where you came from in Europe, the word might also be pronounced "Chanukey"!
No matter how you say it, or spell it in English, the most common meaning of the word is "dedication". This link is actually the best one I've found about the holiday. It gathers together in one place, just about anything you'd want to know about Chanukah and its traditions.
Still, for most of us, the food enjoyed at our different holiday celebrations are the things we remember the best.
The potato pancakes in the recipe below would have been gobbled up by the characters in my stories in Bend in the Road
Recipe ~ Latkes (European/Ashkenazic)
There are as many different latke (potato pancake) recipes as there are countries in Europe. The one constant is that the pancakes be fried as most traditional foods associated with Chanukah use oil in remembrance of the oil used in dedicating the Temple. Recipes using dairy products are also traditional -- but that's another story. (If you click on the holiday link above, you'll eventually find your way to the explanation for this custom.)
My grandmother never used a measuring cup or spoons, so each female in the family developed their own way of making latkes. Here's a quick and easy recipe.
2 lbs potatoes (any kind works)
2 large eggs
Salt to taste
About a 1/4 cup of flour to help bind the mixture
Heat the oven to about 300 degrees to keep the finished latkes hot.
Oil for frying (I use canola, but any vegetable oil works. If you want to use olive oil, the taste is different and you must be more careful of the temperature of the oil)
Peel and finely grate the potatoes. (BTW, I don't usually peel the potatoes, but scrub them very hard. More vitamins in the peel and I usually don't grate the potatoes that fine. My husband likes the potato bits chunky.) Put them straight into cold water, then drain and squeeze them as dry as you can by pressing them with your hands in a colander. This gets rid of the starchy liquid, which makes the latkes soggy.
Beat the eggs lightly with salt, add to the potatoes, and stir well. Add the flour a little at a time until the mixture clings together a bit. Cover the bottom of a non-stick frying pan with oil and heat. Take tablespoonfuls, or as much as 1/4 cup, of the mixture and drop into the hot oil. Flatten a little, and lower the heat so that the latkes cook through evenly. When one side is brown, turn over and brown the other. Do not crowd the pancakes. Lift out and place each batch on a cookie sheet and into the oven until all the pancakes are made. Serve very hot with sour cream for a dairy meal or with apple sauce for a meal with meat as the main course.
You may add black pepper, chopped parsley, and finely chopped onion to the egg and potato mixture. I usually add about a 1/4 cup onion to my latkes. You can also substitute sweet potatoes, carrots or a mixture of the different veggies. Experiment. It's fun.
Links to other recipes

Ceciarchiata Taiglach - The Jewish community in Italy has been present for a very long time. Jewish influences can still be found in traditional Italian cooking.
"Ceciarchiata means "chickpeas" or "little bits" in Italian. This festive taiglach is similar in nature to the French croquembouche, though it's a crown, not a mountain. It is a spectacular centerpiece with its clusters of dough and nuts, and is totally addictive."
Sufganiyot - Israeli jelly donuts. Although this is a Martha Stewart recipe, this is the easiest (and one of the best) ones I've found.
For unusual and delicious recipes and wonderful anecdotes about Jewish communities in far-away places and
far-away times, please check out these two books:

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden ~

Cucina Ebraica by Joyce Goldstein ~

Happy holidays and Happy Chanukah or Hanukkuh or...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Historical Research ~ It isn't Always Black and White

History -- isn't always black and white

When we research material for gay historicals we're faced with hurdles even greater than writers of heterosexual romance. Same sex love was considered "the love that dare not speak its name". Though some countries seem to speak its name fairly frequently, if you're doing research into different aspects of same sex relationships in non-English speaking places, you can and will find different interpretations of the same bit of history.

Case in point: While working on "Bend in the Road", I found this citation referring to the Victorian painter, Simeon Solomon from "the - the world's largest encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture".

"The artist was arrested on February 11, 1873 for having sex in a public lavatory with a sixty-year-old stableman, George Roberts. Both men were charged with indecent exposure and the attempt to commit " buggery." They went to court thirteen days later, were judged guilty, fined one hundred pounds, and later sentenced to eighteen months in prison at hard labor.

At the intervention of a wealthy cousin, Meyer Solomon, the artist's sentence was reduced to police supervision. (Roberts was not so fortunate.)

Eager to escape the shame he felt, Solomon traveled to France for a time. However, he was arrested there on March 4, 1874 for the same reasons. The French court fined him sixteen francs and sentenced him to three months in prison. The nineteen-year-old man he was with received a lesser sentence."

Please also refer to this bibliography:,3.html#bibliography

Now what might make you think this citation suspect is that officially, France had decrimimalized homosexuality. However, upon further research I found this interesting study, "Changing Conceptions of Male and Female Homosexuality: A (French - Oriented) Theoretical Overview", and this deeper investigation regarding the assumption that France at the time of my story in the 1880s, viewed homosexuality in a favorable light.

"Under the Ancien Régime 21 society of the 18th century, homosexual activity remained a capital offence, even if such extreme punishment was rarely imposed.

After the Revolution of 1789 there was no reference in the new Penal Code, approved by the Constituent Assembly in September 1791, to Ancien Régime laws on sodomy, and this omission of any reference to 'crimes contre nature' has often been interpreted as tolerance of homosexuality. However, homosexual acts might be construed as acts of public indecency, and in the Penal Code under Napoleon, Article 330 established the offence against public indecency as punishable by imprisonment ranging from 3 months to a year and by fines. It was to be Article 330 that brought the larger number of homosexuals to the attention of the police. In France the omission of any explicit reference to homosexuality in private has led to the erroneous conclusion that post-revolutionary France tolerated homosexuality."

Reading further in this study one finds out that up until the 20th century and continuing past WWII, homosexuals in France were not viewed with much leniancy under the law.

What does this mean for writers of gay historical romance? Don't stop at one reference. Dig deeper. Don't totally disregard anecdotal information. And realize that it isn't always black and white.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guest Blog Post from James Buchanan's Blog

Due to technical difficulties, I couldn't access this post at James's Blog. I've decided to post it here as a brief introduction to the Yiddish Theater and cross-dressing within its context.

James asked if I could speak about cross-dressing in the Yiddish theater since one of the stories in Bend in the Road has this as a central theme. But to even briefly discuss this practise, the holiday of Purim must also be presented and its influence on Yiddish theater.

Although the very thought of men or women wearing each other's clothing is abhorrent and prohibited in traditional Jewish custom, there was one time during the year when this was allowed. Most rules relaxed on Purim, and cross-dressing and inebriation became permissible . In fact, among the most orthodox of Jewish groups, cross-dressing is a popular and accepted activity in many instances during the holiday. If one is aware of this reversal, then the idea of cross-dressing in Yiddish theater becomes more easily understood.

A wonderful article from My Jewish Learning,, gives more detail about the holiday, but there are just a few points from the article worth mentioning here.

"The holiday of Purim is one of the Jewish tradition's most beloved communal celebrations...Purim is a holiday where celebrants are obligated to be happy--and to drink until they are unable to tell the difference between Mordecai [the hero] and Haman [the villain].

The Book of Esther reflects a number of important features of the Persian culture, which are also found elsewhere in the Bible, above all in the book of Daniel. These features, satirized in the Book of Esther, include a mock representation of Persian rites of gluttony, drinking, exuberant public eroticism, abnormal pomp and display of richness, and bowing to idols or men...The biting content of Purim performances and the socializing, mockery, dressing up, and carousing surrounding them often provide an important forum for boundary-crossing on issues of gender, sexuality, authority, and relations with the non-Jewish world."

Is there any question then why Purimshpiels inspired the beginning of Yiddish theater?

At its height, Yiddish theater's geographical scope was comparably broad: from the late 19th century until just before World War II, professional Yiddish theater could be found throughout the heavily Jewish areas of Eastern and East Central Europe, but also in Berlin, London, Paris, and, perhaps above all, New York City.

Modern Yiddish theater's roots include the often satiric plays traditionally performed during religious holiday of Purim known as Purimshpiels, first performed in the late eighteenth century

Often satiric and topical, Purim players were traditionally performed in the courtyard of the synagogue, because they were considered too profane to be performed inside the building. These made heavy use of masks and other theatrical devices; the masquerade (and the singing and dancing) generally extended to the whole congregation, not just a small set of players. While many Purim plays told the story in the Book of Esther commemorated by the Purim holiday, others used other stories from Jewish scripture, such as the story of Joseph sold by his brothers or the sacrifice of Isaac. Over time, these well-known stories became less a subject matter than a pretext for topical and satiric theatre. Mordechai, [originally a heroic figure], became a standard role for a clown. [Bercovici, 1998, 24, 27]

What most consider the first professional traveling Yiddish theater group was founded in 1876 by A. Goldfaden in Iasi, Romania. Soon, more such traveling artistic troupes began appearing. Despite the tsarist ban in effect from 1878-1905 on performances in Yiddish, they continued performing in a "pseudo-German" language at cafes, or outdoor cafes in the summer, in the cities throughout the Kingdom of Poland and Russia. One of the first of such performances was Shmendrick by A. Goldfaden, staged in 1880 in Lublin by the Spiewakowski Troupe of Odessa.

Goldfaden's troupe began as all-male; while they soon acquired actresses, as well, it remained relatively common in Yiddish theatre for female roles, especially comic roles, to be played by men. (Women also sometimes played men's roles: Molly Picon was a famous Shmendrick.) Many early Yiddish theatre pieces were constructed around a very standard set of roles: "a prima donna, a soubrette, a comic, a lover, a villain, a villainess (or "intriguer"), an older man and woman for character roles, and one or two more for spares as the plot might require", and a musical component that might range from a single fiddler to an orchestra. [Sandrow, 2003, 11] This was very convenient for a repertory company, especially a traveling one. Both at the start and well into the great years of Yiddish theater, the troupes were often in one or another degree family affairs, with a husband, wife, and often their offspring playing in the same troupe.

Goldfaden's career also took him to Imperial Russia, Lvov, and New York City. Within two years of Goldfaden's founding of his troupe, there were several rival troupes in Bucharest, mostly founded by former members of Goldfaden's troupe. Most of these troupes followed Goldfaden's original formula of musical vaudeville and light comedy, while Goldfaden himself turned more toward relatively serious operettas about biblical and historical subjects, especially after his own company left Bucharest for an extended tour of the cities of Imperial Russia.

(The above material was gleaned from several articles found on the Jewish Theatre site )

So, we have the origins of the theater troupe in "In the Lion's Den", the first story in Bend in the Road and the cross-dressing of Daniel, one of the main characters in the story. I hope you'll take a journey with the troupe and Daniel past the "bend in the road".

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why I set up the Guideposts

Over the course of my writing, I've gathered a huge list of internet sites and books used in creating the worlds -- real and imagined -- where my stories have been placed.
The posts here will be set up as either brief anecdotes with links to supporting resources and/or bibliographical material used for each work.
Some research overlaps several stories and in those instances all the works will be listed.
This is an ongoing project and one that will take time.
However I have found out that it is necessary to display to those interested, that research, whether for an imaginary place and time or an actual setting and historical period, is part of the work conducted for each of my stories.

I hope that visitors may learn a little more about the characters and the worlds I've created in my stories and that it will encourage them to set off on journeys of their own.