Visiting Varanasi takes the traveler to the spiritual heart of India. This city along the Ganges is considered the country’s holiest spot for both Hindus and Buddhists. We landed there on December 24 in the midst of a three-day church festival for Christmas. As if that wasn’t enough, we ate our festive hotel dinner that night (Indian menu, Christmas décor and Santa Claus hats for the men) to the accompaniment of youthful carolers. When they took a break, rousing renditions of “To Life, To Life, l’Chaim,” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”) and then “Have Negilah” rang out from three large tables of Israeli travelers. No horah dancing, but a lively and ironic interlude. “Of all the gin joints,” who would have expected this crowd?

This was close to the end of the official tour part of our trip through Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which led us through Bhutan and northern India. We were a group of seven in Bhutan and ten in India, a very manageable size. Our veteran group leader, Krish, keeps a selection of silk saris in OAT’s customary Varanasi hotel, and a woman who works there came in to drape the four women in the group for Christmas Eve dinner. The Israelis were amused. My weekly Hebrew conversation class at home enabled me to talk to them almost as well as most spoke English (including a few raised in the United States). They were intrigued that we were going to Israel after India.

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This author thing is a new experience for me, of course, and people are naturally curious as to how it’s going.  I’m not on the best seller list, but my status on Amazon varies from 100,000s to the 400,000s in rankings of books sold.  That doesn’t count what I’m selling myself via the web site or in person.  And I’m flattered by those who’ve posted favorable reviews on my Amazon page.

But, important as sales are, that’s not my sole criterion in assessing how After the Auction is “going.” I am intrigued by the reactions of readers and SHOCKED that many I’ve heard from like/love it.  Why am I shocked?  Let’s face it–this is a new venture for me–writing fiction.  From the trials and tribulations I’ve had–for instance, not hooking up with any of the myriad of agents I queried–let’s say that I had considerable self-doubt.

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My book-related travels have taken me to New York City the week of the annual Book Expo event.  Specifically, I came to present AFTER THE AUCTION to a Jewish Book Network (JBN) “Meet the Author” session.  The audience, the members of the JBN, consists of Jewish community center, educational agencies, and synagogue programming staff members who “book” author speakers for their sites.  The JBN schedules 4-5 of these sessions over a three-day period during its annual conference just ahead of the opening of the huge Book Expo exhibition at the Javits Center here.

I’d really targeted this year’s JBN meeting as my timing goal for getting my book published.  And I was amazed at how many other authors apparently had, too.  The sessions run like a well-oiled machine: Each author gets two minutes to speak, and the next speaker sits in an “on deck” seat.  While the timekeeper doesn’t exactly use a hook or play Oscar night music, her bright red signs announcing 1 minute, 30 seconds, 10 seconds and her ultimate times-up rise from her seat are pretty effective in keeping the speakers in line.  That is, except for a couple–including at least one prominent novelist, Cathleen Schine, whose latest book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, only got a great front-page review in the NY Times Book Review (which she did mention, but who wouldn’t?).  It surprised me that such a relatively well-known writer would appear for this try-out session; maybe it surprised her, too, but that was no reason for her to disregard the rules and ignore the timekeeper trying to be polite but firm.

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