Three years ago in January I was looking forward to the August publication of my debut novel, The Takeaway Men.
I was hoping – as most authors did — to have a host of live events. In anticipation, I purchased various outfits that I deemed appropriate for speaking and signing books.
During the first COVID-19 lockdown in March, I was not the only one who thought it would last two weeks. But as spring turned into summer, weddings and vacations were postponed and friends and neighbors became very ill – some even died — it became clear that we were living in unprecedented and frightening times.
While everyone was disappointed by this turn of events, I and others quickly concluded that the lack of in-person book events was not the biggest problem facing the world.
During the pandemic, I had one major live event. It was held at the The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, Long Island on August 20, 2020. Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founder and spiritual leader of the synagogue, had been kind enough to include me in the Author Series his congregation sponsors each summer. Held in the sanctuary, which has an outside wall that opens, there were only a handful of attendees that evening – all wearing masks. I was interviewed by Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, who made me feel very comfortable with his engaging questions. When I arrived, I noticed the event was being videotaped for later broadcast on JBS TV.
While there was initially some concern that the book industry would falter and readers would stop reading, this did not prove to be the case at all. Books continued to be published and bought. But how would authors present their books in a world wracked with COVID-19?
In January of 2020, I had never heard of Zoom but quickly learned that if I wanted to see my children and grandchildren I had better learn. Those were the days when we were literally quarantined with the people with whom we lived. Unfortunately, there are no hugs on zoom for grandparents. And for authors, no guaranteed book sales.
Once we were relegated to Passover seders on Zoom, I started to become familiar with the technology. More and more organizations were going virtual – even synagogue services. That was when a lightbulb went off and I announced through emails, my website, and various social media channels that I was challenging myself to meet virtually with 100 book clubs.
Much to my amazement, I had lots of takers. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the response. And I’m so grateful for each and every one. I had a great time connecting with readers, literally all over the U.S. and the world. For example, on the evening before Thanksgiving I met with members of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, who celebrate their Thanksgiving in October.
I met also with Julie Zuckerman’s Literary Modiin group in Israel and with countless other virtual venues throughout the U.S. From book clubs to Holocaust Centers to Hadassah groups to synagogues and more, I sometimes met virtually with several groups a day.
At some of these events I reconnected with long lost cousins and old friends from high school and college whom I hadn’t seen in years. I also participated in programs with other authors. And it was always so heartwarming to chat with readers and answer their questions.
I estimate that I met with more than 80 groups to speak about The Takeaway Men. I am so grateful to everyone who hosted me.
Another amazing result of this virtual world is that I have met and interacted with not only readers but authors throughout the country. I now consider some of them to be good friends – even though we’ve never met in person. I know their faces, but I don’t know how tall they are, for example.
My author friends have been so kind and generous and supportive during this journey, and I wonder if this robust community would even exist if life had been normal. When I had the rare opportunity to meet a few of them in person, it was a thrill when we recognized each other!
Many readers asked me to write a sequel to learn what happened to the major characters. I did and it is called Shadows We Carry, which is scheduled to be published in April. I suspect there will be both virtual and in-person programs. I’m starting to add events to my calendar, so please contact me through my website and I’ll be happy to schedule your group!