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.