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Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014


Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014


I have better reading news for you this time. I didn't like admitting last week that I had only finished one book.  This however, has benefited me this week as the two books I had started last week plus the new ones I started and finished this week makes me sound like a Reading Olympian. So what did I read?

Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014
I finished The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker. I LOVED this book. It was a beautiful book to read with the perfect balance of character and plot development. This was the story of love and friendship where a golem without a master and an enslaved djinni find their way in their respective communities of New York in the late 1800's. It was not just a story of their lives but it also discussed the societal and religious aspects of both the Jewish and Muslim communities where both characters found themselves. This was one of the few books I have read that didn't try to ram religion down my throat and I was really intrigued by what I learned about both cultures and religions. Wecker created a lovely story of both loneliness and longing. I loved everything from the first first word to the very last one. This is a definite must read so if you haven't bought it then make haste and buy it asap! Note: In the US the title is The Golem and the Jinni.

Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014
I also finished The Singer by Elizabeth Hunter. This was the second instalment of the Irin Chronicles. I have mixed feelings about this series. I don't normally like books about angels and they really have to have something special in order for me to want to read more than one of them. This series has been fairly predictable so far but for some reason I want to keep reading it. I guessed almost every plot twist well before it happened. The hero and heroine don't really shine in this second book but I do think that their love story has an interesting twist...twisted enough for me to want to continue to book three. I can't say too much without giving it all away.

Once I finished this I turned to an eArc that I had forgotten about -The Buried Life by Carrie Patel. This is a debut novel and I am planning to write a full review.

Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014I then switched genre to another book on my TBR - Bad Blood by Chuck Wendig. This is a novella in the Double Dead series.This was NOT a book for a mid week commute. It came across just a bit ...too much, almost too crass. I didn't enjoy it as much as Double Dead. This is definitely a series where you need a time and place to read it. It was gory with a capital 'G' and very unsettling. Wendig is one of the few authors that I like their irreverence and love of gore and swearing but it felt forced in this story.

Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014Onwards and upwards in the unsettling stakes and I turned to Mira Grant with Parasite (Parisitology 1). I am partway through this novel and I can see why Grant has been nominated for a Hugo. It's almost like she has a brain the size of an asteroid in order to think up such a well constructed plot. Whole sections make you feel like you are reading someone's PhD thesis instead of fiction (at least I hope it is fiction!). I don't want to say too much until I am finished so check in next week to see what I thought.

Well ladies and gentleman that is it for me. I am looking forward to telling you what I have been up to on the reading front next week. I feel quite chuffed with what I accomplished this past week even though that was at the expense of my WIR last week. I hope you find something you read that you love as I did with Wecker's tale of friendship.  Let me know what you read. Until next week Happy Reading!

Interview with Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - April 22, 2013


Please welcome Helene Wecker to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Golem and the Jinni, Helene's debut, will be published on April 23, 2013. You may read Helene's Guest Blog - On Accidentally Writing a Historical Fantasy - here.




Interview with Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - April 22, 2013




TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery.

Helene:  Thanks so much for having me here!



TQ:  When and why did you start writing?

Helene:  I started when I was pretty young. I don't know the "why" exactly, except that reading stories wasn't enough -- I wanted to tell them too. I kept up with it through high school and college, mostly bad imitations of whatever I was reading at the time. I remember a lot of Robert Heinlein and Emma Bull pastiches, and a few Doctor Who fanfics. It was awful stuff, and I kind of knew it, but it still felt vital to me. After college I got a "real job" and stopped writing fiction for a long time. It wasn't a good decision. Finally I had to admit that I was miserable and I hated my career, and I decided to take the leap back into writing. Not long after that I got laid off, and that gave me the push to consider getting my MFA.



TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Helene:  I do my best writing on the couch. Most of The Golem and the Jinni was written on our ratty old flower-print sofa, with my feet up on the cushions and a cat sitting on my legs. I have a very sturdy desk and a comfy ergonomic chair, but for some reason I keep gravitating back to the couch!



TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Helene:  A bit of both, I think. I made a plot outline for The Golem and the Jinni, but it was pretty thin as far as outlines go, and I'd change it at the drop of a hat. It was really more a series of important scenes than an actual outline. Every time I hit a scene, I'd have to figure out how to get to the next one. It felt like wilderness orienteering.



TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Helene:  I think I'll always struggle with the sheer discipline that it takes to sit down at the desk (or couch!) every day, by myself, and start writing. I grouse about not having enough writing time, but put the keyboard in front of me and I'll immediately remember everything else I absolutely, positively have to get done right now.



TQ:  Describe The Golem and the Jinni in 140 characters or less.

Helene:  In 1899, a female golem and a male jinni arrive separately in NYC. Both struggle to hide their true natures. One night, they meet.



TQ:  What inspired you to write The Golem and the Jinni?

Helene:  When I was in grad school, I started working on a series of linked short stories about my own Jewish family and my husband's Arab-America) family. A couple of the stories were okay, but the rest were terrible, frustratingly so. I was talking with a friend of mine about it, and she suggested I try a different approach. She knew that I was a total scifi/fantasy geek, and she challenged me to add a fantastical element, to take the stories out of the realm of straight-up realism. So instead of a Jewish woman and an Arab-American man, I decided to write about a golem and a jinni. I thought I was just taking a break and writing a fun little story, but then it became clear that I had a novel on my hands.



TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Golem and the Jinni?

Helene:  At first I spent a lot of time in the Columbia University library, photocopying all the archive materials that I could find. I had a lot of learning to do, especially about Little Syria -- I knew next to nothing about the neighborhood going in. I found a few scholarly studies, which helped immensely. Then we moved to California, and I started using Internet resources more and more. The New York Public Library online archives in particular were a huge help, especially for their photo archives. The Tenement Museum website was another source that I went back to over and over again.



TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Helene:  I think Saleh might have been the easiest character to write. He's only got one real conflict in his life: his desire to live as alone as possible versus his doctor's instinct to help others. He's not a very complicated guy! The Golem was definitely the hardest. She can hear the fears and desires of others, and if she's not careful they influence her actions -- so I always had to take into account whatever might be floating through the atmosphere around her.



TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Golem and the Jinni?

Helene:  The Jinni has a very memorable night out in the first half of the book, and that was a lot of fun to write. (A few of my readers have told me that it's one of their favorite scenes as well.) Towards the end of the book, there's an important scene involving a fireplace. I'd been imagining that scene for years, so it was very satisfying to finally write it!



TQ:  What's next?

Helene:  To be honest, I'm not quite certain. I've got a lot of story ideas waiting in a file on my computer. I need to open it and take a look, and see which ones are still interesting to me. I'm sure some of them will sound like total nonsense!



TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Helene:  It was a pleasure!





About The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni
Harper, April 23, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

Interview with Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - April 22, 2013
In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.





About Helene

Interview with Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - April 22, 2013
Helene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, and received her Bachelor's in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After college, she worked a number of disheartening Marketing and Communications jobs before returning to her first love, fiction writing. In 2007 she received her Master's in Fiction from Columbia University. After a dozen years spent bouncing between both coasts and the Midwest, she's finally putting down roots near San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her first novel, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, will be published in late April 2013 by HarperCollins.


Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook


Guest Blog by Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - March 23, 2013


Please welcome Helene Wecker to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Golem and the Jinni, Helene's debut, will be published on April 23, 2013.



Guest Blog by Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - March 23, 2013




On Accidentally Writing a Historical Fantasy

I didn't mean to write a fantastical novel about 1890s New York. It just sort of happened.

At first I didn't even have a setting. The characters just appeared in my mind, free of context. A golem, a clay creature of Jewish folklore, built to be a rich man's wife. A jinni, a fiery Arabian being, trapped in a flask for a thousand years. They arrived simultaneously, sort of peering at each other, trying to figure each other out. And then they turned to me. All right, they said, what do you plan to do with us?

I gave it some thought. I wanted to tell a story about the American immigrant experience, and the profound changes that come with life in a new country. I'd been working on a bunch of short stories about my own immigrant family, and my husband's. The stories were so-so, to put it kindly. They needed a spark. They needed something. And frankly, I was growing a little tired of quiet domestic realism. When a friend suggested I add a fantastical element—that's the stuff you love to read, so why don't you write like that?—I could feel my brain grab onto the idea, like a double cheeseburger in the hands of a starving man. Almost immediately the Golem and the Jinni sprang to life: the Golem stolid and curious, the Jinni mercurial and impatient.

So, how would they arrive in America? What setting would fit them best? Suddenly New York loomed large in my mind: the raucous, polyglot city, an explosion of peoples and cultures. It was an enticing canvas, and a little intimidating.

Next came the time period. When could these two characters, one Eastern European Jewish and one Syrian, have actually met each other in New York?

A quick trip to the library told me what I needed to know: The Venn diagram of Jewish and Syrian immigration to the U.S. intersected from the 1890s to the 1920s. The Jewish Lower East Side was already in full swing by the 1890s, but it wasn't until nearly the turn of the century that Little Syria, in what's now New York's Financial District, was a true neighborhood of its own.

Well, there it is, I thought. Late 1890s Manhattan. Better get to work.

Keep in mind that I thought I was writing another short story. In its first conception, this story was going to span a hundred years. (I think about it now, and oh, do I laugh.) My supernatural characters would live their separate lives, and every five or ten years they'd wave at each other from across the street, or maybe exchange a few words in a park. I had in mind something like Dream's once-a-century meetings with Hob Gadling in Neil Gaiman's Sandman: they would be each other's points of constancy in an ever-changing world.

I dashed off twelve pages and brought them to my writing workshop. This is interesting, they said. But slow down. Put more on the page. The details are the fun part.

So I tried to slow down, and flesh things out. But research made me impatient. I had no time, dammit! I had a story to write! So for a while, I got by on Google hit-and-runs. The rest of the details I glossed over, the writing equivalent of Vaseline on a camera lens. I gave the next installment to my workshop, and waited anxiously for their opinion.

What they said was, Stop sidestepping the details. Oh, and you know this is a novel, right? Because it's totally a novel.

And of course they were right.

So back to the library I went—and this time I stayed there for a year. I researched everything. How common were pocket-watches in the 1890s? How about indoor plumbing? What did a tenement apartment look like? How much did it cost to ride the Elevated from the Lower East Side to Central Park? What was it really like to arrive at Ellis Island?

I'd poke at a gap in my knowledge, and watch it turn into a sinkhole. The Syrians who emigrated to the United States in the 1890s weren't Muslim, as I'd assumed—they were mostly Maronite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, two Christian denominations I knew next to nothing about. That was about a month of research right there. I started delving into Polish history for a character's backstory, and got lost in a thicket of peasant uprisings and redrawn borders and breakaway city-states. (Never, ever write about Polish history if you can avoid it. Trust me on this.) I spent days researching ancient caravan routes for an extended flashback, and then ended up cutting the whole thing. I ordered a back issue of a Catholic magazine because it had an article I needed—and soon I was getting donation requests from every missionary group and charity in the country.

Then something unexpected started to happen. Instead of just filling in holes, the research began to steer the story. At one point I learned that women in the 1890s weren't supposed to go out by themselves after dark, or they'd risk being mistaken for a prostitute. And here I had two main characters, one male and one female, who didn't need to sleep. So why not make the Golem rely on the Jinni to be her nighttime chaperone, to keep her from the appearance of impropriety? Soon my characters made a pact: one night a week, they would go out walking together. And just like that, the structure of my book fell into place, organized around those weekly visits. This happened over and over again: a stray fact or a detail in an old photo would trigger an idea, and take me in a new direction. Research, it turned out, wasn't just about pocket-watches and train fares: it was about adding depth, figuring out how these details informed the characters' lives.

It took me seven years to write this book, and I'd estimate that research accounted for at least two of them. But looking back, the research was fun, in a perverse and stressful sort of way. The longer I spent hunting for a fact, the more satisfying it felt to pin the damn thing down. At this point, if I had to write a story set in the modern day, I'm not sure how I'd do it. No research? Where would I get my ideas? This might be a sort of Stockholm syndrome for historical writers, but these days I'm glad I jumped in over my head. Next time, though, I might figure out how deep the pool is first.





About The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni
Harper, April 23, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

Guest Blog by Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - March 23, 2013
In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.





About Helene

Guest Blog by Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - March 23, 2013
Helene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, and received her Bachelor's in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After college, she worked a number of disheartening Marketing and Communications jobs before returning to her first love, fiction writing. In 2007 she received her Master's in Fiction from Columbia University. After a dozen years spent bouncing between both coasts and the Midwest, she's finally putting down roots near San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her first novel, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, will be published in late April 2013 by HarperCollins.


Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook





Melanie's Week in Review - June 22, 2014Interview with Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - April 22, 2013Guest Blog by Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni - March 23, 2013

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