Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Harlem

Hot off his success with his documentary The Amazing Nina Simone, my brother Jeff Lieberman is already into his next project, a feature-length film called My Harlem. He's got an Indigogo campaign on and it's a great project to contribute to.

My Harlem is a feature-length narrative film set in New York's beautiful and historic Harlem neighborhood, where gentrification has been a hotly-debated topic. The discussion has been further inflamed by a Harlem church whose billboard often contains racist and homophobic messages. The sign has suggested that “homos” be stoned, thrown off buildings, and believes the gay community are sexual deviants out to “steal” the neighborhood.  The church sign has also targeted Black people, women, President Obama, and many others.  

As a Harlem-based filmmaker, Jeff wanted to write a tribute to his neighborhood to showcase all the beautiful and historic aspects of this vibrant corner of New York City.  He also wanted to pay tribute to the people who fill its brownstones, restaurants, parks and jazz clubs, and he wanted to address the thorny issue of gentrification and the complications that arise as the neighborhood continues to shift. Jeff has lived in Harlem for the last five years, and he says he recognizes that his presences is part of the problem. He also hopes to be part of the solution.

In My Harlem the sign brings the two main characters of the film together. Nathan who is white and Langston who is black react to the sign's hateful message in different ways. Their relationship dives deep into issues of race, gentrification and sexuality, all set against the backdrop of the police brutality of the summer of 2016. Jeff hopes the film will incite change and inspire healing for all of those affected by police shootings, displaced from their homes, and for all those who have had to hear hateful and dangerous speech as a result of their sexuality or the color of their skin.  

Jeff and others in the gay community don't have their own sign to combat hate speech, but Jeff's taken this opportunity to create a film that speaks to this sign with love and with opportunities for community healing. You can read more about Jeff's film and his campaign at Indigogo.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A True Title

Sometimes a book title comes to you like a thunder bolt. My novel Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust was like that. I knew the title before I wrote a single word. The only downside to this title is that it’s really long. I have said this mouthful thousand of times, and it never really trips off my tongue.

Sometimes I have an entire book, and no title. This is usually my predicament. How to encapsulate all my ideas and lure in a reader in a few short words? The working title of my forthcoming book (Spring 2017) was Feast. I wanted a short title after Lauren Yanofsky, and Feast summed up both a plot element at the end of the book, and a concept the main character was moving toward. My editor, however, felt it was lacking, and since she always has good judgement, I went on a title search. Next I thought to call the book Crave, but there are many books with that title, mostly of the bodice-ripper variety. After some soul searching, re-writing and wordplay, I found the book’s true title, The Most Dangerous Thing. It’s not too long, nor too common, and it sums up the book perfectly. (If you’re wondering just what is the most dangerous thing, you’ll have to wait a little.)

       Currently I’m looking for a title for an adult book I’ve written that spans twenty-five years of a woman’s life. It’s about love and loss and mothers and the way some people have to make a new family if they’ve lost their first one. The book has over the years I’ve been writing it been called: Open Your Heart, (un)Lucky, and It’s Better To Go On Long Walks. Each of these has spoken to some aspect of the book, but has been rejected for various reasons. Open your Heart was too common, (un)Lucky was well, unlucky, and The Long Walk title too glib. None of them really spoke to the heart of the book either. In desperation (and amusement) I tried using an online book title generator. This resulted in:  Lonely Japan Boy, The Seven Angels, Gift in the Crying, The Acceptance Ring, Dragon in the Planet, and my personal favourite The Legacy of the PotterSome of these aren't bad, but they've got nothing to do with my book!

       I’ve spent most of my long bike rides this summer trying to unearth the book’s true title, but a talk with my friend Robbie finally sent me in the right direction. I haven't nailed it down yet, but I think I'm getting closer. Possible options are Finding Home, Swing on a Star, Back to Belonging, Away and Home, and Someone to Dance With. Readers, if you have strong opinions about these, let me know! I seek advice!

     So what makes a good title? I like an usual combination of words like Hideous KinkyTheir Eyes Were Watching God and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The Cat’s Table also intrigues me. But I’m also equally happy with titles like Home and The Road Home. Perhaps I just love these last two books (by Marilynne Robinson and Rose Tremain) and don’t really care about the title. I imagine so. Books with two word titles that are easy to say, and remember, yet slightly unusual like Deborah’s Levy’s Hot Milk and Midnight's Children are what I aim for. With that in mind, I’m thinking of calling my next two books Rock Me Tight and The Tree Lover.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Floating in a Book

I never got to Tolstoy this summer. I blame it on my son, who high-jacked my reading list with his need to be read to for long hours of the day. However, I did make it through some of the titles in my pile, and I absolutely loved Rosa Sarkin-Gee's The Last Kings of Sark and Claire Fueller's Our Endless Numbered Days, both of which I highly recommend. Most of my reading time was taken over by Harry Potter. Yes, the Lieberman family was consumed by stories of Hogwarts, Quidditch and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

I had been suggesting I read HP to my two boys (ages 8 and 10) this spring, but they were adamant they were not interested. Then, my older son, who had until then only read graphic novels or diaries, decided to pick up an actual chapter book. He read the first Harry Potter in less than a week, and the next three during the rest of August. He only stopped reading to eat, sleep, go for the occasional swim and to indulge his other slightly obsessive habit: endlessly bouncing a tennis ball.

Enter my extremely jealous 8 yr-old who only reads in French. (Both boys attend a franco-phone school.) My older son learned to read in English out of necessity: when he had read every Nate and Wimpy Kid book in French, he reluctantly read them all in English. My 8yr.old, rather than trying to learn to read English, insisted on having the HP books read to him, which my husband and I were happy to do. Perhaps not all day, and not at the expense of reading other material, but read we did. The 8 yr.old and I are currently at the end of book 3, which means we read over a thousand pages of HP in August.   

Dinner conversations now revolve around the Nimbus 2000 versus The Firebolt, the correct pronunciation of  "Hermione," and whether palmistry actually works. The kids dream of Honeydukes and Diagon Alley. The hurl insults at each other like, "You are such a muggle!" My 8 yr. old spent a few afternoons with a broom handle at his side, demanding "Up! Up!" in the hopes it would magically rise into his hand. Every once in awhile he'd try and trick his brother into believing that it actually worked. When he got tired of that, he ran around with the broom between his legs, pretending to fly.

I had been waiting a while, patiently, for my older son to fall into reading the way I did as a kid. When I see him now hunched over a book on his bed, or sprawled on the hammock, totally engrossed, I feel a deep satisfaction that he has reached the level where reading is completely engaging. He has reached that magical other place where there is only story, where having to put your bookmark in your book because it's dinner or bedtime, rips you away from a place where you are totally immersed, and totally safe. In French the word for doing an activity that is both engaging and challenging is La Flotte, or flow state. And that's what my son is doing, he's floating in a book.

For amazing pictures of Hogwart's Castle made out of Lego check out the artistry of Alice Finch.