Monday, February 21, 2022

Q & A with Author Barbara Bottner

About the Book:
What does it mean to become an adult in your faith? Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their b'nai mitzvah. And whether celebrating with a lavish party or in reception room A with an accordion player, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there's something in this anthology for every reader, regardless of their faith.

“A hilarious, intimate, essential x-ray of the young Jewish soul right on the brink of adulthood.”
 - Lev Grossman, NY Times bestselling author of The Magicians

“As an elderly Jewish author who was never Bar Mitzvah – when you’ve been beaten up enough times on your way home from school, you understand exactly what you are – I was delighted by COMING OF AGE. It’s a touching, charming and genuinely funny book.”
 - Peter S. Beagle, Award-winning author of The Last Unicorn

Participating authors include Sarah Aaronson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Barbara Bottner, Stacia Deutsch*, Debbie Reed Fischer, Debra Green, Henry Herz, Alan Katz, Nancy Krulik*, Stacie Ramey, Jonathan Rosen, Melissa Roske, and Laura Shovan, with a poem by Jane Yolen. (*NY Times bestselling authors)

The project was developed to combat hatred. Reading helps build bridges. It gives us an entry point into other worlds, communities, and beliefs. Perhaps, by gaining a little more understanding, better relations will happen. Over the last eight years, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States has steadily risen. While this book isn’t going to cure anti-Semitism—even though a portion of the proceeds is going to go to organizations that will help fight it—what this book will do is bring some fun Jewish stories into your hands. The hands of readers. Not only is it important for Jewish kids to be able to see themselves and their experiences in books, but it’s also good to have non-Jewish kids see that Jewish kids aren’t so different from them after all. Reading helps build bridges. So maybe, just maybe, it can all start with a book.

About the Author:
Barbara Bottner, New York Times best-selling author, is a screenwriter, TV writer, and writing coach, who began her multi-hyphenate career as an artist and actor. Designing off-Broadway sets in the ’60s led her to performance and following her career in theatre, she began writing and illustrating books for children. In total, she has written over 40 books in all areas of children’s literature including Young Adult, Middle Grade, chapter, and "I Can Reads". Several of her award-winning picture books have been animated and translated into multiple languages.

We are chatting today with Barbara Bottner - thanks for joining us!

What is your story about? And how does it fit in with the other stories?
Hannah lives with her family in the apartments above their theater in the lower East Side of NYC, also known as the Jewish Rialto. In the early nineteen twenties, as the Jewish influx of immigrants land in the city from Europe, the Jewish theater served an important purpose to mirror the experiences of the greenhorns that had fled the pogroms. The theater was a mecca for storytelling, conviviality and cultural transmission. Young Hannah is the only one in her family who lacks the performance 'gene.' She's a backstage miracle worker but terrified in front of the footlights. Now, about to become a Bat Mitzvah, she studies the Torah not with a rabbi, who in 1922 were unavailable to females, but with her grandfather who is the carrier of the tradition. Hannah is interested in how she'll go forward into the world as a female, and how females are portrayed in the bible, The Torah, and society at large. More to the moment she's in, how will she manage to stand in front of the community in the lower East Side and deliver her haftorah and speech? Will she overcome her timidity? Will the Haftorah help her to do that? Will she bring pride to her family or will she fall on her feet in embarrassment? After all, it's only the 2nd Bat Mitzvah in the city My story is 100% fiction, so I'm not sure it 'fits' in with the other more realistic accounts, but hopefully it reads real enough to offer a historical perspective.

Does your writing process differ with anthologies vs YA verse novel s vs picture books? Are you a plotter or pantser?

For me, every project is its own puzzle. I write quite a bit from instinct, while I hope and pray what I know about plotting from my days in television or screenwriting, will be there as scaffolding. I follow the characters. I open up to my unconscious. I try to be taken over by the people I'm 'hearing' speak and follow their predicaments. Into this stew, of course, is my life experience. Only when some of the first draft(s) are done, do I take a step backwards and think about plot. If I do that too soon, I can get guilty of contrivance. So, it's a back and forth dance for me. Often I do have an overarching idea of where the story will need to go. But I am reluctant to force characters because I value authenticity. I follow them. They follow me--when I'm lucky! 

Is there a subject you're dying to explore and write about? 
As a Jew, I've always been fascinated with hatred, writ large. I've been exploring the relationship between a young Jewish 'valley girl' and a Skinhead who meet in residential rehab. Writing POV someone who thinks he hates Jews isn't easy. For that I connected to my own anger. I discovered that when I finished the manuscript, I missed this guy for his rage, passion, flaws and that was astonishing to me. I missed him more than the character that could have been me. 

What's up next for you? 
I'm collecting some short stories that have been previously published for adults into a collection that deals with marriage, gambling, medicine, careerism, love and issues of family systems. This one is often funny and I love refining it.

Anything you'd like to share that I didn't ask? 
Living in Hollywood, we have a dual challenge: wanting to write the Jewish experience, and presenting it often to Jewish agents and producers, but then facing the bias that if the story isn't about the Holocaust, they reject it. Much important content is thus ignored. This is a shame. There's so much to write about us that can't get through the gatekeepers. I 've enjoyed seeing my work performed onstage at The Braid, formerly Jewish Women's Theater which DOES court Jewish content on matters both micro and macro.

 Excellent, thanks for chatting today. And don't forget to pick up the book, everyone!

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