I'm always excited to share author Q&A articles with you. This time stands out because I rarely meet a Jewish writer from my hometown, Ottawa, but I found Brandon on Linked-In in 2013 when my first novel King of the Class was published and we connected quickly over shared writing interests.
I'm excited about Brandon's Jewish history reference book on Jewish leadership due out in 2019. He tells me the actual publisher and specific details are still under wraps. I did try to get it out of him!
GILA GREEN (GG): Tell us about your new project.
BRANDON MARLON (BM): Over the course of the last three and a half years, on and off, I've put together a thorough and inclusive reference work on Jewish history, focusing on the first 4,000 years of Jewish leadership, with its sundry types and numerous incumbents. It is intended as a comprehensive, ready reference for laypersons and specialists alike.
GG: How did you come to be working on a reference book?
BM: I wanted to enhance and expand my own knowledge of Jewish history (something that can always be increased), and to share what I've learned from extensive research with fellow Jews especially, as well as all other interested parties. There are abundant lessons to glean from Jewish history, and a wide array of personages whose examples astound and inspire.
GG: What are your goals with this reference book?
BM: I composed this work for educational purposes. My modest dream would be to have it on the bookshelf of every Jew on earth.
When you're writing history, names, dates, toponyms, and the like matter a great deal. I endeavored to be painstaking and methodical in my approach and to reconcile accounts and resolve disparities to the best of my ability, which entailed many investigations and some wild goose chases. For instance, the history and geography of central and eastern Europe in the last millennium—critical to medieval, early modern, and modern Jewish history—was particularly convoluted and overcomplex.
GG: Who is the intended audience?
BM: Primarily Jews, but also Christians interested in the origins of their own faith community, as well as Jewish studies students and informed readers of history, biography, religion, etc.
GG: What have you learned from this project that surprised you?
BM: I was most impressed by the entrepreneurship of leaders in various categories, from sages who established Judaic academies and communal or political organizations to secular Zionists who founded publications, political parties, and major civic institutions. There were also continual mysteries to solve concerning various details of certain leaders, since many of the sources offer contrary or even contradictory accounts.
Leaving women out omits important parts of our collective story, so anyone really keen on understanding history should be eager to discover all of the players and their seminal contributions.Brandon Marlon
GG: What was edited out and/or added in that you think others would find interesting?
BM: Women, for one thing. Surely, we all acknowledge that history in general has often omitted the contributions of women, and Jewish history (with notable exceptions) is likewise culpable in this regard. I made a point—not for politically--correct reasons, solely for pedagogical ones—to include whatever info I could discover about women leaders (e.g. Jewish queens, prophetesses, female warriors, female courtiers) and the key women in the lives of male leaders, even if the only available datum was a first name of a wife, daughter, or sister.
I also highlighted many women leaders, for example women Zionists, who played crucial parts in Jewish history but remain unknown or little known (e.g., Recha Freier, Rebecca Sieff, Hannah Maisel-Shohat). Leaving women out omits important parts of our collective story, so anyone really keen on understanding history should be eager to discover all of the players and their seminal contributions.
GG: How does it advance your overall career goals?
BM: Really, my goal with this work was to learn and to educate those similarly interested in learning. I doubt that reference works are usually thought to advance career goals, but any new work created, produced, and disseminated is important to an author in any writing genre. It is certainly a lateral shift from my works in drama, film, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and journalism. Time will tell if the work reaches its targeted audience (s). I certainly hope readers find it very helpful and worthwhile.
GG: Is the end product the way you imagined it from the beginning or did it turn into something else ultimately?
BM: The book developed from several piecemeal articles originally published online into a much more comprehensive and expansive work that could have kept going and going (there are always more rabbis to profile, perhaps some Zionists that might have been deservedly featured, and even other leadership categories to feature). But you do have to set limits and deadlines, and make frequent editorial decisions about what you have room for in a single volume. In a multi-volume encyclopedia, you obviously have much more leeway, but even then, choices must be made or the research and writing will be nearly interminable. Full-time researchers may have that luxury; professional writers have to be more pragmatic and closure-oriented.
GG: Anything else you want to tell us about it?
BM: I'm truly looking forward to the book's debut in 2019 and hope it serves its purpose. There is just so much to know about a storied and industrious people 4,000 years old and counting, so I hope this work will be widely read and consulted as a useful resource and welcome contribution to Jewish history studies and to Jewish education generally. Thank you very kindly indeed for the chance to discuss it.
GG: Thank you so much, Brandon. Your book sounds as though it will be a valuable contribution to Jewish knowledge and Jewish education. I can't wait for readers to discover it.