Saturday, August 10, 2013


"Are you working on your next book?" and "what's it about?" are the questions that began haunting me almost immediately after publication of The Unveiling.  I wasn't sure I could motivate myself to begin again, especially realizing from the outset how much time would have to go into marketing once the book is written.

The first question I had to answer for myself was what I can do differently this time to maintain more control over the process and reduce the long delays I encountered with the first book. The answer is a no-brainer. Don't get hung up looking for an agent who will try to convince a publisher to take on your book. I know the story is timely and the potential audience is significant. I know how much the popularity of e-books has grown. I'll draw upon the social media contacts I now have to identify the most promising way to publish my e-book. I will not use a Print-On-Demand publisher who sets the price too high and controls distribution.

Editing is another step I'll handle differently. With my first book, I completed the first draft, and then asked friends and relatives to read it to give me feedback. Their input was a big help, but I lost months waiting to hear back from some individuals. I eventually paid for a professional editor who was a big help, but took more time than I expected. This time I may again seek input from friends and relatives, but I'll line up an editor before I complete my manuscript.

Another huge time and money waster I'll avoid in the future is using quotes from songs and poetry that require copyright permission. In my first novel I introduced new sections with quotes from music or poetry to define the theme of a new part of the story. I had no idea how difficult it would be to find the owner of the copyright, how long it might take to get permission or what the costs would beI wasted months waiting to resolve this issue. I will only use quotes in the future if they are already in the public domain, or better yet, if I need something unique to introduce sections, I'll compose my own poems or lyrics..

I'm moving along with my writing now, making a little progress every day. The title of my next book is Shred of Evidence: the MK Ultra Secrets. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mystery of an Unassuming Hero

Among the many characters in my novel, The Unveiling, one stands out as a true hero. Chaim Rubin was a distant cousin who in 1920 left the safety of his home in New Jersey to return to  the war-torn shtetl, Skvira, in Ukraine to rescue over fifty suffering people. He helped them overcome the dangers and hurdles to escape first to Budapest, Romania, then Antwerp, Belgium, and finally to Ellis Island, New York.

My mother mentioned Chaim often while I was growing up in Pittsburgh. She was in awe of him. I never met him although his name was never far from my consciousness as the man who saved our family from the destitution of the shtetl following the Russian Revolution. Who knows what would have happened if they had not escaped...maybe they would have starved or been killed in a pogrom. If not, the Nazis would likely have wiped them out later.

When I interviewed my mother as I prepared to write The Unveiling, she could not explain how Chaim Rubin came to make the decision to undertake such a dangerous mission. She knew that her father and other family members had contributed money to help pay the expenses for the trip. My grandfather's sister and her family were also among those who needed to be rescued.

Once I began writing, my cousin, Carol Swartz, shared a photograph taken in Belgium of all of the people who were rescued as they were preparing to board the ship for the United States. Sitting in the middle of the large group was Chaim Rubin. That photograph provided some of the inspiration I needed to write the book.

Unexpectedly, a  few weeks ago, I began to hope that I could solve the myserty of our family's hero. Another cousin, Marvin Rubin, had made contact with Chaim Rubin's daughter, Etta Cantor. She read The Unveiling and wanted to meet me. She lives on Florida's east coast. Since I have been vacationing on the west coast,  her daughter, Bev Shane, was willing to drive to a luncheon meeting in Naples, Florida. Luckily, my cousin Carol was able to join us.

Leah Lambert, Etta Cantor and Carol Swartz

I felt an immediate bond with Etta, a lively, bright and curious woman, who shared her feelings of excitement when she read the section of The Unveiling that recounted her father's courage and selflessness. She wanted to know more about the people who inspired the other characters in my book. She remembered meeting quite a few.

I wanted to know more about her father. When I asked her what she thought motivated him to undertake such a harrowing mission, her first response was startling. "Maybe you should ask how his wife felt about him going on such a journey when she was home with two young children." But she did not elaborate on that angle.

As we talked about her father, she portrayed him as a very quiet, unassuming man who owned a candy store in New Jersey. He loved family and felt a sense of responsibility for them. Among the people he rescued from Skvira were his four brothers and their families. She said he never talked much about his experience although he had told her the same story my mother told me, about the woman who tried to quiet her crying baby and accidentally deprived it of oxygen and killed it.

Etta did have one new story to share. If I had heard it a few years ago, I would have included in The Unveiling. Before Chaim made the trip, he bought a camera. When he joined the others in wagons that carried them out of Ukraine, they all covered themselves with straw and hay to avoid detection. Some of the soldiers who were checking the wagons to prevent people from escaping, began poking through the straw to see what was there. A sword went through the camera and missed Chaim. He kept that camera for the rest of his life.

I am hoping to stay in touch with Etta and to learn more about her family.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Cynic's Spiritual Experience

In late May I joined members of my family at the Bar Mitzvah of my great-nephew, Max Harris. I've attended other family Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and have shared the pleasure of the families watching their children experience this significant milestone. Yet I have typically looked upon most religious rituals with some cynicism. It was different this time. This was unique and joyful.  

When  my nephew Bobby told me that his son wanted to have his Bar Mitzvah at Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia, where Bobby is Camp Director, I had many misgivings as I anticipated the physical discomforts of camp life and a difficult drive to get there from the Atlanta airport. I remembered a family reunion at a camp near Pittsburgh where the heat was stifling and several people were crowded into cramped cabins.

The weekend of the event promised lovely weather. My brother, my son and daughter-in-law arranged to meet me at the rental car booth connected to the Atlanta airport. Most of the drive was unnerving, even though my brother did the driving. When Bobby welcomed us as we pulled up to the camp office, the first happy surprise was the size of the camp, its natural beauty, the lake and trees, and the variety of facilities. The many winding roads to cabins spread out over a large area of wooded terrain offered a sense of privacy. Bobby and wife Ellen had obviously devoted a great deal of attention to the assignment of accommodations for their guests. My room in the health center was large, private, comfortable, and convenient to all activities.
As other family members and friends arrived, the atmosphere became even more relaxed. Bobby and Ellen made sure everyone knew that this was camp and dress was informal. They had alerted us in advance that for Friday night’s Shabbat dinner, people at camp typically wore white if they could.  Everyone tried to comply, but otherwise it was casual and comfortable, with little concern by anyone about how we looked. 

After the prayers to welcome the Sabbath and the buffet dinner, we gathered outside under the stars and around the campfire while a rabbi told stories and the cantor played the guitar to lead group singing. I could feel the tension of the past weeks lifting. There were funny moments that made me think of what comments my mother would have made if she had lived to attend this event. I know she would have been thrilled to be surrounded by so many of her family members.

The actual Bar Mitzvah took place on Saturday morning in an outdoor chapel surrounded by tall trees glistening from the sunshine.  Before Max was called to read from the Torah, he sat in front of the congregation drumming to the musical prayers. Bobby and Ellen each spoke of their love for Max and the meaning this milestone in his life had for them. Various family members were called to read passages from the Torah. Max did a superb job with his reading and speech. His younger sister Sophie also read a prayer with great confidence and skill. My daughter Lisa and I had the honor of opening the ark together.

Throughout the service I realized how connected I felt being part of this experience with close family members, especially when Bobby’s sister Cheryl and her family stood together reading their Hebrew passage. I thought about Bobby and Cheryl’s mother…my sister Corrine…who had passed away several years ago. The spirit of her loving kindness and warm smile seemed to pervade the atmosphere. I thought about Morley…my sister’s husband…who died less than two years ago and how proud he was of his children and grandchildren. I felt that they were both a part of this ceremony.

I looked at the trees and the sky and realized that not only did this event combine ancient ritual with modern practices, but the setting brought nature and family together, creating a truly spiritual experience.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How Should Authors Answer These Two Questions?

Since I published The Unveiling, most conversations with friends and family seem to include two questions: first “How many copies have you sold?” and second “What will you write next?”

I can't tell if people believe me when I say that I’m not sure how many copies I’ve sold at any given time. The quarterly statements I get from my publisher are always a few months late and the on-line summaries do not spell anything out in detail.  Two months after the end of each quarter I do get a detailed report listing what royalties I’ve earned through on-line sales, ebooks and kindle books. Even this does not indicate how many books were sold at large discounts to reach that total.

Because I have used a print-on-demand publishing package, it was up to me to approach retailers and other organizations in the hope that they might carry copies of The Unveiling for sale.. They ask that I call every few months to inquire about sales and royalties. I keep detailed records of how many books I have bought and sold on my own at presentations. When I add these to what I believe are the on-line and kindle sales, I can make a good estimate. What is reassuring to me is that I am still receiving royalty checks from the publisher, from various retail outlets and from a number of organizations.

It is even harder for me to answer the second question. While promoting The Unveiling by speaking to groups interested in mental health and family secrets, my focus was on the best way to present the book to specific groups and how to increase interest among potential readers. The preparation, the travel and the follow up all require skills that are very different from those needed for research and writing.

I now have an outline of my next book. It will be a novel based on a suspenseful investigation. I’ve begun to talk about it and to seek advice from some individuals who have special insights and experience. But the story and characters have not yet taken shape. Discipline to begin the actual research and writing is what I now need. I'm seeking a balance of keeping people interested and getting down to hard work.

I would welcome any suggestions other authors might offer about how they answer these questions and how they have made the transition from promoting one book to starting their next.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What Family Secrets Will People Share?

Last night I was the guest speaker at a meeting of a chapter of Na’amat in Toronto. Eighteen members were in attendance. Their response adds to my conclusion that The Unveiling has the power to free many people of the burden of keeping their own family secrets.

The main focus of the organization is fund-raising, and they had a full agenda planning for two upcoming events. They changed the order of their program to let me speak first so they would have more time for the business at hand. I didn’t think this was an encouraging start.

To my surprise, once I began sharing the family story, I had their full attention. They shook their heads in understanding at some parts of the story, they gasped at the description of David learning about his father’s mental illness.

When I finished my presentation, many of the women immediately shared stories of secrets their friends and families have kept, including mental illness of a parent or a cousin, mental retardation in a family, and even a cousin’s prostitution. One woman pointed out that even when a relative of hers was diagnosed with cancer, they were not allowed to talk about it.

The women repeated many Yiddish phrases that indicate how it is better not to talk about something that causes shame for the people involved. I was surprised at how much of these Yiddish sayings I understood. I remembered hearing these comments as I was growing up and how much pain it caused my mother to know they were talking about her family.

Just before people left, one woman came up to me, thanked me for my courage in sharing my family’s situation and announced: “I have a family secret, and I have no intention of telling anyone about it.” I wonder if she will change her mind after reading the book.

(Photo was taken at a study group my father attended while still a teenager in Lithuania. He is the first one on the left reading a paper.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Deciding on a Book's Title

It was a pity that with such a head the child had not been born a boy, destined for a life of study. A girl with such a head, when the child is very young, is like the ostrich…a bird that has been given wings but will never fly.” This is what people in the shtetl thought about intellectually curious girls.

I learned from my research of women in the shtetls that the ideal woman was submissive, docile, decorous, retiring, modest, patient and utterly devoted to family. She had no personal ambitions. In her own right, the woman was nothing except to bear and socialize children, and to provide a harmonious home conducive to men’s study and prayer.

A woman’s prayer was not necessary and did not benefit the community. It was considered a waste to educate women. It was felt by some rabbis of the era that “an educated female is a cinder in God’s eye.”

When I began writing The Unveiling, one of the titles I considered was Wings of the Ostrich, an ironic title to highlight my mother’s strength of character. Key to her life’s story was her love of education, the disappointment she felt when it was denied her and the level of her determination to help her children receive higher education. Instead, I chose the title The Unveiling to better encompass the theme of the book, the uncovering of family secrets.

However, many readers have commented that they see both my mother and grandmother as heroines whose resourcefulness and personal achievements secured their family’s survival and hope for the future. Rather than having wings that would never be used, they had strong shoulders upon which their children and grandchildren could stand as they strove for a better life.

Photo taken in Skvira shows my mother standing on chair, her Mother standing beside her and her sister standing in front.

Monday, May 3, 2010

How Do You Get a “Home Town Bounce” Marketing Your Book?

This is another question I've been asked, and it is not an easy one to answer. Even though I spent my childhood and early adult life in Pittsburgh, and still have friends and relatives who live there, I’ve spent more years in Toronto. So what is my "home town?"

I got my inspiration for the characters of The Unveiling from my family, with the result that much of the book is set in Pittsburgh. The story reflects the history of Pittsburgh’s immigrants. (Picture on left shows my grandmother, Anna Rubin, becoming a U.S. citizen. Standing with her is H.J. Heinz.) So I have been hoping for significant interest and a reasonable number of readers in Pittsburgh.

To date this expectation has been partly realized. Family members who live in Pittsburgh have been my best customers and PR people. So have close friends and colleagues, who have not only read the book, but ordered extra copies to pass along to other friends and associates. A few old high school friends heard about The Unveiling, read it, reconnected with me and encouraged others to read it. Other acquaintances have promised to speak with people they know in various organizations, encouraging them to invite me to speak about the impact of mental illness on families.

The biggest “home town bounce” has been the positive review in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle in late March 2010. I am aware that some people I know provided The Chronicle with review copies, so my carefully worded pitch email probably was not the reason for the review. And another “bounce” came during the past week when the owner of Bradley’s Books in Pittsburgh, after speaking with my cousin, Mel Solomon, decided to carry copies in two of his stores and to invite me to do signings.

I’ve had a few disappointments, probably because I am not presently a Pittsburgh resident. Other than the Chronicle, the Pittsburgh news media has shown minimal interest in The Unveiling. And the Carnegie Library of Squirrel Hill resorted to rigid national library policy as an excuse to rule out my making a personal appearance, despite welcoming “local” authors in the past.

More than getting a “home town bounce” in marketing The Unveiling, I’ve had a “family and friend bounce”. Relatives and friends give copies to associates, and this leads to invitations for me to speak to groups…in Toronto, Florida, Georgia and Maryland so far.

As an author who is responsible for my own book marketing, I’ve been following advice from other authors and public relations experts offered on the social media. Going after that “home town bounce” has been one piece of advice, and it is worth following, but it is only one part of a much more complex challenge.