Interview with Ahuva Batya Scharff for her new book, “Meeting God at Midnight”

Today, I interview the internationally acclaimed writer, Ahuva Batya Scharff about her new book, “Meeting God at Midnight,” available from Sociosights Press, http://www.sociosights.com

How long have you been a poet? When did you start writing?

I wrote my first published poem in the fourth grade. I was around ten years old. The piece was about a pygmy hippo I saw on a trip to the Fresno zoo. I think I even drew a little hippo to go with the work.

But just to be clear, I consider myself a writer, not only a poet. I write poetry, fiction, nonfiction and academic works. At my core, I am a storyteller. I use different forms to convey the stories, depending on the need and the audience.

Tell me where the idea for your new book, “Meeting God at Midnight” originated?

I was terribly depressed a few years ago, the type of depression in which it takes effort to do simple things like get out of bed or brush your teeth. My rabbi, to help me, suggested that since I am a writer, I should write something and send it to him every day. I didn’t know what I could put out every day. I didn’t feel like writing anything, even fortune-cookie length, let alone work on a novel! So I wrote poems, because in them, I could express the depth of my suffering in brief bursts. In those poems, themes developed. The best of the work was edited and put together in this book, “Meeting God at Midnight.”

Writing a book can be a long, involved process. How long did it take you to write this book?

Years. I think the poems themselves were written over the course of about three years. Then there was another year-and-a-half or so of editorial process.

What advice would you give to other authors?

Hire an editor. Expect to pay a lot. I’m not talking about a friend, who will tell you that your book is great even if it’s not. I’m not talking about the local English teacher who might correct your grammar. I’m talking about a real book editor who can make your work sing. Your drafts are never as good as you think they are. Quality book editors separate the chaff from the seed, leaving you with the best story you can deliver.

Don’t hold onto work that is mediocre. There were poems that I love that didn’t make it into this book. Sometimes they didn’t fit the themes. Other times they just weren’t great. Only put the stellar pieces into your book. “Kill your darlings.”

Is this your first book? What other books have you written?

I coauthored a book on addiction recovery, which became an Amazon.com #1 bestseller, titled Ending Addiction for Good. I wrote that book under my secular name, Constance Scharff. In my “day job,” I’m an internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction and addiction recovery and speak all over the globe on the subject of addiction. You can check out some of my international presentations on YouTube, if that’s of interest to you.

Who do you envision your audience is for this poetry?

I think there are several audiences for this book. The first audience is Jews who seek a spiritual connection to their traditions. So much of Jewish practice can be experienced as dry or rote, but there’s a whole lot more to who we are than what happens in a Torah service. This book is in part about accessing the spiritual, the ecstatic, the inspiring – and cultivating that in your religious practice. We don’t have to leave Judaism to find rich traditions that include meditation, contemplative practices, ecstatic experience, even trance and dance! It’s all here if you look for it.

The second audience is women – Jewish or gentile – who have struggled with infertility and those who are barren – as well as the people who love them. In Judaism in particular, there is tremendous pressure to have children, to be part of the lineage that maintains the next generation. We are a people and when you have no children, you have no place in the synagogue or in community life. Although more progressive synagogues will try to make space for women without children, our rituals revolve around family; there isn’t much to be done about that. What do you do with that reality when your heritage and faith are important to you? I can’t stop being Jewish and yet I can’t live with a constant feeling of non-belonging. These poems work through those issues, as well as some of the stupid, thoughtless things people say and do when you can’t have kids.

I also wrote this book for rabbis, spiritual counselors, and psychologists who work with those who are having difficulty building families. Many do not know what to say to women (or men) in this situation. This book will give insight into the experience of barrenness and the despair that comes with it, along with the opportunity for tremendous growth.

A third audience I was thinking of when I wrote this book is those who were abused as children. I suffered devastating child abuse, and while it certainly changed me and made me the person I am, what happened no longer rules my life. One of the lessons I’ve learned by being unable to bear children is that you pick up the pieces and move on. In one of my poems, I talk about taking those broken bits and turning them into a mosaic, into something beautiful. That’s how I like to think of my life, as a work of art. I think that anyone can take their brokenness and sculpt it into something meaningful, but it takes work and commitment and courage to do so.

What kind of response have you received so far?

I have been absolutely blessed with the response I have received to “Meeting God at Midnight.” The first critic I sent it to called it “a work of art,” which absolutely blew me away. Listen, I’m realistic. The material in the first part of the book is challenging. And yet, readers stick with it as the experience changes from brokenness to hopefulness to joy. I mean, isn’t that what our lives are like anyway? We suffer and then we use that suffering to build good works. We can’t live in misery. We have to move on and make something of our tattered lives.

Perhaps the most straightforward response to my work came from a young woman I met on a recent trip to South Africa. She said upon reading the first few poems in my book, “This isn’t that boring rhyming stuff we read in school.” Her mother laughed saying, “No. These are poems you can actually understand.” As an author, that response is heartwarming. I don’t need to be acclaimed for creating high-brow work that “normal” people can’t make heads or tails of. I want to tell stories that inspire people to take hardship and make something of it. I want people who feel like they are marginalized in their lives or their communities or even in their own minds, to know that they matter and have something extraordinary to give from their pain.

I want to emulate those who inspire me. One of my greatest heroes is Viktor Frankl. He survived the Nazi death camps to write about meaning, that human beings need meaning in order to live vibrant lives. Elie Wiesel. Nelson Mandela. Maya Angelou. They didn’t have privileged histories, but they were able to use their experience and pain to lead others to a better life. That’s what I hope my work does.

In particular, women who have had miscarriages or cannot have children share that they find solace in my experience, knowing that they are not alone in their despair and that there is hope of creating a life that has meaning, even if there is no family to build from.

What are you working on next?

My next book, which is in the editorial process now, is a novel. It’s about the visionary experience of the modern day prophet. Although Jews have closed the scripture and no longer allow prophecy, I do not believe that God got the memo. I absolutely believe that God still speaks to us, still sends prophetic visions to some who are “attuned” to that channel, as it were. My next book is about the visions that one contemporary Jewish prophet sees, how seeing them tears her apart as she tries to understand them in the context of modern Judaism, and the conversations she has with God about what she is to do with the visions she has, which show a horrific future for humankind. I hope to have it published before the end of 2015.

Author Winegarten to sign books at CTC library

Campus News & Events

Central Texas College will celebrate Women’s History Month with a book signing featuring several women authors, including Debra Winegarten, on Tuesday, March 25 in the campus library from 2-4 p.m. Winegarten is the author of the young adults biography “Oveta Culp Hobby – Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist.”

A resident of Austin, TX, Winegarten also penned other books including the award-winning “There’s Jews In Texas” which earned the Poetica Publishing national chapbook contest, “Katherine Stinson: The Flying School Girl” and Mum’s The Word: A Tribute to Ruthe Winegarten.” Winegarten said, “I write lots of biographies for middle-school students, giving them inspirational role models in life. There is way too much gloom and evil being focused on in the world. I want my life to be a beacon for bringing forth beauty, truth, possibility and joy, so I stand in that place when I write.”

Also signing books will be several other…

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Oveta Culp Hobby and Women’s History Month

Oveta Culp Hobby and Women’s History MonthImage 

National Women’s History Month traces its beginnings to 1978, when the Sonoma County, California’s Commission on the Status of Women’s Education Task Force declared a “Women’s History Week” celebration and scheduled the event to coincide with “International Women’s Day,” March 8th.  The idea took root so quickly that by February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation designating the week of March 8, 1980 as “National Women’s History Week.” By 1987, Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity.[1]

            The first wave of feminism occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with the Seneca Falls, New York Convention in 1848 the rallying event, which launched the modern-day US women’s movement. The second wave of feminism ran from the 1960s to the 1990s, beginning with protests of the Miss American Pageant in the late 1960s. By 1978, the second wave of feminism in the United States was already going full throttle and had moved away from a “middle-class white women’s movement” to one that included women of color and women from developing nations. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s informed by post-modern and post-colonial thinking.[2]

            While we often know the names of the heroines of the modern-day women’s movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, I’d like to put forward a new name into the mix, one whose accomplishments helped propel women forward during World War II, at a time when the ideal of Rosie the Riveter is known to us, but the name of Oveta Culp Hobby has yet to be writ large in the books of women’s history.

            President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the first peacetime draft by signing into law the “Selective Service and Training Act on September 16, 1940.[3] This action set in motion an unexpected flurry of activity when the first male soldiers were conscripted in the fall of that year. “The War Department started receiving thousands of letters a day from women all over the country, wanting to know what, exactly, the government would be doing with their sons and brothers who were being forced into military service.”[4]

            The White House was ill-prepared to respond to this sea of inquiry, and started the Women’s Interest Section of the War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations to answer these letters. Oveta Culp Hobby, who, with her husband, the former Governor Will Hobby of Texas, was in Washington, D.C. at this time. The Hobbys owned and ran The Houston Post in addition to other local media interests. They were attending a meeting of the Federal Communications Commission regarding one of their Houston radio stations. General Surles met Oveta and asked her to run the Women’s Interest Section for the Army.

            Although she didn’t want to leave her husband and two small children in Houston, Oveta agreed to take the position in D.C. for six months for the sum of one dollar a year, as she and her husband both agreed it was her patriotic duty for the war effort. As World War II escalated and the U.S. joined in, it soon became clear to the White House that even with all the men drafted into the military services, there was still a shortage of military personnel to handle the huge demand fighting the war on multiple fronts was placing on the country.

            General Surles turned again to Oveta and asked her to draw up a plan for a women’s army to help supplement the ongoing military effort. Oveta agreed and after an intensive study of the British and French women’s armies, prepared a plan for a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) that would avoid making some of the mistakes the European women’s armies made. Oveta drew up a plan and testified in front of Congress showing how women serving it the WAAC could release men for frontline duty.

            Not only did Congress eventually appropriate money for this new women’s Army, Oveta was then tapped to lead the effort, becoming the first woman, in June 1942, to be appointed to the rank of Colonel in the US Army. When Oveta designed the WAAC in 1942, she identified 54 jobs women were qualified to perform in the Army. When she retired out in 1945, that original list of jobs had expanded to “239 jobs, ranging from riveters, interpreters, balloon-gas chemists, surveyors, and boiler inspectors in such far-flung places as India, North Africa, and Egypt.”[5]

            “By April 1945, the WACs (the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps’ name was shortened to the Women’s Army Corps) had recruited over 99,000 women, with WACs qualifying for 406 of the 628 military occupations.”[6]

            When WWII ended, these almost 100,000 women returned to civilian life. But their experiences in the Army, as independent people performing vital jobs for their country, stayed with them. The leadership skills, occupational skills and sense of freedom the women gained during their stint in the military made it hard for them to rejoin the mundane housewife roles they were expected to return to as they rejoined and re-engaged in their former lives.

            Although Oveta Culp Hobby herself abhorred the term “feminist” and refused to call herself one or adopt the label, if the definition of feminism means “equal pay for equal work,” then certainly Oveta was a front runner in this movement. Not only did she advocate for equal opportunities for women during a time when women were still viewed largely as second-class citizens, she also insisted that even though the Women’s Army Corps units were segregated by race, that the African-American women’s units would have African-American women as their officers, providing equal training opportunities to women of all colors.

            Thus, Oveta’s vision and extraordinary insights made her one of the unsung heroines of the second wave of feminism and our present-day women’s movement.

 

To find out more about the accomplishments of this woman from Killeen, Texas who ended up being the second woman in the US appointed to a Cabinet-level position, thanks to President Eisenhower upon whom she made a lasting impression while she was a Colonel, read my new book, “Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, and Philanthropist,” due out this month from UT Press.

Order the book here: https://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/winovp

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Franklin Roosevelt Approves Military Draft.” http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/franklin-roosevelt-approves-military-draft

Lasher, Patricia and Beverly Bentley. Texas Women—Interviews and Images. Austin,

Texas: Shoal Creek Publishers, 1980.

MacGregor, Molly Murphy. “History of National Women’s History Month.” National

Women’s History Project. http://www.nwhp.org/whm/history.php

Rampton, Martha. 2008. “The Three Waves of Feminism.” Pacific. The Magazine of

Pacific University. Vol. 41, No. 2, Fall 2008.

http://www.pacificu.edu/magazine_archives/2008/fall/echoes/feminism.cfm

Shire, Al, ed. Oveta Culp Hobby. Houston, Texas: Western Lithograph, 1997.

Winegarten, Debra L. Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member,

Philanthropist. The University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 2014.

 

 


[1] National Women’s History Project

http://www.nwhp.org/whm/history.php

[4] Winegarten, 2014: 26.

[5] Lasher and Bentley, Texas Women, 76.

[6] Shire, Oveta Culp Hobby, 58.

Why I Support the Heck Out of Other Writers

1. My mother, Ruthe Winegarten, the author of 18 books, winner of multiple book awards and a Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association, among other accolades told me to. She said, “Sometimes you go to an author’s book signing and there are only 5-7 people there. And maybe they only sell 1 or 2 books. We need to support other writers. It doesn’t matter if you never even read their book, you can give it to someone who will appreciate it. I’ve read a lot of good new authors that way I wouldn’t have ordinarily read.”

2. My mother taught me to support my colleagues. She was a big believer in “standing on the shoulders of those who come before us.” Whenever I went to do research with her in some library archives somewhere, she taught me to go introduce myself to the other researchers and find out what they’re working on, because they may know some obscure fact that will help you with your research. I followed her advice and found a bunch of vintage aviation photographs of Katherine Stinson buried in a photographer’s collection at the Harry Ransom Center that hadn’t seen the light of day in, you know, almost 100 years.

3. Those we help on the way up, we might see on the way down. And the corollary, they might invite you to their party when they’re at the top. Those of you who know me well know that I’m pretty much a legend in my own mind. Even though I’m a fairly passable writer, in my imagination (I should write fiction), I’m a Pulitzer Prize winning author whose books have been on the New York Times best seller’s list for 60 consecutive months and likely to win the Nobel Prize for Peace before I’m 65. I once got to go to the Texas Book Festival’s Opening Night Banquet, $300 a plate. I recently was invited to and took Cindy with me to the University of Texas at Austin’s Hamilton Book Award for the Best Book by a UT faculty or staff member because my book, “There’s Jews in Texas?” was nominated for the award.

4. I’ve been in the book promotion business since my first book came out in 1998. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve spent a lot of money. I’ve invested a lot of time. And even though I now charge $75 an hour for marketing consultation (see 14 years of my life invested, above), I often meet with budding writers and give them an hour or more of my time and let them buy me lunch instead of writing me a check. And I’ll be honest, I will do this for a woman and I’ll make a man pay me for the advice. Call me sexist, but until women earn equal pay for equal work, that’s what I do. I will, of course, make exceptions to that rule in both directions.

5. I support Bookwoman, one of the last 11 remaining independent feminist book stores left in the United States. Why? A number of reasons.

a. I have launched 3 of my 4 books at Bookwoman (so far). I am not charged a fee for having a book signing there, unlike another large independent book store in town who know charges $100 (or more) for a book signing and if your book is self-published, a $25 shelving fee.

b. Independent feminist book stores are safe places for people. Battered women, lesbian women, lonely women, happy women, women with children, feminist men. On their shelves are books you can look at to gain information on menopause research, role model biographies, how to leave your abusive partner. Our local store is a wonderful venue which supports authors, musicians, poets.

c. I met my heart partner at a book signing at Book Woman, and we’ve been together 17 years now.

d. I went to continue to have a place that’s a safe nurturing place where when I’m having a bad day, I can go hang out and look at books and cards and be reminded that there’s still hope in our world.

e. She supports me. After my Mom died and I was terribly depressed for several years, I went to work at the book store as a way to start reentering life. While there, I learned the “back end” of the book business, which is terrific knowledge for an author. How books are ordered and distributed, how long it takes a book to get from here to there, how bookstore owners make decisions about which books to carry, which publishers are friendly to which genres, how to price a book, how book store marketing and location decisions are made–priceless information.

6. When it’s book review time, a lot of my friends are even better writers than me. And maybe, just maybe, some of them will return a favor I did so long ago, I’ve already forgotten, but they haven’t, and write a terrific review for me.

Ever Wonder What It’s Like on “My” Side of the Author’s Table at a Book Signing? A Glimpse

After having just spent a day in the bustling metropolis of Harker Heights at their library’s “Author Fair” where the majority of the writers were self-published, I think there’s a lot of truth to what this guy says. I think until an author gets out into the “real world” and begins having conversations with readers, most of what we think we know about writing is “in our heads.”

It’s disheartening to sit next to someone who has poured their hearts and souls and MONEY into self-publishing a book, only to watch as people walk by, maybe pick up their book, maybe not, and them have to deal with the reality of rejection. I chose to sit next to a woman today whose book had the word “God” in the title because I thought it’d be nice to have a little “religion” section, since my book is about, well, you know what my book’s about.

And bless her heart, she said to me she sent out 25 personal invitations to friends to let them know about the book signing. And it got to be about 11:45 (we’d been there since 9) and not one of her friends showed up. I told her it was a Saturday and they were all late sleepers and probably wouldn’t get there before noon. At exactly 12:05, one of her friends showed up, another at 12:15, and another at 12:45 (the event ended at 1, thank heavens).

I spent most of the time addressing envelopes to send out my book cover postcards because I recently got the annual roster of The Texas Jewish Historical Society, so I’ve been spamming, I mean strategic targeted mailing, that’s it, my postcards to these folks since they’re, well, you know, probably interested in Texas Jews and my audience.

She told me right off the bat that everyone was her audience because, you know, we’re all Christians. I just looked at her and didn’t say anything, just quietly put up my nice huge foam board poster, which features my book cover, “There’s Jews in Texas?”

Got Internet? Get Jews — until midnight tonight!

Chag sameach!

In honor of the New Year and the Festival of Sukkot, I have made my award-winning chapbook, “There’s Jews in Texas?” available for FREE until midnight, tonight.

I can give away unlimited copies, so spread the word — tell your friends, family, mishpochah — there may not be free lunches, but this book is totally f-r-e-e, free, until midnight.

Get it here and enjoy:

http://www.amazon.com/Theres-Jews-in-Texas-ebook/dp/B007QCR9L8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1349116013&sr=8-3&keywords=winegarten

“There’s Jews in Texas?” — winner of the 2011 Poetica Magazine Chapbook Contest

Rosh Hashanah, 2011. I arrived home from services in the early afternoon. Already, my day was getting off to a rocky start. I am so smart, I took my car key off my key ring so I only had one key to put in my pants pocket to jingle around during services. When I drove up to my house, I picked up the key ring with my house keys and placed the car key in my car’s cup holder, got out of my car, hit the electric door lock and walked up the stairs of my front porch. Unlocking my front door, I realized I just locked my car key INSIDE my car — and I was rushing to get a bite to eat because I had an appointment in 30 minutes! Oy!

My cell phone rang. I glanced at the display, seeing an unrecognizable area code. “Who’s calling me on Rosh Hashanah?” I grumbled to no one in particular, since I was after all, home alone. The Israeli accent on the other end of the cell phone space said, “Debra? Lashana tova! This is Michal, publisher of Poetica Magazine.”

My heart skipped a beat, maybe two. I wished her a Happy New Year in return and waited. With anticipation, she said, “I just got home from services and received news of the winners of the chapbook contest and wanted to call everyone and tell them the results.”

“Oh,” I said, waiting to hear the good/bad news.

“I’m calling to tell you that you won first place!”

“I did?” I said, “would you mind repeating that?”

“You won! I thought that would be a good way to start your new year.”
I have no idea what else she said to me — I think I asked when the book would be out or the next steps or something, and she said she would call after the high holidays and we would work out the details.

Heart pounding so hard I thought it might bounce right out of my chest — I realized I was happier than I had been in — well, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been that happy, it had been so long. Not that I’m an unhappy person, mind you — but the very idea that my little chapbook, “There’s Jews in Texas?” won a national poetry contest — made me go outside and do a little Happy Dance in the back yard.

The book went to press a week ago Monday, and if all goes well and the creek don’t rise, I’ll have copies in time for Chanukah. Me. A published poet. A contest winner. Yep.