Hooray! An Event of Successful Fiction and Memoir

IMG_2731Yesterday, we headed down to Alexandria, Va., to attend an event at Hooray for Books with Beth Kephart, whose writing cannot be praised enough, and Debbie Levy, who is as charming in person as I expected.  It has been many years since I’ve been there, but I’ve always loved the waterfront, the Torpedo Factory, and many other things about the shops and restaurants there.  While I did notice some changes, including the movement of Hannelore’s where I got my wedding dress to a side street off of King Street, much of the atmosphere remains the same.  What did we do after the event? We went to our favorite pub, Murphy’s, though after the nauseated morning I had, I did not dare have the Guinness I would have love to have.  And then we took Wiggles around to check out the sights she has never seen.  (pictured here is my favorite tree down by the water).

Due to construction on the lovely George Washington Parkway, I was late to the event and I hate being late!  I abhor it.  My husband kindly dropped me off as he sought parking.  I walked in and was told there were still seats, which was good, though I would have stood for this one.  And stupidly, I became too absorbed in the conversation to take too many photos.  There was talk about memoir and its differences from fiction and autobiography, and how there is still a need for imagination in memoir, but not in making up facts.  We all know those memoirists that have been caught bending or blatantly making up facts — they are not Beth Kephart or Debbie Levy (below Beth on the left and Debbie on the far right).


There were books galore to be had at the bookstore, and when my husband finally arrived with Wiggles, they sat for a few minutes while the audience — and myself — were engaged in a writing exercise about what friends from our school days would remember about us and what we’d like them to remember — thanks to Debbie Levy.  Earlier we had engaged in a different writing exercise about a first person account of an object, which Beth Kephart dreamt up.  I did share the poem, I will share here at the behest of Beth and Debbie, though I feel it is unfinished.

Ghost in a Book

She was a bean pole
books hanging from her nose,
from her hands,
in her bag.
Looking down, but
always -- inwardly -- out
to a horizon
beyond four walls,
small town, gossip.
Ready to spring --
jump forward, move
and leave us
wondering if she was here.

I’ve honestly written more poetry than fiction and essay and have never written memoir or nonfiction. It was good to stretch my writing in these exercises, and it was fun to see what others came up with. Some of them were funny and sarcastic, while others were serious. This was a great event for more than one reason — writing exercises, readings, questions and answers — but most of all the genuine awe and support the writers showed for one another, culminating in each buying books from the other’s stacks and signing books to their friends and loved ones. I loved how they bounced questions off of one another and how they interacted. It was like watching two colleagues who have known one another longer than I suspect Beth and Debbie have.

I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from yesterday — thanks to my husband who took the photo — of three lovely ladies.


The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy

Source: Book Expo America 2010
Hardcover, 136 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is an adaptation of her mother’s poesiealbum (poetry album) into a narrative poem, peppered with images and actual entries, and a WWII historical time line as well as a resource listing and a section catching up with Jutta Salzberg’s family and friends and their ultimate fates.  This powerful hybrid poem/memoir not only examines the horrifying snowball effect of Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews, but also how Jewish children still found ways to maintain their childhood and enjoy the joyous moments they still had.

Salzberg lived in Hamburg, Germany, and was the daughter of a Polish born Jew who emigrated to Germany before the Nazi’s came to power, and the poetry album, much like American autograph books, begins in 1938, which became a pivotal year for Jutta.  Her father was a successful, belt, suspender, etc. salesman, who is eventually dismissed from his job because he’s a Jew. As a young lady on the verge of womanhood, she is capable of not only enjoying gossip and games with classmates, but also understand the deep seriousness of the changes around her.

Parents (page 32)
He sags
and I think how Father could use something
to hold him up--
a belt,
a suspender,
a garter...

She also has the ability to question the changes around her within the context of the words from her friends, like respecting one’s elders. Jutta wonders how she can respect someone like Hitler, who is her elder, when he spread such fear and hatred.  There is great tension in this short, narrative poem/journal as a young girl tries to find the silver lining in her circumstances, remember her friends, and enjoy moments with her family, while at the same time worrying that her immediate family will be unable to leave Germany for America as the consulate will not issue them U.S. visas.  The section of the narrative poem that is the most heart-wrenching is when Jews are forced to seek out kindness from strangers in America who just happen to have their same last name.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is powerful and a great testament to her mother’s memory, her own family’s past, and the hope generated by that remembering.  The book is not only a year of goodbyes between Jutta and her family and friends, it also contains information that may not be as well known, including the role of Jutta’s cousin Guy Gotthelf in the French Resistance and the impact of one Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan, on those left behind in Germany when he avenged the murder of his own family back in Germany.  Lasting, eye-opening, and a must read for young and old.

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books — fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting her writing career, she was a newspaper editor, and a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm. She has a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. She lives in Maryland and spends as much time as she can kayaking and otherwise messing around in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Also please check out the article on her family’s journey in The Washington Post, and her own article on finding the journal in the same publication.

Also, check out her new book, Imperfect Spiral, which is published today!

Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she’s watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It’s time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey’s memory and forgive herself for his death?

On July 27, 2013, at 3:30 pm for those in the Alexandria, Va., area, Debbie will be with Beth Kephart in a joint event at Hooray for Books.

This is my 45th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.