Books That Help Us Remember September 11, 2001

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Many of us will not forget that gorgeous September morning when we shared the shock of the decade as the Twin Towers fell. It’s good to take into account though, that to some people–and by some people I mean perhaps children who were born in 2001–this might be a story for the history books. I can understand that notion because it would be akin to what the assassination of John F. Kennedy was to me. Not having been born when it happened, I have no relationship to it. But for many who were there, and witnessed the story unfolding, they struggled with the senseless act, and found it difficult to articulate their emotions. They were forever haunted by it. So, perhaps, the same is true with September 11, 2001. Maybe it’s an event in the history books without a human face.

But many personal accounts have been written about it to keep alive the memory of what a blow it was too all of us. I, too, join the ranks and have a personal story about that day. Just one week to the day my husband and I had been in the Trade Towers. We had been in New York for the U.S. Open, as my husband is an avid tennis fan. One morning, Tuesday, September 4, precisely,  we took a trip via subway to downtown Manhattan. One of our favorite discount department stores, Century 21, was nearby, and we wanted to walk around Wall Street as well. We got off at the Trade Tower stop, right underneath the building. It was cool looking, but dark, and quiet. I guess many people were already at their desks in the offices above us. There were a lot of little stores and there was a Borders Bookstore I wanted to stop in if we had the time. As I was washing up in the restroom I noticed a sign posted that listed a number of rules about conduct in the towers. At first, I thought it odd, but then I remembered the World Trade Center Bombing attack in 1993, the epicenter was the parking garage beneath the tower. Granted, this had taken place eight years prior, but it resonated with me. I found my husband browsing the mall area and told him I thought we should get out of the building. I reminded him of the bombing in 1993, and then said, “This place is a target, we need to leave.” Isn’t that crazy? I thought nothing more of it until after we came home and we were watching in horror as the news covered the story of  two Boeing 767 jets flying into the twin towers, collapsing them on September 11, 2001. For me, 9/11 will always be personal.

On Monday’s Book Hound radio program Jan and I discussed some of the books that came out after 9/11. So, if you are interested in reading more about 9/11, then this short list might be of some interest to you. Let me know what you think, or if there are any 9/11 books you think should be here.

Nonfiction

Firehouse, by David Halberstam, published in 2003. Firehouse is the story of  Engine 40, Ladder 35, and the thirteen men who were on two rigs setting out from this firehouse, twelve of whom never returned. Along the way, we learn the culture of the firehouse and try to understand why these men would become firemen and pursue so dangerous a profession.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman, published in 2005. This is a children’s picture book. The John J. Harvey was the best fireboat of its time, but by 1995 the city didn’t need fireboats any longer, so the John J. Harvey was retired. Then one  day in September a horrible event shook the world. The fireboat was needed to fight a roaring fire. This is a true story.

American Widow, by Alissa Torres, illustrated, published in 2008. A memoir written by a young widow who lost her husband that day in September. Alissa’s entire world was upside down. This book chronicles her journey through being a widow and carrying the baby of a father who would never set eyes on his child.

Fiction

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, published in 2006. Narrated by nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who is trying to discover clues about his father’s death on September 11.

The Zero: A Novel, by Jess Walter, published in 2007.  New York city cop Brian is suffering from a brain injury due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He is  now a tour guide for celebrities who want to visit “The Zero.” He ultimately gets a job with the Documentation Department and uncovers clues about who he works for and who he was before he tried to kill himself. This book is described as a dark comedy and I can see why! It’s a complicated story that sheds some light on a harrowing time in our history.

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo, published in 2008. This story brings to the surface emotions and memories of Sepetember 11, and shows how those events shape our perception of our world as it is now. It centers around a married couple and their son who are forever changed by the events surrounding 9/11.

And check out Flashlight Worthy for more recommendations.

Please join us Monday’s on The Book Hound. We sniff out new books and learn about new and bestselling authors. We air weekly on 101.3 FM Renegade Radio and 99.1 FM Talk Fox News Radio. Tunein radio: Search America Matters Media
Text: 775.237.2266
Call in: 844.790.8255

 

How Should An Author React to a Bad Review?

This blog post originally appeared on Pypeline Editing’s blog. Here’s the link. Jenny Perry and Krystal Pyatt are a terrific team of editors and I strongly recommend checking out their Web site for editing advice. This is a re-blog of sorts! Thanks for reading.

The Story of One Lost Sheep

A favorite story of mine is of a shepherd who had a hundred sheep, but one had strayed. Was he happy that he had ninety-nine happy sheep? Sure. But, he really obsessed over that one sheep he had lost. He wouldn’t stop looking for it until he found it. Then when he found it he greatly rejoiced over it.

This is a Bible story and it really has a different meaning than the one I’m using it for, but I’ve been kind of feeling like that shepherd lately. I happened to notice a one-star review on my book The Altered I, Memoir of Joseph Kempler Holocaust Survivor. I wasn’t too surprised. In fact I’d been wondering when that would actually happen. Not that I wanted it to, mind you, but you know, not everyone is going to like everything, even if others do rave about it. But, I have to wonder why. It was a rating, without a review. Was it something I did? Was the book not what they expected? Did they start it and realize without finishing it that it just wasn’t their cup of tea? I really do respect that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I guess this one-star haunts me. I want to go out there and bring it back into the fold, so to speak. I know that sounds crazy.

So what do you do if you get a bad review?

Nothing. Accept that this person felt free enough to express their feelings on the matter.

Act professional. Don’t contact them and ask WHY?!

Be grateful for all the wonderful five and four-star reviews.

That one-star makes you look legit. It’s true, a lot of friends and family will leave excellent reviews, but it will look better in the long-run to garner reviews from people you don’t even know.

Learn from your mistakes, and write better.

The strangest thing could happen. The reviewer might change their mind and re-review it. One of the biggest fans of The Altered I–and  no it wasn’t my mother–confided that she didn’t like the book the first time she read it, but it lingered with her and she had to read it again. She has gone on to buy multiple copies, given them out as gifts and even suggested the book for her book club, which they in turn agreed to and also purchased multiple copies. How’s that for a surprise ending?

So please don’t judge the reviewer too harshly. They don’t know that there is a flesh and blood person on the receiving end of that review. They just want to share their opinion in a forum that allows them freedom to do just that. As author and world-famous blogger Kristen Lamb says an author must develop rhino skin.

Some helpful links you might want to check out:

What do you do if you get a one-star review? Tweet That!

 

Guest Post: Storytelling, and Editing, is About Intent

Manuscript THE ALTERED I

Today I have the honor of sharing a guest post from Krystal Pyatt, one of the editors of Pypeline Editing. When people find out that I wrote and book and it was published the response I often hear is how they, too, would love to write something. That is terrific, I say in reply. But, often these starry eyed dreamers have little idea of what the writing process is all about and how crucial having a clear goal is to a finished, and polished work. Critical too, is the editing process. Few realize what effort goes into making that writing project sparkle and glow off the page. Here to give a glimpse into what objectives you, as the writer, should take into consideration when mapping our your story is Krystal.

 

Storytelling, and Editing, is About Intent

 

Writing is a magical thing. It is the activity where you place on paper ideas, stories and lessons. It is the ultimate way to share knowledge with others and even generations. To read it is to be entranced, immersed, captivated. If you do not believe in the magic of books, then you may not have found the right ones yet.

That being said, I can think of a few books that have failed to become anything magical. Perhaps it was the writer, the concept or even the editing—or maybe it was a combination of all of the above. Anyone reading this blog may have a few stories in mind as well that did not meet expectations.

The good news, intent can impact everything. Tweet That!

Writing is the process to dump all of your ideas and place the contents in your head to that of your story. However, having intent, having a purpose, can greatly impact the success of any book.

Free writing is important; some of the most creative ideas can come from free writing. However, having a clear intent, a clear message, a clear purpose when writing, can make sure the story moves in a particular direction. This can make it so the story is cohesive to the point of excellence. The reader will lack nothing in terms of the story and, in fact, the reader will be treated like an ally rather than an opponent. They will be in on the secrets of your world, they will be privy to foreshadowing even the characters do not know and the readers will then stay along for the ride, even if it is a torturous one for the beloved characters.

Intent extends to editing as well. In fact, this is when intent shines. It is valuable for each and every author to then ask themselves important questions while editing.

  • From the writing stage, what is the overall purpose of the story?
  • Does the chapter apply to that larger goal?
  • Does the character apply to that larger goal?
  • Does the event apply to that larger goal?
  • Is there anything missing the reader would not know?
  • Are you going in chronological order or is the timeline intentional at least?
  • Does the ending serve its purpose?
  • Is there too much going on?
  • Is everything clear and concise?
  • Are the words strong enough to convey the necessary emotions?

At the end of the day, the story should be a pleasure to read, not painful. The way to accomplish this it ensure, through the editing process, that every word, every punctuation mark and every page contribute to that purpose. Editing helps you cut out the excess content, albeit painful at times.

So, decide your intent and set sail. Create the masterpiece readers will find magical.

 

Author: Krystal Pyatt from Pypeline Editing

Pypeline Editing is a local editing firm in Reno, Nevada. Two editors work on every book. That’s two sets of eyes to ensure grammar problems and typos are completely eradicated. With copyediting, Pypeline Editing also offers professional insights in order to make each book ready for publishing using developmental suggestions.

 

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April Voytko Kempler is the author of The Altered I, a  memoir about Joseph Kempler’s Holocaust experiences. Joseph was sent to six different concentration camps throughout Poland and Austria between the ages of 14-17. His story can be found on Amazon and Google Play books. 

Altered I Sample-April Kempler

The Risk of the Single Holocaust Story

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Misunderstandings and preconceived ideas have been smacking me in the face lately. One such misunderstanding I feel I have to address is that of the notion that because we have such a plethora of Holocaust memoirs and stories to choose from, that we understand the Holocaust survivor, or who we think a Holocaust survivor is. These preconceived ideas might block our thinking and shut out any other stories about the Holocaust because perhaps it is controversial in nature.

Take for example The Altered I . This is the memoir of my father-in-law, Joseph Kempler. He survived, miraculously, six different concentration camps from the ages of fourteen to seventeen. There is a lot in his memoir about growing up Jewish, and many details about the brutal camp life, including after Liberation when people were put into Displaced Persons camps. But his memoir is also controversial from the front cover that has a bold swastika above a focused blue eye, to the last several chapters of the book. His isn’t the typical Holocaust story that we might be familiar with. And for this reason a reader might be shocked, taken aback, offended, and perhaps disenchanted with the story on the whole. (I’ve written another blog on the subject of one-star ratings and how an author copes with the inevitability of receiving one,  published on Pypeline Editing Blog Page. That’s not what this post is about, but I think it is related).

Many people were targets of the Nazi regime and were imprisoned for being considered enemies of the state, or in the case of some six million Jews who lost their lives, considered sub-human. Who were targets of the Nazi regime?There were the Roma, the Intelligencia, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Poles, Slavs, and other groups the Nazis hated. But Joe’s story touches on another group who were victims of the Nazis, these were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Joseph Kempler was raised Jewish, then as a result of his experiences in the camps he became a self-proclaimed God-hater, but later, in the 1950s, he became dedicated as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was shocking to fellow Jews because this was was viewed as a traitorous act. Others who read Joseph’s memoir are surprised and made unhappy because of their preconceived ideas about who Jehovah’s Witnesses are. This isn’t about liking Jehovah’s Witnesses or becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, or any kind of recruitment for that particular religion. This is simply one man’s story of survival and why he made the decisions he did in order to survive. Joseph Kempler’s story is one of faith lost and faith regained, an account that might not fit into the stereotypical Holocaust story.

There is not just one type of Holocaust story, just as there is not one type of story about another person’s culture, background, or lifestyle. Tweet this!

I was inspired to write this post by the wise words of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose early writing reflected the British and American children’s books and stories she had read and loved, which predominantly centered around Western culture and that world view. The settings and characters were alien to her, a Nigerian girl raised in Africa. She ultimately found her writing voice and realized she needed to put to rest preconceived ideas and misconceptions about Africa and its people. And after listening to her Ted Talk I felt that she expressed it so beautifully, and more elegantly than I could do that I’m sharing it in this post. I hope that some readers will take eighteen minutes and listen to it and be inspired as I was.

“If we hear only a single story about another person, or country we risk a critical misunderstanding.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

Originally I saw Ms. Adichies Ted Talk on Books Outside the Box Blog Post

The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler, Holocaust Survivor is available from Amazon  in paperback and Kindle format and digital download on Google Play books.

My review of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

Lately a lot of people have been mentioning to me the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, whenever I discuss Joe’s memoir, The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler, Holocaust Survivor. I have seen this movie, several times, and felt completely absorbed by the plot. I haven’t read the book…yet. Joe has seen this movie as well and he remains silent on the subject. I’m not sure why this fictionalized account is being taken as some kind of truth, but I would like to set the record straight. I certainly don’t mean any disrespect toward this movie or book (which as I mentioned I do want to read), but people need to understand that the book, written by John Boyne, and adapted as a movie (2008, directed by Mark Herman) is generally accepted as a fable–a story conveying a moral–and shouldn’t be taken as the truth. What I’m about to say is very difficult, but most children taken to the concentration camps were gassed immediately. So, using this story as some basis of fact would be a disservice to the history of the Holocaust and would minimize the horrors of a camp, trivializing what truly took place in these despicable facilities of death and torture. I’ve even read that this movie is compared to Schindler’s List. I personally do not see a comparison. Schindler’s List is based on fact, and accurately portrayed. My father-in-law’s story parallels what is described in Schindler’s List, and is in fact one of his favorite movies on the subject of the Holocaust. I give the highest praise for Schindler’s List. Joseph almost made Schindler’s famous list, but you would have to read his memoir to find out what happens (wink, wink). He did know many people on that list and therefore it is a story dear to his heart. But, I digress. This blog post is a very good review of the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Much better than I could do! Please read.

Scrapbookpages Blog

This morning I read a review of the book entitled The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, written by Irish author John Boyne in 2006. You can read the review here.  In 2008, the book was made into a movie.

The film was advertised as a “family movie,” rated PG13, which parents were encouraged to take their older children to see. The author of the book classified The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as a fable. Libraries classify the book as Teen Fiction, and the movie producer called the story a fantasy.

A fable is a fictional story that has a moral. For example, the German fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel,” is a fable: the story couldn’t possible be true because it includes a wicked witch who lives in an edible gingerbread house and cooks and eats little children. Likewise, the story of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”…

View original post 2,177 more words

Book Club Night with the Girls!

Valerie's Book Club

Valerie’s Book Club

If you are following my Facebook page or Twitter posts…er tweets, then you already know that Joe and I were invited to a local book club. They had graciously selected THE ALTERED I as one of their reads for this year and invited us to discuss it with them. First of all WOW! That was a huge gift in itself, what many an author dreams of, really. Of course I know the real star of the show is Joe. People love him. But, I got some nice praise as well.

Valerie was the perfect book club hostess. She introduced us to the group and expressed why she wanted The Altered I to be on the schedule for the year. She had met us last year when she called the publisher, LeRue Press directly to order more copies of the book as gifts for friends and family members. She had initially been given the book on loan, but wanted her own copy after reading it. The publisher (LeRue Press) mentioned that Joe and I could come in and meet with her and sign the books. We had a great time with her and she even brought a friend along.

Joe with April and Valerie at private book signing

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from LeRue Press saying that The Altered I was selected by Valerie’s book club and could we (me and Joe) be available to join the club to discuss parts of it? Of course!! My honor!

The ladies of this club are wonderful, intuitive, insightful, kind, and generous. We discussed the line-up for the year. Next month everyone is reading The Martian. This one is on my own TBR pile. Some of the ladies won’t see the movie until after they’ve read the book–I did see the movie, but didn’t give away any spoilers–I’m good that way. Everyone brings a dish, no one knows who is bringing what, but it is usually varied. I tasted a variety of healthy salads, my favorite little meatballs, which I don’t prepare anymore since my husband is now gluten-free, and some other main dish fare that was equally delicious. They joked that one time they all had brought salads, twelve of them, but all twelve were different, so it was fun. I learned a lot from this group–especially when planning my own book club–sharing, laughing and eating are all important factors.

The group of twelve members, was formed over eleven years ago, and has met continuously to discuss the next great read. Each submits a book they want to read for the year. My husband, Paul, asked them which was the first book they had read as a club and I was surprised (and delighted) to hear it was Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Since that first book they learned a lot, like not choosing a book over 800 pages long! I confided that as one of my favorite authors she had inspired me to want to write.

After some small talk everyone felt comfortable enough with each other to discuss Joe’s memoir The Altered I.

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My heart was warmed each time there was a section from the book mentioned and the group collectively would recite parts from the text. I felt  joy sitting there listening to them tell Joe’s story. I really can’t describe it accurately, but, they knew him and his experiences from what they had read and it felt dear to me.

I was really happy that Joe was comfortable enough to express himself and tell his own story. Sometimes it just isn’t possible. But, with the love and respect directed toward him, he felt he was able to open up and tell his side. There were some unexpected emotions having Joe present. It’s one thing to read about someone’s tragic life story, and then quite another to have this person sitting at your dining room table! One of my friends said that the book club was in for a treat, but in actuality it was the other way around. I felt that this was a fine gift and it was privilege to be among them. These ladies spent their valuable time and money and invested it in a book I wrote. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

If interested in The Altered I Sample Pages

The Altered I is available in print and Kindle format from Amazon. In Kindle format at Amazon UK, as an e-book from Google Play books, and as a print book at BookBind.net

In Reno, NV as a print book: Sundance Books and Music, Grassroots Books, Buy Local (4001 S Virginia St, Reno, NV 89502 775-224-2242), and LeRue Press (775-356-1004).

In Carson City, NV as a print book, A to Zen Thrift and Gift , and Dog-Eared Books

 

 

I Sit Watching About a Hundred High Schoolers

Today I want to share an essay that Paul Kempler (my husband) wrote a little while back during a high school Holocaust presentation. I meant to re-blog his post but, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from simply writing an introduction to his exceptionally moving piece, and wrote my own blog post here.

A friend of ours, who stumbled across the post by accident, told Paul that she had looked into his heart after reading his words. So before I run on and on, I present Paul’s thoughts on his father’s Holocaust presentation.

Hug High School Holocaust Presentation:

April and my dad spoke to students at a local high school today and while they spoke, I wrote down my thoughts on the event. I’m posting them here. I called it my creative writing assignment.

I sit watching about a hundred high schoolers. These aren’t the most refined kids. They are the type that are always being torn in different directions. Many don’t have complete families and what family they do have is sometimes very challenged. Drugs and gangs are never far from the world that they live in. Often, their teachers say, they are disinterested and disrespectful.
These young ones sit in rapt attention. They are listening to a story of a man who endured many trials and this interests them. He is a holocaust survivor from Poland. When he talks of near starvation, beatings, hard labor and survival, they listen. Maybe the world they face isn’t that different from what this man’s experience is. He claims that his only thought was how to survive that minute. You didn’t think about the future. If you did, it was a death sentence. For to feel, was to allow emotions through and emotions were a recipe for death. These children or young adults in the high school auditorium can certainly relate to this. The modern world creates distance. What young one today really feels comfortable with their own emotions. If their experiences don’t damage them enough, so many are actually causing harm to themselves due to the need “to feel”. Cutting, addictions, even suicide are on the rise. This old man speaks to their hearts. They don’t fidget, they don’t whisper, they don’t sigh. Their eyes and seating inclination are both forward.
These are history students. Usually, there is a great disconnect from what they learn. So many years have passed. In this case, though, history comes to life in the person of an 87 year old man who lived through an important part of history. Some people deny that his story, like so many other holocaust survivors, is based in fact. Once these living historians are no longer with us, it becomes easier for those who challenge the story to gain traction for their statements. So, even though this man struggles to speak clearly and fluidly, it is important that he pass on this information to the newest generation. He tugs at his sportcoat lapels, tries to sit up straight as though this action will trigger his mind to return to the times when his photographic memory brought every detail to his tongue. It doesn’t work anymore. The twirling of his thumbs in a circular motion while the rest of his fingers are interlaced doesn’t work either. He tries smacking his lips and tongue, making small noises. But they don’t bring to mind the words either. He has a spokesperson though; his daughter-in-law. She spent 6 years interviewing him, chronicling the account of his life and tabulating all the information into a written document. She knows his story better than he does now. It is a shame that he is a shell of his former self, but it may have benefits too. If there was something traumatic you wanted to put behind you, memory and cognitive issues might be a blessing in disguise. He still claims to not sleep and have nightmares based on his past, but under these circumstances, he struggles to tell these children many specifics. His memoirist fills in the gaps for the eager ears in the auditorium.
Questions that the students asked were varied in content:
Did you ever go back to visit your home town? Was it hard to go back?
What did you weigh after the war?
If Hitler were here, would you forgive him?
What was the first time you saw a dead body and how did it make you feel?
Were any of the soldiers nice?
Would you like to take revenge if you could?
What happened to your family?
Did you ever think about escaping?
What motivated you to survive?

What do these questions teach us about the students? They want to connect with family. They want to believe that there is good in all people. They want to believe that there is a way out of any situation.
These are common threads to humanity. We all face similar challenges and evils, regardless of our background. I’m guessing that the children that sit in this room with the Survivor don’t have access to special treatment in the world. Their backgrounds are very similar, though separated by 70 years and the Atlantic Ocean. Both were very interested in their freedoms, though they were pressured from all sides. Both wished for closer connections to family. Both learn to survive using whatever skills or manipulations they can.
In the end, we are all damaged in some manner. The scars are not always visible. But, sometimes they are. Maybe it is a tattoo of a number on your arm, given while a prisoner in a concentration camp. Sometimes it’s a burn mark on your hand where an overzealous parent has put out their cigarette in an attempt at discipline. But these scars withstanding, the majority of damage we all endure is internal. It is good for these students to realize that no matter what we face, we have the opportunity to persevere through them. Conquer or overcome might be too strong of a word. This survivor has a special gift. He has developed something that helps him. Faith.
I’m not sure how these young students view faith. Do they possess it? The Survivor claims to have begun life as a practicing Jew, then as a result of his experiences a God-hater, then an atheist and finally religious again, via a different path. He claims that his search for “God” has helped him endure. Most holocaust survivors had a very different path when it comes to their relationship with a higher being. Most became quite anti-God, assuming that he had abandoned them. They returned the favor. This is a common reaction when having gone through something traumatic. The Survivor didn’t get on this road to faith until far after the war had ended. What will bring these students to the same place of faith? Will they ever grasp for it or will they rely on their own strength to overcome whatever comes their way? Only time will tell, but the story they are hearing provides a key to how to find that path. Maybe they recognize this. Why else would they pay such close attention? No one is looking at their phones or acting otherwise distracted.
Humanity is closely connected. In any group, there are leaders and followers. In this auditorium of young souls, some would have been Nazis and some would have been persecuted, while others would be observers. Would those observers have stood for what was right or would they looked away as atrocities occurred under their noses. (The smell of human flesh burning is pretty hard to ignore.) This is the message of the Survivor.