I began writing when I was thirty, using my American name. It seemed easy enough – put words on paper that pandered to popular tastes, package them in hard-cover, then paperback, sell them by the millions, and become wealthy. It was simple.
The plan required natural talent, and discipline. I was blessed only a little with the first, but had plenty of the second. Twenty disciplined years later, with hundreds of reams of bad writing thrown into the plastic garbage pail by the side of my desk, I stopped pandering. It wasn’t leading anywhere, other than chewing up time, lots of paper, and expensive HP ink cartridges. On my shelf, there were ten plays, and three novels.
And I fell in love with writing. This love let to three brave new decisions.
1- Since I was destined to spend a lot of time, alone, in front of a word processor, I would enjoy it as much as possible, choosing subjects I felt passionate about.
2- Since I was the main audience, I would write using a style I also liked to read.
3- I switched from writing stage plays and novels, to short stories. I could remain optimistic until the last page that someday an audience would find me.
When I was fifty, after twenty years of putting words on paper, God descended slowly, steadily into my life. I now wrote for two: Him, and me. I used my Jewish name, Zalman Velvel, to remind me who my Ultimate Reader was. My writing became a form of prayer, saying, “God, this is how Zalman Velvel sees and feels about the world You made.”
By June, 2009, I had been writing fiction for 30 years, half my life. I had one fiction book published, a collection of short stories, titled, “King of Shabbos.” I finally learned the craft, and proved Tennessee Williams wrong when he stated, “You aren’t a true writer until you have thrown out a million words.” I had to throw out twice that many.
I won a few awards for my stories and plays, had some published and performed, but like many artists, I believed true success was when you could say, “I earn a living at this and I don’t have to eat mustard sandwiches anymore.”
There were times when I would reread my stories, and grow sad, because I believed some were good, yet only God and I knew it. I would look up from my word processor to the Master of the Universe and beseech Him: “What is wrong? Am I not ready? Am I deluding myself by thinking I have any talent as a writer?”
Then this email was sent to me:
From: "Shana Gutnick”
To: Zalman Velvel
Sent: Sunday, June 21, 2009
Subject: Your “Jewish People Today” submission
Dear Mr. Zalman Velvel,
Thank you very much for your submission to “Jewish People Today.” We were impressed with your powerful story "Sounds of Life." However, we would need you to make some revisions before we would be able to accept it. Firstly, we had some trouble with the idea of a Cantor banging a prayer siddur on a bima, and showing such complete disrespect to a holy object. This can easily be changed by having him pound his fist on the bima rather than the siddur. Our second issue was with the last page. There are problems with having someone say kaddish without a minyan, ten men, and the element of fantasy brought it by having the rabbi see the Jewish Patriarchs. We felt the ending really needed to be changed. I hope you will be able to make these changes since we think your story is excellent and would like to publish it.
All the best,
Shana Gutnick, Editor, Jewish People Today
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