THE BOOK OF LIFE - You Are Not What We Expected (Books in the Time of Coronavirus)
7:06PM Mar 28, 2020
[Music, Intro] This is The Book of Life, a show about Jewish kidlit, mostly. I'm Heidi Rabinowitz. Welcome to our special series, Books in the Time of Coronavirus. We'll hear from authors who had to cancel their spring 2020 promotional events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we'll hear from author Sidura Ludwig about her short story collection You Are Not What We Expected.
Hi, Heidi and Book of Life podcast. Thanks so much for including me on your COVID-19 project. My name is Sidura Ludwig. I am the author of the adult collection of short stories You Are Not What We Expected. It's coming out May 5, 2020 and it's being published by House of Anansi Press here in Toronto, but House of Anansi has world rights for this book so it's being distributed both in Canada and the US through Anansi. It is my first collection of short stories and my second published book in 13 years. So I was ready to celebrate the... celebrate the pants off this one. And I still plan to, we're just going to have to switch around how we go about doing that. A brief description of this book: so this is an adult collection of short stories. So some of the stories are linked, or rather, I should say they're, they're all linked in that they all take place in Thornhill Ontario, which is the suburb that I currently live in just north of Toronto. Most people who live in Thornhill often just say they're from Toronto. It's a very Jewish neighborhood. But there's a lot of diversity in the Jewish community here and the outside world doesn't necessarily see that when they see Thornhill, I think they they feel that is a Jewish neighborhood and then paint the Jewish neighborhood in one brush, and having lived here now for over 12 years and having been a part of this neighborhood for even longer, I can see that there's a lot of diversity here. So this collection centers around the Levine family. Grandmother Elaine Levine is left to care for her grandchildren after her daughter abandons them. Elaine asks her older brother Isaac to come and move back to Toronto, the Thornhill area, to give her added support. And so Isaac is really the main character of the book. You see this neighborhood through his eyes. He's always lived alone. He's very eccentric. He's lived in much more exciting places than Thornhill. And he knows why he's coming back. But he's not necessarily satisfied to be here. So the stories that don't feature the family directly feature at least their neighbors; the family pops in and out over the course of the book. If you liked the book Olive Kitteridge, I think you'll really like this one too. I hope anyway. What inspired me to write this book? I didn't set out to write a collection of short stories. My first book, called Holding my Breath, was published back in 2007. And that was a novel. I immediately went to work on another one. I think there's a lot of pressure on writers to produce and produce and produce. So I wanted to produce my next book. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the next book I worked on went nowhere. So I put that aside, and I started working on a third book. And by the time I was working on this third book, my family consisted of husband and my three young children. I would say my youngest was probably two years old when I started working with these characters. At the time, I thought it was a novel, but I wasn't getting anywhere with it. What I realized, it like hit me like a ton of bricks, that I was having trouble reading novels, at that point, I think I was lucky if I could get through 10 minutes without falling asleep. So if I couldn't read a novel, I don't know where I thought I was going to be able to write a novel. This was hard. It was, it was a hard time for me as a writer, because I had had all of the success with my first book. And this was already now years later, and wasn't really having any success at that point and was struggling to find my feet, both as a writer and what I wanted to say. But also, as a parent, you know, a lot of my energy was being used to parent my own kids, and how to find that balance. So I decided that I would go back to my first love, which was always short fiction. And in order to fall back in love with my writing, so to speak, I really needed to work on smaller stories that I could contain in my head. I wanted to finish something you know, and and so writing an 8 page or 20 page short story was definitely more manageable than trying to hack on a novel. And I started taking some courses again, online and finding writing communities that I hadn't been a part of before. And then the stories started coming in. I would sort of imagine who these different characters were in different scenarios and who their neighbors were. And I started to see the diversity in the neighborhood that I was living in reflected on the page. Then, I was with a group of writers. And we were talking about the difference between how women submit stories to publications and how men submit stories to publications. And one of my friends, she sits on an editorial board for a lit magazine here. And she said that if the magazine rejects the story by a woman and they send up the rejection letter, they would typically not hear from this writer again. But if they send a rejection letter out to a man, that he would immediately send them another story. And it was this whole idea of taking out the feeling of, that it gets so personal when you're, when you're submitting work and getting rejected and how to distance yourself from that. And then another friend in the group she mentioned a guy friend of hers who has over 300 rejections in his submittable folder and I thought to myself, could get 300 rejections. I knew right then I could never guarantee myself that I was ever going to get a publication again. But if I started sending out my work and I worked hard enough at sending it out, I could definitely reach 300 rejections. And so I kind of gave myself a new goal. And the goal wasn't to get published, the goal was actually to get rejected. And what I started doing every week would would scroll through submittable and pick five different publications that the criterias fit what I had written, and I would just send my stuff off. Basically, by the end of the year, I had submitted over 120 submissions, and I had countless rejections, I lost count, but I did have nine publications, nine of the stories in this collection ended up getting published in all different kinds of journals, Canada, US, UK, and that was great. As a writer, it made me feel good. You know, I had readers out there but also just to be a part of the conversation. The whole process was learning about how important it was to be a part of the conversation and frankly, rejection is a part of that conversation. So in the meantime, I decided to shift gears in my writing life and apply to the Vermont College of Fine Arts for their Masters of Fine Arts and writing for children and young adults. And I got in and before I went off to do that program, I felt there was one more thing I needed to do with this collection of short stories, and that was to submit it to my old editor. She was now the assistant publisher at House of Anansi and I thought I need to give this one more shot. And I sent it off to her. She passed it on to one of her editors and my new editor Michelle loved it. And that's how it came to be. I was planning such a fun launch for this book. All of the stories in this book take place in Thornhill, my husband happens to own a vintage Toronto Transit Commission bus. The bus itself dates from the 1960s, TTC bus and he was going to take the bus out and we were going to fill that bus with friends and family. And we were going to tootle around our neighborhood and stop at key locations that take place in the book. And in those key locations, I would read a passage that matches that. And then we would end up back at an organization, which I feel really passionate about called the Danny Center, which is an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities and gives them different opportunities for independence. And anyway, they have a lovely space there that you can rent out. And so I was hoping bring all my friends back to the Danny Center where I would have some nibbles and some hot drinks and give my thank yous and sign and sell a whole lot of books, I hope. So I'm hoping that I can still do that at some point. I don't think it's going to happen May 13. A celebration is something that we can postpone, we do not have to cancel. So that's what I'm, that's what I'm looking forward to and I'm trying to keep positive about that. Where can people get my book? It's definitely available online and the E version is available online. You can get it at Indiebound.org or your favorite independent bookstore. If there any Canadians listening, you can get it at Indigo. And certainly it's available on Amazon. I'll plug again for McNally Robinson booksellers in Winnipeg. That's my favorite bookstore. You can get it anywhere that good books are sold. You can find me online at SiduraLudwig.com SIDURALUDWIG.com. You can find me on Instagram, @SiduraLudwig, Facebook @SiduraLudwig. I'm on Twitter too, and I haven't been using it as much but I have a feeling I'll be ramping that up. And everywhere. I'm just I'm always Sidura Ludwig.
I want to thank you for including me again on this project. Oh, before I go, I know that Heidi, you often will ask for a tikkun olam suggestion, what can everyone do to to help. So I think that's really timely right now with everything that's going on in the world. And it can be really hard to stay positive. But finding ways to repair the world is is one of the ways to stay positive. So, a couple of things that I've been doing are, UJA here put together a list of families or individuals who are in need, and ask for volunteers to make phone calls to find out how they're doing and to find out if they have any particular needs. And then to feed that information back. So I made some of those phone calls the other night, and people were really grateful to get a call and to feel like the community had their back. I'm waiting to hear back from UJA with a family's name to order some groceries for them. So I'm trying to do that. Another idea I had a number of friends who are in the health care profession and obviously working really, really hard right now. And so I've been reaching out to them and saying Hey, can I buy dinner for you? Just send me the details and I will organize it. And so that when they come home at the end of the day, however long their shifts are, they don't have to worry about dinner that night. I feel like small things can really make a big difference and that when something this big is going on right now, it can feel very hard to to figure out where are places and what we can do to make a difference, but it's the small things that can really matter. So that's what I would say, try to do something small, and you'll be surprised at what a big impact it can have. I hope everybody stays healthy. I hope everyone has a chance to read a lot of good books, and to share good books if you're at home with other people that you have the chance to share good books with each other. Well, thanks again.
[Music, Outro] If you write or illustrate Jewish books, and your new book's spring 2020 promotional events have been canceled due to the pandemic, I invite you to take part in The Book of Life's special series Books in the Time of Coronavirus. Visit tinyurl.com/booksCOVID for instructions or get in touch with me at 561-206-2473 or BookofLifepodcast@gmail.com.
Listeners, you know the drill: check out BookofLifepodcast.com for links to every way to reach me, every way to support the show, every way to get more information, and to hear every Book of Life episode since 2005, since you've probably got extra time on your hands right now. Thanks as always to theFreilachmakers Klezmer String Band for our background music. Please stay healthy. And everybody please wash your hands.