MemberMay 12, 2020 at 1:02 am
I want to publish this piece- it got rejected by a few magazines- but now I rewrote it. Any suggestions that would help get this published (including constructive criticism)? Which magazine does this seem best for? Thanks!
A Renewed Spirit
“Give me the necklace.”
“I just want to look at it,” Aliza says, eyes narrowing.
I hand her my new necklace, a glimmer of hope rising in my chest as I look at Aliza with pleading eyes.
Aliza takes the necklace and slips it into her pocket.
“If you tell, you’re a tattle tale,” she says.
The bell rings.
I purse my lips close and hang my head.
“So, I don’t know, what do you think? I want to do something with people, along the lines of OT or speech therapy. Should we call a Rav and ask a Shayla how to proceed? Perhaps online college?”
Chaim scratches his chin and looks up at the ceiling.
“I don’t know, Devi… we’re lucky that our parents are supporting us for a few years, so we have time to figure this out.”
“Well, you’re going to go back to your Yeshiva, but what am I going to do?”
I twist the diamond stud on my finger as we speak. I feel so grown up. I can’t believe I’m only nineteen.
“Well, I think this is a question for Dov,” Chaim says.
“Dov?” Why would we ask Chaim’s older brother about my job?
“I mean, Dov has so much information at his fingertips, you’d be amazed,” Chaim says, “And so many connections. Maybe he could even get you an internship somewhere.”
Although I feel wary, I perk up by the last half of the sentence.
“Ok, let’s see what Dov says.”
“So, Dov said ‘absolutely not…’”
“I don’t know, maybe speak to Dov yourself, but he had a great suggestion. He said that maybe you should open up your own cooking business, like a personal chef type of thing. He said there’s a great need for that right now and you’d probably make enough money to support us. And you did mention before that you knew how to cook, no?”
Uh, yea, I meant like chocolate chip cookies and the one time I made potato kugel…
“Maybe I’ll…I’ll call Dov myself,” I whisper.
“Good idea, he can give you lots of business tips,” Chaim says, upbeat.
Good. I made him happy.
I dial Dov’s number. My hands shake.
I mean, how bad can Dov be, already? I’ll just explain to him that I like working with people. It won’t be so hard.
“You’d never make a good OT, you’re not great with people,” Dov says in a straightforward tone, “and you can make a killing running a cooking business.”
“B-b-but, running my own business, that’s so hard,” I manage to choke out between my silent tears.
“Look, I thought you want your husband to learn, no? Our parents and yours can’t support you forever and schooling can take years and lots of money, and besides, positions within the frum community are scarce. Cooks are in demand and you would be better off doing that.” Dov’s voice rises in decibels with each sentence.
“B-But cooking? That sounds really hard,” I try again.
“Having a learning husband means working hard,” Dov says, almost shouting.
I purse my lips close and hang my head.
My arms are up to the elbows in Challah dough when the phone rings. Somehow I manage to extricate myself from the sticky glob and answer the phone in time.
“Hello,” I say, hesitant, not recognizing the number on the screen.
“Hi, is this Devi’s Kitchen?”
Another client. I groan inwardly. My kitchen is a mess, there is dough in my hair and I still don’t know what I’m making for supper.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Um, yes, so I didn’t see Chicken Marsala on the menu.”
“Chicken marsala, you should know what that is, you’re a chef!”
Um yes, a chef who so far burned two of her orders and is still trying to see if her mother’s challa recipe can be successfully doubled.
“Sure,” I say, trying to sound professional, “it’s not one of my specialties but if you provide me with your favorite recipe I can make it for you.”
“Amazing! The recipe from ‘Tried and True’ is my favorite.”
“No problem Mrs.—”
“Umm, yes, Mrs.Blau.”
“Ok, thank you, and one more thing- do you deliver?”
“Um, yea, sure, I could deliver.”
Wait, since when do I deliver?
Since I couldn’t say no.
I wake up the next morning, feeling nauseous.
Ugh, another day of doing this boring cooking thing. And my kitchen is a mess. So I guess I’ll clean up first, uch, and then I have five potato kugel orders, seven orders for Shabbos dips-oh and I have to find a good recipe for jalapeno dip-help!- and Mrs. Goldiner wants pecan chicken, so I have to find a good recipe for that too, and oh, I don’t feel so good.
I run to the bathroom.
“Are you okay? Chaim says, adjusting his black hat and looking at his watch, “I’m running late for Shacharis.”
“Um, yea, I think I’m okay. You go.”
As Chaim dashes out I feel another bout of nausea.
What is going on?
“I don’t know how I can handle another day of this,” I confide to Chaim a few weeks later.
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, every smell has me running to the bathroom and throwing up, especially all the frying.”
Chaim squints his eyes.
“Hmmm…Let’s ask Dov what he thinks.”
“But it’s too early to tell him about my pregnancy.”
“Well, under the circumstances, we’ll just have to tell him.”
I hear Dov’s voice on the line.
“…she has to push herself more. Every lady has this. Just have her take medicine. She can’t quit her job because of that…”
Don’t rock the boat Devi. Just keep things simple. Just be Mevater, okay?
Except that it isn’t.
“So, Mommy and Tatti’s 35th wedding anniversary is coming up and Dov had this great idea that all the kids should fly in and make them a surprise party…”
“That sounds nice,” I say. Doesn’t he realize I spent the whole day throwing up over the stovetop? And I have so many orders left to cook tonight. I’m not sure how I’m surviving this.
“Of course, you’ll come too,” Chaim adds, much too chipper for me.
“When is their anniversary?”
“In two weeks.”
“Oh no, the Gold Bar Mitzva is in two weeks, and I already agreed to cater it.”
“Oh no! No problem, I’ll ask Dov what to do.”
I wring my hands as I watch Chaim dial.
“Wow, a catering job, that’s big stuff,” Dov says, “how about you just go and your wife will stay behind and cater the Bar Mitzvah? It’s a great opportunity for her.”
This can’t be happening.
I run to our bedroom and close the door. Breathe. Just breathe.
“Devi, is everything okay?” I hear Chaim’s voice down the hallway.
“Ummm…yes, everything is okay. You’ll go to the anniversary, I’ll manage.”
How am I going to manage?
Chaim had already gone to the airport. I lay in bed, weak from nausea.
How could Chaim do this to me! I can’t believe he actually went.
Well duh, you let him go.
Yea, but if he really loves me he would know better…
This is all Dov’s fault! He’s the one ruining our marriage.
I try to get out of bed to start cooking. But then I stop.
I’m pregnant. And nauseous. And about to cater a huge Bar Mitzva. And I don’t really know how to cook. And my husband is miles away about to go on a vacation!
I pick up the phone and call Chaim.
“Chaim, I can’t believe you left me to go to this anniversary party that was all Dov’s concoction anyway.”
“What? Devi what are you saying?”
“Just what I said, Chaim. I need you to come back now, or else.”
“Devi, you’re talking crazy now, I’m already at the airport, the ticket’s booked…”
“OR ELSE,” I yell into the phone and slam it shut.
‘Srry I cant come back’- Chaim’s text reads.
I muster whatever resolve I have left and get out of bed. My brain feels like it’s filled with smoke. My chest feels like a comet has left a crater the size of the moon in it.
I look at the notes I scribbled the other day. Thirty chickens, rotisserie style.
I text a few of my friends for rotisserie chicken recipes and skim some cookbooks. At last, Goldie texts back with a ‘fail proof’ recipe with a smiley emoji and a ‘good luck.’
More like good riddance.
I work robotically until, at last, I have thirty chickens lined up all over my counters and dining room table, ready to go in my oven.
My eye-lids droop as I place eight of the chickens into my oven.
Wow, I’m exhausted, I’ll just lay down on the couch and get a few minutes of shut eye.
I wake up feeling like I missed something important.
My apartment smells like overdone chicken.
Oh no, the chickens!
The rain pours down hard. The smell of burned chickens accompanies me as I run out the door and dodge into the car. My tears mingle with the raindrops on my face.
Where I head, I do not know. I feel the smoke in my brain start to clear as I sink into the driver’s seat and switch on the CD player.
Lev Tahor turns on. I start driving.
A pure heart create for me Hashem…
I won’t let Dov bully me. I’m no longer a helpless little girl. I can stand up for myself.
…And a proper spirit renew within me…
My opinion counts…I count!
…Don’t cast me away before You…
But Chaim listens to Dov. Dov has so much power.
…And Your Holy Spirit don’t take away from me…
But Hashem has even more power. And not just more power. Hashem has all the power.
I whip out my cell phone.
“Devi what’s going on? The surprise party is starting soon.”
I open my mouth and lift my head.
“I know Chaim, but I need a minute.”
“What’s going on?”
“Yes Chaim, I want!”
“Want what Devi?”
“…a different job.”
“But what happened with the cooking? You were doing great with that. Amazing, in fact, catering a Bar Mitzva, making good money,” Chaim pauses, “I know, I’ll ask Dov what he thinks.”
No, No NO! Hashem, please give me strength.
“Actually, I’d rather discuss my options with you, and maybe our Rav, if need be.”
I don’t hear Chaim’s response. It doesn’t even matter at the moment. My lungs inhale life giving air and then exhale deeply.
And a proper spirit renew within me.
MemberMay 12, 2020 at 2:47 pm
This should definitely be published!!! The feelings of being manipulated is so clearly illustrated.
The Binah Magazine has a short story column. I think this story would fit in there…
However I also had a hard time getting my work published there. I would love some tips on getting published! It’s really frustrating when I have something, I feel confident enough submitting, then the impossible and hopeful wait of 6 to 8 weeks… to get a polite rejection email. 🙁
AdministratorMay 12, 2020 at 2:52 pm
Elisheva, the theme of this story is such an important one. Unfortunately, there are cases where an overbearing or abusive family member can get between husband and wife and even destroy a marriage.
I also like the way you use a lot of dialogue and even self-dialogue to give us a window into the characters.
I’m wondering if you want to consider rewriting with an eye to making the plotline more realistic. Starting from the first, flippant conversation about whether to become an OT and continuing on throughout the story, it seems extremely unlikely that a young couple would blindly set up a business overnight on a brother’s advice, no matter how scary that brother could be. The reader needs to relate to the characters and also to the plotline or we won’t be able to keep their attention.
We would also need to develop the characters more so that the reader can identify with them. We need to see more of their personalities. In real life, we would definitely see a nineteen-year-old newlywed express much more concern about the propriety of starting a cooking business. We would also need to see more dimension to her husband’s personality, body language that shows he is terrified of his brother and unsure how to support his wife. Further on it is almost impossible that a newlywed husband would run to the States at the drop of a hat, leaving his pregnant wife behind no matter who Dov is.
When you have the story build and pace more naturally, then you can get to your valuable resolution–namely that we, my husband and I, are the marriage and no one else makes decisions for us–and drive the point home with punch.
MemberMay 13, 2020 at 1:27 am
I actually like it that it finishes off without a picture-perfect ending! Real life is like that. And for many people out there their life is so crazy it beats any science fiction! I can think of a few people like that. Devi is happy to find the inner strength to stick up for herself and beh she will work it out fine with her hub! Not going to be easy though to break through such manipulation! But sorry I can’t figure out the shaychis of the necklace at the beginning… or just me being a bit slow on the uptake?;-)
MemberMay 13, 2020 at 1:41 am
Unfortunately, this is based on a true story (I changed some details like it was a diff type of business the wife started) which I heard from someone whose close friend went through this…and even more unfortunately, the ‘Dov’ in the real story was the husband’s rav who was yelling at the wife and causing a triangle within the marriage. I felt the frum community is not ready to publish something about a verbally abusive/controling rav who is harming a marriage so I changed it to a brother…I guess I didn’t realize how unrealistic the situation sounded because of that…and yes, even the part about leaving the pregnant wife was true- due to the husband’s confused devotion to the rav(although the husband traveled to a diff city, not overseas, in real life and in the story). I totally hear what you mean about developing the characters more, esp the husband…although with the wife, due to the introduction, it’s clear that she had issues being bullied in school which is why she was so passive…I guess real life is more surprising than fiction!
MemberMay 13, 2020 at 1:51 am
Also the point I’m trying to make at the end is the importance of being assertive…Even though there was no happy ending yet for the marriage there was a certain epiphany for Devi that she has to stop being passive…she realizes that her opinion and feelings count! And she has a right to say something not just passively be taken for a ride she doesn’t want
AdministratorMay 13, 2020 at 12:00 pm
It’s good that you clarified that this is based on a true story. You could even state that at the beginning to cue your reader.
In this case, the way to make the storyline 100% believable is to work on build the characters in a way that we could totally see how they would do such a thing. That would probably include giving us much more background about where they are both coming from (both have an assertiveness problem, both seem very impulsive and not self-aware) and fleshing them out in full technicolor.
Another point, since submissiveness and lack of awareness for her own needs and desires is so ingrained in the fabric of Devi’s personality and worldview, I would imagine that if she were to have an epiphany changing her whole life around might have to be a result of either a very drastic incident (eg. a huge catering disaster that leaves her bankrupt, or, G-d forbid, a health problem that leaves her unable to cook), or some other major impetus. In the real story, did Devi have a sudden burst of clarity and lived happily ever after, or did it come slowly, over time, maybe even through therapy? If you were writing a full-length serial about this topic you could build her “recovery” in a beautiful way, over time. In a short story, you obviously want to have that dramatic peak and climax, but see if you can make it feel more real for your readers, especially those who may be struggling with the same issue and might feel let-down by a “presto, change-o” resolution.
Hope this is helpful! 🙂
MemberMay 13, 2020 at 2:35 pm
It’s interesting, after I read your last comment, I’m starting to realize that this story really does deserve a whole serial/novel to develop the characters enough…also I think that in real life it took years until “Devi” reached that epiphany and I should figure out what that inciting incident was that finally made her need to change…Thank you so much Riva! A whole novel is starting to form in my head now!
MemberMay 13, 2020 at 5:23 pm
Riva, you mention the “dramatic peak and climax”.
On the topic of short stories, are there any rules for structuring short stories?
Is it similar to novels but on a micro level?
There are a lot of online resources about structuring novels but little about short stories.
MemberMay 22, 2020 at 5:43 pm
There is a lot of of energy, vibrance and real life interaction in this story, Naomi. Of all the characters in the story, Devi’s comes out the clearest, the reader sees her struggles through self-talking, ie. what is really going on her inside her as opposed to the persona she displays to the world. And that is very true to life, what we are to the world outside is not necessarily the same as our own inner world and life story.
If you were to make it into a novel/serial, I think you’d need to build up Devi’s character from the perspective of her childhood, family, how her parents viewed her, how she interacted with her parents. You have a great opening scene where the reader immediately sees that Devi is being bullied. Lack of assertiveness and belief in one self does not happen in a vacuum. So often it is the early childhood, teenager years that have such an effect on later adulthood. Devi could have parents who were very black and white, authoritative, or pushing her to be what they wanted her to be, without any input from Devi herself. The fact that Devi doesn’t have a clear view of what field of work she wants to enter, that in itself is a product of her view of herself, or what the negative self beliefs that were ingrained into her from childhood. Her parents could have been very well meaning, could have pushed Devi all in the name of Devi being successful, achieving things that don’t fit in with her personality. The parents could also be seeing Devi as a trigger to their own issues. Eg, Devi’s mother could have flashback to her childhood where she was the quiet unassertive hidden person behind the curtain and somehow she pushed herself or was pushed to be more assertive and a go getter and when she sees her child Devi’s retreating personality, for the mother, it’s a hot button for her. And the mother could have unwittingly pushed Devi in the same way that she (Devi’s mother) was forced to come out of her shell. So family dynamics definitely play a significant role here.
The same with Chaim’s family’s, the family dynamics, parents relationship to Chaim and to Dov and how they viewed each son. and the relationship of Chaim and Dov when they were younger, would give the reader a deeper perspective on both Chaim’s personality and Dov’s need to be bullying and overbearing to his sister in law. It’s unusual that the brother in law would take out on the sister in law as opposed to on Chaim himself. Which Dov could be doing inadvertently despising Chaim without Dov even realizing it, and taking it out on his sister in law. What is the relationship of Dov and Chaim when they grew up and are both married. It almost seems as if Dov resents it that Chaim is in learning. The reader would need to know if Dov was also in learning and has a wife that supports him and that Dov could be frustrated that the Kollel life is not as straightforward as he had envisioned it to be and could therefore be lashing out on his brother and sister in law, as if to say, “Don’t do what I did, make sure your wife goes into a profession which will make Kollel life more sustainable”. There could be so many undercurrents going on, even of Dov, who has been in Kollel for many years, finally makes the jump and starts to do things he wants to do and the way Chaim and Devi’s life is playing out is the impetus for him to be true to himself. Although, again, if Dov is overbearing and a bully, he would have a tonne of issues to work through before he got to the stage of being authentic to himself.
There are so many avenues you could pursue here, for example, does Dov, if he is Kollel, really want to be in Kollel, or does he want a different life map and is frustrated when he sees his brother Chaim in the same situation as he is in. It could be that Dov’s parents valued Chaim more because he was the better ‘learner’ and Dov has issues of rejection by his parents, or his parents not valuing him as much as they did with Chaim, and therefore now, when he is older, he’s venting it out indirectly on Chaim’s way of life but through his wife. He could be mad at Chaim but really he’s still dealing with demons from his past. And Chaim’s lack of assertiveness or lack of knowledge of how to give his wife the support she needs, also has a background. It could be that Chaim and Dov each picked up their perspective on life from the way their parents related to each other.
The reader does see how Devi is slowly learning to assert herself but as Riva pointed out, there needs to be a process of how Devi overcame her limitations, how she begins to be more assertive with her parents as she begins to see herself in a different light, through the help of whoever she meets, new friends she makes, mentor, Rebbetzin. She could even start journaling and discover that she’s the most talented writer only that people don’t know the hidden parts of her.
The main point I’m making is that life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The journey of childhood into adulthood, of individuating from one’s own parents, becoming an adult with values and beliefs that the newly grown adult owns and is becoming authentic to oneself. For some, it’s a life’s journey, the discovery of oneself , unhindered by anyone else’s views bearing weight upon the young adult. It’s also a matter of communication, exposing one’s vulnerabilities, how relationships between parents and children, either remain entrenched in the same patterns or whether the relationship changes as the young adults mature and the parents see the children in a different light.
Your story has potential to go in so many different directions. That is the beaut;y of fiction, one can base it on a true to life story, and in the process change the characters, the plot and envision a whole different story to the original true story.
MemberMay 23, 2020 at 7:28 pm
I mean, truth is always stranger than fiction. Speaking from personal experience, I think overbearing, manipulative influences that affect a marriage can be surprisingly hard to believe. I mean, anyone with strong, healthy boundaries expects to be able to protect those things that are important to them, and when someone acts so unhealthy that they penetrate those boundaries, its literally shocking that someone would actually violate those boundaries, and perhaps even think its normal. Ok, I could go on and on but the general gist is, truth is stranger than fiction, but yes, please build it all up so we are also taken for the ride iwth Devi, and recoil WITH HER in horror when her boundaries are violated.
MemberMay 24, 2020 at 2:37 am
Wow! One thing I love about writing a novel or short story is that you really need to understand psychology! Happens to be, I love psychology, and maybe one day in the future I’ll pursue that path, but meanwhile, I have to diagnose and treat the characters of my novels! Right now, I already have two novels I’m working on…I would love to do this one too…Wish I had more time but with my kids home all day and other commitments, I’m not sure if it’s possible…oh well, “Devi’s” story really intrigues me, either I’ll have to find a way to fit this novel in my schedule…or else we all might have to wait a year or two ’till I find time to write it!
But yes, thank you Kayla- it’s so true what you are saying. I’m def going to have to diagnose Devi and Chaim with some form of CEN (childhood emotional neglect).
And yes, word warrior, I agree! It is shocking when in real life you discover people who don’t understand boundaries! I think that’s why this plot line fascinates me, it gives me the opportunity to play psychologist and explore that topic!
MemberJune 5, 2020 at 9:02 am
I loved the story! Easy to read, very relatable. Can’t wait to see it developed.
I also really liked how you jumped straight in to the story, no boring intros and scene setting.
Personally I would be interested in the original, with the Rav. Probably a lot more caution is needed, but I feel like, these things happen, let’s face them. I could see something like that in Ami or Mishpacha maybe.
MemberJune 5, 2020 at 11:59 am
I posted the prologue and chapter one of this stroy as I’m developing it, athough I changed it up a bit…check it out! titled prologue and chapter one 🙂
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