Why do I do this to myself?

Because I hate free time and love pain and misery, I’ve started working on my summer project, which is my second book.


Actually, I started pecking around a couple weeks ago, but I was busy wrapping up a product launch at work, my summer class at school, helping a friend with her wedding, and generally trying not to go insane. (which is why posting has been light lately).

Now I can 100% concentrate on the insanity.

And the insanity is going to be even worse than last time around, because I’m writing a historical novella, which means I have to TONS of research.

What is it about?

Are you ready?

You’re not ready.

I’m not ready.

It’s about the Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidzhan in the 1930s.  It’s about life right before Stalin’s purges, clanedstine Zionist organizations, Americans, life in a planned city, potatoes, love, funny situations, vodka, Yiddish, Siberia,  the triumph of the human spirit, and this main character dude, who’s a huge jerk. Basically, I’m rewriting Doctor Zhivago, but editing for length and clarity and adding some humor in there because goddamn was the Soviet Union depressing.

Just kidding.  (Pasternak’s estate, don’t sue me.)

It’s hard going this time around not only because of the fictional component, but because I have to be historically accurate.
It took me three weeks to write the first chapter.   Any time a character so much as takes a smoke or a drink, it’s off to the Googles for me. Not to mention the background reading.  Here’s my stack, which doesn’t include what I have on the iPad or what I’ve read online.

I’m also reading primary source material in original language, which is a self-imposed challenge since my Russian comprehension is at the 10th grade level, but my reading speed is at a fourth-grade level. Because I’m a speed-reader in English, it’s really frustrating. I’m hoping this challenge will force me to read better and more in Russian. 

Someone said once that the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there, and I’m finding that the rules of the past complicate things significantly.  But they also make it easier, since people have always been people.

I am just as excited about this project as I was about Scotland, which is saying a lot.

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to.  Hope your summer is more sane than mine.



In my house, I have two rooms, the living room and the kitchen.  When we bought the house, I anticipated that we’d want to sell it in some time.  So, we painted the living room a  subdued beige color, so as to not startle potential buyers on first impression.  It looks really nice and comfortable. When people come, they compliment us on it. But it’s boring. Dull, dull, dull.  It looks like everyone else’s living room.

The second room is the kitchen.  I’ve always dreamed of having an orange kitchen. This was non-negotiable.  Everyone told us not to paint the kitchen orange.  Even if they didn’t say anything, they thought it was weird as hell to have a bright orange kitchen.  But, even though it was very hard for me to do, I ignored them and painted the kitchen orange. It looks great. It’s my favorite room in the house. It reflects who I am, and it looks great with almost any other color: black, white, turquoise.

You get where I’m going with this.  The blog is my living room.  No matter how weird  and quirky it seems, I still have to keep it nice and tidy because my first and last name are on it.

This book is the kitchen.  Well, it’s not entirely the kitchen.  But it’s as close as I could come in a debut work. This book is hundreds of hours of work late at night after work and class, writing, grinding my teeth, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing hysterically at the mountain of work ahead of me.  It’s me reading passages to Mr. B hundreds of times for clarity, it’s me cutting thousands of words, thinking of the right phrase.

This book is twenty years in the making. Since I declared when I was five that I wanted to write my autobiography, I knew this day would somehow come.  I just never thought this is the book I’d end up writing, and I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be able to self-publish. This book is all of my hopes, fears, and dreams.  This book is my labor of love.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it, and that, no matter your opinion of the book, you leave a review on Amazon, or in the comments here.  I’m dying to know what you think.  I happen to think it’s not too bad, but I’m biased.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote that a person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down. Well, my pants are down, and I am terrified.



P.S. If you have problems buying it, please let me know.  Vicki.Boykis@gmail.com

It’s here!
It’s 60ish pages long. It’s 99 cents.
It’s on Amazon for Kindle.
It’s a PDF and it’s an EPUB.




House update: the walls

We haven’t done much with the house over the past month, but I’m looking to get back into it before the winter strikes.

So, we’ve finally started hanging pictures in the house. Before, we just could not agree on anything. Then,  a couple weeks ago, we went to an arts festival that had some very cool original photography.

It’s not all that exciting because the art is so small and the walls are so naked, but it’s a start.

Here’s the kitchen en progresse: (complete with iPad and fake flowers)

And here’s a closeup: (clicky for even bigger)

And here’s the wall near the door.  It’s my favorite photograph because it’s a pony in Mongolia tied to a gas station.

And here’s the closeup:

We also now have both a clock and a hamsa at the entryway:

And once I get a frame for this one, of Ellis Island in 1904, it will go there, too:

I also love this one in our office/library:

And we finally got some shelves for the space! (that’s one of three we filled up, and we’re going to have to go back for more)

What’s most interesting is this poster Mr. B purchased, which he hung crooked not on purpose, but now that he sees it’s bothering me psychologically, he claims it’s a form of torture, because “I don’t have to look at it, you do.”

Horrific. I hope these pictures shame him into reconsidering.  If they don’t, can you leave a comment about how anal-rentive people are driven mad by any picture at less than 90 degrees?

P.S. Here are our bookshelves.  Can you tell whose is whose?


Book Review: The Debba (with Vicki-suggested cover art!)

(Full disclaimer: Thank you to Other Press for sending me a copy of the book.)

I  always judge books by their covers.  I have no remorse over this, and it’s lead me to great selections.  Based on simply cover alone, I surmised that The Debba is a spy thriller, much like The Moscow Rules, which would result in someone lying facedown in an unmarked sewer in Cairo.

So, for the next release, I recommend  a cover change that will appeal more to the author’s intended demographic:

Now there is something that draws my eye immediately.

Fortunately,   the book turned out to be a real page turner and an incredible philosophical exercise in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I loved it, and I think it’s an important read for anyone interested in engaging on debate about hamatzav.

First things first:  If you have a set stance on Israel/Palestine that you will never change your mind on, you will hate this book.  It will drive you crazy because it refuses to take sides and offer simple black-white messages and consists of multiple twists and turns.  In general, I think there’s a lot to take away and to discuss long after you finish reading it.

The book starts,in 1977, with a phone call to David Starkman, ex-Israeli living with his Polish girlfriend in Canada, having renounced his Israeli citizenship,  while having nightmares dating back to his army service.  His father, who he has not talked to in seven years,  has been murdered in Tel Aviv.  Despite his extreme discomfort with going back to Israel, he books a ticket on the next flight and is soon in the country he hasn’t been to in almost a decade to figure out what happened to his father.

Tel Aviv Purim Parade, 1940s.

The descriptions of Israel are spot-on without being cloying and obvious and, I think, meant to make the reader homesick.  When David first gets off the plane late at night, he describes, “In a flash, the nocturnal smells converged on me like starved furies.  Orange blossoms; the salty smell of the sea; the dust; the hot tarmac.  I steeled myself and walked on. The hot wind ruffled my hair.”

When he lands, he stays with his army friend, Ehud and his girlfriend, Ruti, with whom David shares a past history (the prehistory, as the book often describes).  “An ancient Mercedes cab, its four doors dented, took me to Ibn Gvirol Street. The driver, a muscular man with a close-cropped head, assiduously avoidd looking at me.  I paid him…and got off at the corner of Eliyahu Street. Darkness enveloped everything, thick and fragrant like breath. The green glow of the streetlamps seeped through the tzaftzafa trees; white bedsheets, flapping slowly like ghosts, hung on clotheslines. A gray cat slunk into a yard. Nothing seemed to have changed since I left.”

It’s obvious that David loves the country of Israel while at the same time hating the army top-secret missions he was implicated in that caused him to leave.  Tel Aviv is described perfectly: Mediterranean, worn, dusty, hot, and, yet, completely loveable. The city is as much a character in the book as any of the others Mandelman creates- Amzaleg, the Sephardic police detective who helps David, David’s uncle Mordechai, and the ever-growing gangs of Shin Bet, internal security services.

As David begins to try to understand who killed his father, the police become less friendly and tell him not to get involved, to go back to Canada.  This makes him want to press further, and he discovers that his father’s death is possibly related to a play he co-wrote with Rubin Paltiel, called The Debba, which sparked Israeli-Arab riots the first and only time it was staged in the 1940s in Haifa due to its controversial content regarding Israeli-Arab relations.  His father’s will stipulates that the play must be put on again in order for David to receive the money, and somehow, everyone around him discourages it.  The story revolves around the mystery of the play and David’s role in it, as well as his father’s role in the 1948 War for Independence and in killing an Arab terrorist, Abu Jalood,  and unravels quite satisfactorily at the end.

Tel Aviv, 1948

I loved this book for many reasons, even though I hate mystery novels, stuff with murder in it, and books that try to wrap up Israel in a couple hundred pages.   First is that the ending is a complete surprise and really left me thinking about the book for several days afterwards. Second is that it gives an inside look at Israel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as the days of the Israeli War of Independence, and it really leads you to believe that nothing is solid in history.

When I first learned Israeli history, I learned that all of the first pioneers to Israel were brave and strong, building the Jewish homeland, and there was no room for reinterpretation.  This is certainly not the case: the pioneers were not automatons and had human emotions,  some of which led to hard decisions, and this kind of behavior is shown clearly in the book.

I also loved this book because it really made me feel like I was in Israel during that time period.  The author’s clever use of inserting Hebrew and Arabic phrases throughout the text to get just enough effect and not oversaturate with stereotype, as well as the descriptions of the fresh cucumbers and sitting at Cafe Kassit really opened up Israel of the 1970s for me.

It’s true that, without at least a bit of knowledge about Israeli history, you could get lost in some of the terminology and references.  But discovering is always half the fun.

You can buy it here.


Author Interview: Hannah Friedman

Note: This book graciously provided to me by Hannah Friedman.

I spent approximately 45% of high school in my room and crying because I was weird/no one “got” me/had self-esteem issues/was working on homework until 2 am/had a Nutella emergency.


Hannah Friedman’s high school experiences were even worse, mainly because she had a monkey instead of a sister, but also because she had the additional pressure of a private school.   So much worse, in fact, that she wrote a book called Everything Sucks about her formative years in a private school in New York.

This book blew away my expectations. Most people my age (me included) are horrible at writing at the autobiographical level because we don’t have enough talent or life experience to adequately go all Ulyssess on our memories.  Evidence?  Any of my previous posts.

But, Friedman’s first published work is very well-written, and a book I could relate to with the frustrations of the teens.  Judging from reactions of others, the connection holds true for many.   I couldn’t relate to everything because I’d never done hard drugs,  had a monkey as a sister, or pressured myself to get into Yale.  But the angst is still the same and the emotions Friedman describes so accurately is something I could truly relate to.

What blew me away was the amount of honesty (raw honesty, as many reviews of the book write.)  Hannah put into her writing, about sex, about boys, and about her emotions throughout high school. She put all of herself into this book, and if you’re interested in an American private school perspective on high school, as well as the final argument on why  private school is no way different than public school, this book is a great read.

Here’s my interview with Hannah below. I  loved picking her brain because I want to plagiarize incorporate some of the methods she used when I’m writing my own novel in November.

VB: How did you decide what to reveal about yourself? Did you consider the reaction of friends and family when you wrote it (there is some very embarrassing content), particularly given your experiences with the magazine in high school?

HF: Ah, a very good point. I was certainly nervous about backlash… , but I also knew that I really wanted to address all the things I hadn’t been able to find information about growing up. All the absurdity of modern education, the hysteria of girl culture, stigmas about sex and drugs. I knew that if I undertook this project I wanted to be as candid as possible, so that’s what I always returned to when I got nervous.

VB: You talk about the editing process at the very end of the book-how long did this book take you to write? How did you know you were “done’?
HF: I knew I was done when the publisher sent this baby to print- I knew there was nothing else I could change, but that doesn’t mean I was 100% satisfied. I don’t think you ever can be. That being said, I had gone through many drafts and I knew that at least it was close to what I had imagined it could be. All told the book took about a year to write and edit and go to print.

VB: Did you have a specific audience in mind as you wrote it?

HF: To be honest, my audience was me! If something made me laugh or really resonated with me, I thought it would probably strike a chord with at least one other person.

VB: You talk a lot about your struggle with weight in high school and mention briefly your parents’ influence.  Did they ever pressure you to lose weight, or was it mostly your peer group in high school?
HF:My parents never pressured me to lose weight. My peers didn’t say anything directly either. It wasn’t that one day I decided “I have to be super pretty and skinny,” it was more that extremely negative thought patterns began to develop as a way to cope with all the bullshit of highschool- the pettiness and the sleep deprivation and the pressure to perform academically as well as socially. I channeled all of my frustration into this one seemingly simple solution: lose weight and be happy. But it turned out that the more I obsessed over numbers and calories and carbs, the less happy I was.

VB: Did you ever have doubts that you could pull off a novel? If so, how did you work past them?
HF: Every single day of writing this book I was pretty sure I would never be able to finish it. It was a hugely daunting process, and completely uncharted territory. So if you’re a writer out there and the idea of finishing a big project seems terrifyingly huge, then you’re right on track! Don’t lose hope, and try to only concentrate on just a small manageable piece at a time instead of considering the entire work.