Monthly Archives: November 2010

Rodger Kamenetz: Review and Interview

*from Jewish Book World, Winter 2010-11


by Rodger Kamenetz. Nextbook/Schocken, 2010. 352pp. $25.00

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4257-7

Reviewed by Philip K. Jason

Stopping short of creating an imaginary conversation between two great Jewish writers, Rodger Kamenetz provides the groundwork for such an exchange in this highly original study – a meditation, really – on the inner circumstances that link them. Kamenetz reads the works of each man “as autobiography of the soul,” the soul of an ardent seeker. Each mastered and contributed to the art of the literary-spiritual parable. Their narratives involve quests, often frustrated ones, as do their lives. Each man wished many of his writings to be burned after his death. Kamenetz explores their individual motives, setting these against the Nazi conflagrations of Jewish books. 

A third seeker, Kamenetz himself, weaves his meditation around his journey to Uman, the Ukrainian town of Rabbi Nachman’s later years and burial, to participate in the annual Rosh Hashanah service that brings Jews of many stripes together. Kamenetz had already made many visits to Kafka’s Prague to teach Kafka’s writings.

Kamenetz examines the lives and writing of Kafka and Nachman in such a way that each illuminates the other. Beginning with unexpected and intriguing similarities, Kamenetz moves from comparison to contrast and back again, in several cycles, finally putting into focus the unique qualities of each of his subjects, and something of his own unique qualities as well.  

“Burnt Books” is a fascinating and intellectually challenging journey of heart and mind.

Bibliography, notes. PKJ


by Philip K. Jason

[Note: the print version of this interview omits material presented in this online version.]

Born in 1950 in Baltimore, Rodger Kamenetz received a B.A. from Yale and M.A. degrees from both Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities. After twenty-eight years of teaching at Louisiana State University, where he was the founder and first director of two important programs – Creative Writing and Jewish Studies – Kamenetz recently retired from his position as Distinguished Professor of English and Religious Studies. Professor Emeritus Kamenetz works as a dream therapist and continues his adventurous writing.

His major publications are: The Missing Jew (Dryad Press, 1979); Nympholepsy (Dryad Press, 1985); Terra Infirma (U. of Arkansas Press, 1985. Reprinted by Shocken, 1999); The Missing Jew: New and Selected Poems (Time Being Books, 1991); The Jew in the Lotus (Harper San Francisco, 1994. Updated edition, HarperOne, 2007); Stuck: Poems Midlife (Time Being Books, 1997); Stalking Elijah (Harper San Francisco, 1997), winner of the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought; The Lowercase Jew (Northwestern, 2003); and The History of Last Night’s Dream (HarperOne, 2007).

PKJ: In Burnt Books, you explore Rabbi Nachman’s understanding “that this father-son conflict is an old Jewish business.” Below the surface of the conflict between Kafka and his father, the many conflicts of father figures (often kings) and son figures in the writing of Nachman and Kafka, the biblical tales of messy family dynamics, your journey to a kind of Kamenetz fatherland, and the few direct references to your own father, is a processing of that conflict. This is explicit in your dreamwork discussion on the YouTube video “Dreams of My Father.” On one level, Burnt Books is about fathers and sons.

RK: Yes very definitely.  The History of Last Night’s Dream goes into great depth about my father and me so the subject was already on my mind. My father died while we were homeless during Katrina. So Kafka’s trouble with his father were definitely a key point of identification. And Nachman’s loss of an infant son, since I also experienced that.  But these sorts of personal connections are not front and center in the book.

PKJ: The trip to the town of Kamenetz (on the way to Uman) seems to be a continuation of a  journey voiced in your poem  “Changing Names,” and the life path leading to that destination an outgrowth of the lines about changing the meaning of your name. You have made it “inhabited by force” and have transcended, while combining and recombining, “the seeds” in the name.

RK: True enough. Clearly for a very long time – from childhood really – I was searching for my name.

PKJ: When/how did you get the idea of holding Kafka and Nachman in near-dialogue with one another?

RK: I had been thinking about it for many years since I taught Kafka in Prague in a Charles University building overlooking the old Jewish cemetery. So there are lots of Jewish ghosts in Prague. I’ve always loved Nachman’s tale of “The Humble King.” Because we are ourselves searching for some image of God– again this is also what I do with dream work, help people see the images of God they already carry. And I’d noticed that “The Humble King” in condensed form had much the same plot as The Trial. Namely, a corrupt court system seemingly run without knowledge of the higher authorities. Both stories are midrash on the Book of Job. So it all was working together. They were already talking to each other through their stories and in my mind.

But after Katrina, living through the complete destruction of a city, I understood how our big story – the Torah – is always re-circling. I saw a city return to the opening chapters of Genesis. I remember that first Rosh Hashanah seeing three heron flying overhead. Our city street was going back to nature, becoming a flyway. And so I began thinking about home and what home means, and what it’s like to lose your home. Part of me is like Kafka, always daydreaming about leaving home but never leaving. The other part of me is like Nachman, always leaving home, setting off on new adventures.

PKJ: What brought you to studying Rabbi Nachman’s life and writings?

RK: I am fascinated by the boundary between literature and kabbalah,between literature and religion. Rabbi Nachman stands at that boundary (as does Franz Kafka). Rabbi Nachman is a kabbalist writing fairy tales and Franz Kafka is writing fables that are our modern day kabbalah.

But a more important reason is what one of the people I met on the way to Ukraine told me: Rabbi Nachman is the rebbe for our time. He still lives – through his stories, his teachings. His teachings respond to the urgent questions of faith and hope, the questions Kafka asked more piercingly than anyone. You see I can’t talk about Rabbi Nachman without talking about Kafka and vice versa.

*Reprinted, with attribution, in the May 2011 issues of L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County)

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2011 Naples Authors & Books Festival

See this recent article for updated information: NaplesFW – Authors&BooksFestival

For this, the 9th edition of the Naples Authors and Books Festival, the Naples Press Club willl continue its partnership with the Downtown Naples Association.



The Festival will be held on the weekend of April 9 and 10 in downtown Naples. The “Book Fair” dimension of the Festival will be held on one day only, Saturday April 9. Authors and publishers who wish to exhibit will be paired with downtown merchants, creating a moveable book feast along Fifth Avenue South. Three exhibitors will be scheduled in each participating merchant’s location, each one filling one of three 3-hour shifts as follows: noon-3pm, 3pm-6pm, and 6pm-9pm. With over 20 participating merchants, this plan will allow for up to 60 authors/publishers to exhibit. Naples Press Club members may exhibit at no charge. For others, the fee will be $25 per shift. Interested parties should contact Phil Jason at or 287-8921.

With effective publicity, we would expect to see visitors winding along Fifth Avenue South, stopping at the various places of business to meet authors and purchase books. A map/schedule of the book fair would be available far ahead of the event.

The popular “Celebrity Author Luncheon” is also scheduled for Saturday, April 9. Planners are working to once again bring a well-known, best-selling author to Vergina Restaurant. The last three such luncheons – featuring Janet Evanovich, Robin Cook, and Karna Small Bodman – sold out. This year’s guest speaker will be selected soon.

The two-day Writers’ Conference, which will be held at the Naples Center facility of Florida Gulf Coast University (1010 5th Ave. South). Workshops, led by distinguished writers , will be distributed over both days. Session leaders include Lisa Black, highly-acclaimed forensic mystery author; Sandy Lender, fantasy novelist extraordinaire, and many other experts on writing and publishing whose contributions are available via the conference/festival website.

The full schedule along with registration forms will soon be available from the festival web site.

The Festival Book Fair will also feature several talks and panels open to the general public at no cost.

For information on all aspects of the Festival, visit Questions? Contact Sandy Lender at


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Mentoring memoir provides joy for the spirit

“Eddie and Me” by Saul Cooperman. Intermedia Publishing Group. 256 pages. $15.95.

“Eddie and Me” is an “odd couple” story about the special relationship between an eight-year-old black boy from Newark’s inner city and a white sixty-year-old educator who had grown up in middle-class suburbs. This fourteen year relationship begins with a mentorship arrangement and becomes a powerful and meaningful friendship. Like all caring relationships, it has ups and downs, moments of joy and moments of frustration and despair. Because Saul Cooperman kept a journal of his meetings with Eddie, he had a rich source to draw upon for this book. 

Saul Cooperman’s first task was building trust. In Eddie’s world, trust is not a well-known commodity, and, of course, Mr. Cooperman is an outsider. However, over time, that trust is established and other pieces of the relationship grow from it. It is outside of Eddie’s understanding, until now, for a white person to have anything but hate for a black person.

The deeply ingrained values and assumptions of Eddie’s world are so defeatist and narrow that adjusting them is truly an inch by inch pursuit over many years. The most significant case in point is the value of education. Eddie doesn’t get it. His peers don’t value it. Older kids and adults are scrambling along without finishing high school. Over and over again, Saul Cooperman probes this mind-set. Eddie either has no expectations beyond menial employments or street life – or he has unrealistic goals like becoming a professional basketball player.

In a world in which life is cheap and death is a very real and close-at-hand matter, anything that involves delayed gratification – like developing skills for significant, sustainable employment – is just not taken seriously. The mentor has to learn to see things through Eddie’s eyes in order to find strategies for even the most gradual adjustment in Eddie’s outlook.

When Mr. Cooperman and Eddie visit a place – perhaps a Macdonald’s – where an apparently successful black man is at hand, Mr. Cooperman makes every effort to engage that person in a conversation with Eddie. These men are potential role models, and it is valuable for Eddie to meet them and to learn about the role of education in their lives. While this gambit can persuade Eddie for the moment, it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t touch him where he lives. Years go by with only minor adjustments in Eddie’s outlook and behavior.

To read this article in its entirety, as it appears in the November 11-17, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 12-18 issue of 3 other Florida Weekly editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Saul Cooperman pdf

Note: Saul Cooperman spends part of each year in Bonita Springs.

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The Return of Lupe Solano

by Philip K. Jason              Special to Florida Weekly

“Bloody Twist,” by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. Miramar. 270 pages. $12.95 (and specially priced at only $2.99 for Kindle edition).

I have missed Lupe Solano, Ms. Garcia-Aguilera’s frank and flirtatious Cuban-American private investigator. After an eight year absence, this delightful and distinctive series resumes with “Bloody Twist,” once again taking us through the Miami and Miami Beach neighborhoods that the author portrays with affectionate good humor. Lupe is simultaneously a pleasure-loving young lady and a dedicated professional. Always ready for another Cuban meal and another toss in the sheets with a lover, she nevertheless takes her business seriously, and she is good at it. 

Or she was. Lupe Solano, seriously wounded on her last case two years back (“Bitter Sugar”), harbors doubts about whether or not she has recovered sufficiently to be on top of her game. At the close of a surveillance episode, the author has Lupe insist: “Although I was a bit rusty, I’d never really forgotten how to do it.” The rust shows, and there is a bit of rust, too, spotting this author’s usual polish. However, the qualities that have engaged readers of this series in the past are still there – and in great abundance.

In this story, Lupe is hired by her frequent employer, defense attorney and Lupe-lover Tommy MacDonald, to help build the case that will exonerate his client, a gorgeous and seemingly sweet specialty call girl named Madeline Marie Meadows. Her specialty? Managing to charge $5,000 a visit while remaining an authenticated virgin! Is this outlandish? Of course. Can Ms. Garcia-Aguilera make us believe it? Well, even Lupe is skeptical, though she understands that the competitive male ego includes plenty of wealthy gentlemen who would like to earn the reputation and the prize of changing Madeline’s status. 

Madeline is about to be charged with multiple murders when she asks Tommy to take her case. The police have discovered that a gun bearing Madeline’s fingerprints has been used in several murders, and each victim has some relationship with Madeline. One is a man whom she was supposed to marry, but there was a falling out. Another is a prominent client named Robinson. Another is Dr. Steinberg, her gynecologist – the person who authenticates Madeline’s virgin status once a week.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 27-November 2, 2010 edition of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. For pdf of Naples Florida Weekly for October 28-November 3, click here: Florida Weekly – Carolina Garcia-Aguilera pdf

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Keeping Up with Sandy Lender

by Philip K. Jason

This article appears in the November-December 2010 issue of Fort Myers Magazine. Click here to see it: Ft.Myers magazine – Sandy Lender

The early fall of 2010 found fantasy author Sandy Lender in a whirlwind of projects coming to fruition. As she enjoyed her new home – a canal-view condo on Cape Coral from where she can walk to everything she needs – this refugee from Naples added three new titles to the three she already had in print. It’s been an exciting time for her, with new challenges built upon solid accomplishments.


Lender has worked diligently and effectively to build a fan base in the world of fantasy fiction with her “Choices” novels: Choices Meant for Gods (2007) and Choices Meant for Kings (2009). Complex plot lines, striking characters, and the remarkable, legendary domain of Onweald have captivated readers and won the acclaim of critics. Is Sandy Lender an established star in the literary firmament? Not yet. However, the seeds have been sown. With these two titles from ArcheBooks Publishing plus What Choices We Made (2008 from BookSurge), a supplement of related short stories, Sandy Lender is recognized and respected among her fantasy writer peers, and her work has a growing list of followers.

Writing, of course, comes first. Lender loves the time she can spend spinning out her world of sorcerers and dragons, her saga of duty, loyalty, and betrayal. Far less attractive is the time she allots to networking and marketing. Yet she is committed to these tasks.

Thus, the first few days of October found Lender in St. Louis, attending the 34th annual Archon convention. At such a gathering, she interacts with and amplifies her audience: “When I set foot into a convention like DragonCon in Atlanta, ConQuest in Kansas City, ConText in Ohio or Archon in St. Louis, I’m stepping among a crowd of people who watch the same shows I watch. We read the same books. We use the same corny jokes. If I say ‘Kapla,’ they all understand me. I had a radio personality interview me not long ago, and he asked if I wrote anything out by hand. I told him that I do sometimes because my host enjoys the tactile sensation. He kept right on asking questions, but any Stargate SG-1 fan listening that day was rolling! At one of these conventions, everyone would get that reference and then, of course, proceed to buy one of my books because I’m just that cool.”

She is.

Lender considers the business of marketing her work to the public important: “Signings at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hastings, etc., are hard to come by because corporate rules dictate which authors are allowed to have stand-alone book signings. If you’re not in Amazon’s Top 100, you have an uphill battle. Knowing the customer service rep at the local store is vital. You want to be able to show that person what kind of crowd you can bring in to elevate his or her sales on your special signing day. You want to show him or her how great you are at participating in local author events. Flexibility is an awesome trait.”

Sandy Lender on social media: “I use social media with balance. An author friend of mine alienates people with constant updates. That’s counterproductive. That’s navel-lint marketing. No one cares what time an author went to bed last night. No one cares about the weather in her neck of the woods unless a hurricane has just lifted your roof or an earthquake has just opened a fissure that’s eaten your car. That’s Tweet-worthy. If I see someone updating their status about rain making them feel like taking a nap, I figure they write boring books. I teach this in the social media workshops I give. Now, audience matters in your marketing efforts, even with social media. I have a lot of followers on Facebook who are into companion parrots, so I’ll post updates about crazy things my pet birds have done. The nice thing about that is most people who don’t own parrots get a chuckle out of these antics, too.”

Here’s what’s new:


Problems on Eldora Prime is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy novel that adults can enjoy. When collecting reviews and cover blurbs, Lender sent the manuscript to adult reviewers who are connected to teens in some way. These previewers were encouraging. The premise: “a 17-year-old girl crash lands a spaceship on a foreign and hostile planet. She assumes command for the survivors and ends up learning about leadership as she takes her team through a monster-infested land to what they hope will be a safe haven to call for help. I won’t spoil anything, but ‘help’ doesn’t arrive the way it’s supposed to, and her dragon allies aren’t always the good guys you want them to be.”

This book, which is a slightly revised version of Lender’s entry in the 2009 3-Day Novel Contest, will be published by her own company, Night Wolf Publications. Canadian writer Jamieson Wolf is her partner in this venture.

Why go out on your own? Says Lender “We figured out that we both had awesome books that our test readers praised, and we wanted to publish them without the hassle of agents or publishers or production schedules that relied on other people. We knew of other writers going through the same process. There are some incredibly talented people out there who have skill and storytelling ability, but the gatekeepers aren’t letting them in. So we decided we would help.”

An important Night Wolf project is A Yuletide Wish. “This is an anthology of children’s stories, young adult stories, sweet romances, and poems that encompass Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter, and New Year’s. The cover art is a gorgeous illustration by local artist Aluska Bissaro, who has exhibited at the Naples Press Club’s Authors & Books Festival in the past. She’s extraordinary and the winter scene of a Blacktop Chickadee that she provided is lovely. It really sets the tone of a sweet, family book. We wanted something full of positive, happy endings, and the authors really delivered. We plan to have it ready for ordering by early November.” 

The second new Lender book is What Choices We Made, Volume II, Short Stories and Legends from the History of Onweald. Writes Lender, “This chapbook includes more meat than the first one and includes a novella called The Influential Love Story of Ella and Rohne. My fans will wonder about that for a moment because I don’t write love stories. That’s all the warning you get about that. Local artist Megan Kissinger, who’s preparing the lovely illustrations at The Edison House these days, helped with formatting and the front cover and is responsible for the awesome map of Onweald.”

Sandy Lender’s third new book is Desecrated Ring from Keith Publications, scheduled for Halloween as part of a Halloween series. “This is a horror story that takes place in Collier County. Evil faeries and wolf-like beasts terrorize a woman who doesn’t realize how much we’re held accountable for in our lives.”

A busy author and now a publisher, Sandy Lender is chairing the 2011 edition of the Naples Authors and Books Festival, which is scheduled for early April.

Find out more about this nonstop writer at Also, check out

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Susan Hubbard’s risks of the imagination

Susan Hubbard’s risks of the imagination: bloody good stuff

by Philip K. Jason              Special to Florida Weekly

Susan Hubbard, “The Season of Risks.” Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. $14.00

After reading Susan Hubbard’s “The Season of Risks,” the third installment of her acclaimed Ethical Vampire series, I can understand the special appeal of the vampire craze to young adults. Who feels more like an outsider than a thoughtful teenager? Who feels more unsettled than someone going through a sequence of identity adjustments? 

What better vehicle for probing these problems of “otherness” than that of the vampire? A changeling by definition, the vampire is in touch with the human sphere, yet divorced from it. A vampire most often must hide his or her true self. As Hubbard explores the nature of her protagonist, Ariella Montero, the issues of identity and expectation are further complicated by the fact that Ariella is a special kind of tweener: not only half child and half adult, but also half human and half vampire. 

Hubbard’s premise involves an underground vampire civilization with competing sects holding conflicting notions about their proper relationship with humankind. Yes, they live among us; but they live more fully among themselves. On one side of the value spectrum are vampires who secretly farm humans for the blood nourishment that the vampires need and feel entitled to. On the other side are those seeking to live openly and in a nonthreatening way within human society, perhaps building an inclusive society. A third sect is positioned somewhere in between. 

Vampire scientists have developed dietary substitutes for human blood; certain bars and restaurants, truly vampire haunts, serve Picardo and other specialized beverages. However, the desire for the defining act of vampirism may not be exclusively for nourishment but rather for energy of a different order.

Vampires dominate entire businesses. In Ms. Hubbard’s novel, the world of online social networking is presented as a major vampiric enterprise. What a fascinating metaphor!

Essentially, “The Season of Risks” involves the trials of growing up than any young woman faces, but with the added dimension of vampire (or half-vampire) capabilities: reading thoughts, becoming invisible, and interacting with ghosts – to name a few. The fact that Ariella, as a half-vampire, can see only vague reflections of herself underscores the issues of identity and self-knowledge that enrich the novel. 

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 20-26 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 21-27 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Susan Hubbard-pdf or Florida Weekly – Susan Hubbard

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