Abraham “Abe” Rothberg: Author, Professor, Friend

Abe Rothberg and Peter Pappas

Two weeks ago, I lost a very important person in my life. For more than 25 years Abe Rothberg served as friend, mentor, surrogate father and personal curmudgeon. Over long lunches in diners or late afternoons in his study we’d discuss politics, history, literature, journalism and gossip about everyone we knew.

By the time I met Abe in the early 1980’s he had many achievements – a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of thirteen novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. Abe was the most learned (and opinionated) person I ever knew. While I never saw Abe in the classroom, he was beloved or feared (or both) by legions of English literature students from his days teaching at Hofstra, Columbia and St. John Fisher.

For more on Abe’s accomplishments see the New York Times obituary
Abraham Rothberg, Who Wrote of Golem and Stalin, Dies at 89 

Rothberg-nyt
Following his retirement from teaching, I knew Abe hoped to devote more time to his writing. There were some successes – like an occasional journal piece,  but many of our lunches were punctuated by his growing disappointment that yet another book manuscript had been rejected. So beginning around 2000, I began to try to convince Abe that we could use new print-on-demand technology to by-pass the big publishing houses and do it ourselves. “I will never stoop to vanity press,” he’d bellow.

I pressed on and a few years later (did I say he was stubborn?)  I convinced him to let me publish The Holy Warriors a novel that had been rejected by a few publishers despite the fact that it had, in a way, anticipated 9/11. “OK Abe, let’s get this started – give me the Word doc of the book and I’ll get going on design.” Abe replied, “What’s a word doc?” (Did I mention that Abe refused to even LOOK into a computer screen?) So before beginning work on book design, step one was finding someone who was willing to scan / proof  his typewritten and heavily edited manuscript into OCR.

Eventually the book was finished and sent off to Lulu for publication. I’ll never forget bringing the finished paperback to Abe. He took the book in his thick hands and kept turning it over  – like a baker patting down dough. His face beamed as he asked,  “So when do we get started on the second book?”

Over the next six years we published another twelve books. (That’s right – all 12 started as typewritten manuscripts.) The scope was a remarkable testimony to the breadth of Abe’s interest and expertise – collections of  short fiction On A Darkling Plain, essays and literary criticism What Time Is It Now? novels set in Japan The Torii Gate and the Soviet eastern block The Former People. Subject ranged from a children’s story – Pinocchio’s Sister ~ A Feminist Fable  to an exploration of the justice system through the lens of a serial killer The Trials of Arthur John Shawcross.

In 2010, a group of his friends held a tribute to Abe  – the man and his writing – as part of a Jewish Book Festival. Here’s an excerpt of the reflection that Abe shared with us. (I learned he always liked the last word)

… Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Fiction can introduce you into the lies and truths of other people’s minds and hearts, to your own country and time, or strange, foreign places and other eras, into the most public forums and the most private scenes of human intimacy; it can make you see, hear, feel, love, hate, forgive, judge, understand, and yet not be bound by the consequences of all those activities, though you are there as a participant-observer in the most personal and informed ways. … And so, tonight, you will hear some of the lies I have written I take to be important truths, serious fictions about our lives and times. I thought my books might contribute to the cultural and political conversations and dilemmas of our epoch. If that has not taken place as I wished– and I am sorry to say it has not–it was not for the want of my trying.

To read more about Abe, download or order his books click here.

What Time Is It Now? Reflection on Literature and Life by Abraham Rothberg

Rothberg-fiction For the last 5 years I’ve been a print-on-demand publisher, producing ten books for a dear friend – Abraham Rothberg. His previous work was published by mainstream publishers and has been favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. Unfortunately his previous work had gone out of print. So we decided to cut out the middle man and self publish.

Our latest book is “What Time Is It Now? Reflection on Literature and Life.” Preview / purchase the book  

The collection is a retrospective selection of essays, sharply observed and often humorous, that span almost half a century of reflections of modern life and literature, politics and personality. There is an essay analyzing the operations of British Secret Intelligence in the novels of John LeCarré, explorations of the conflicts between “superman” Social Darwinism and Socialism as portrayed in the works of Jack London. The collection contains a series of personal forays into the nature of modern marriage, of trying to “cultivate one’s own garden” in modern life, as well as how novelists have depicted the “flawed dream” of American politics. In addition, there are analyses of Gary Snyder’s poetry and their sources, Solzhenitsyn’s short stories and plays and their underlying morality, and the domestic turbulence of Arnold Wesker’s English dramas. Several essays also describe and dissect anti-Semitism in European life and literature, its roots and reverberations, and in one instance, in the works of T.S. Eliot.

In addition to five new essays, it features twenty-five previously published works including:
 “The Decline and Fall of George Smiley” ~  Southwest Review, Autumn, 1981.
 “Waiting for Wesker” ~ Antioch Review, Winter, 1964-65.
 “Solzhenitsyn’s Short Stories”  ~ Kansas Quarterly, Spring, 1967
 “Jack London: American Myth”  ~  Bantam Books, 1963.
 “The War in the Members: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” ~ Bantam Books, 1967.
 “Styron’s Appointment in Sambuco”  ~  New Leader, July 4-11, 1960 

Read Abe’s latest reflection on his work “Fiction is a Lie that Tells the Truth“ 

And many thanks to my talented publishing assistant,  June Tyler who designed Abe’s latest two books.

Fiction is a Lie that Tells the Truth: Reflections on Life and Literature

Abraham Rothberg

RothbergFor the last 5 years I’ve been a print-on-demand publisher, producing ten books for a dear friend – Abraham Rothberg. Abe has had a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of 16 published novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. His previous work was published by mainstream publishers and has been favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. Unfortunately his previous work had gone out of print. So we decided to cut out the middle man and self publish.

Recently we held a tribute to Abe – the man and his writings – as part of the Jewish Book Festival, at the Rochester JCC. 

Abe surprised the attendees with an eloquent reflection on fiction. [Excerpt]

... Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Fiction can introduce you into the lies and truths of other people’s minds and hearts, to your own country and time, or strange, foreign places and other eras, into the most public forums and the most private scenes of human intimacy; it can make you see, hear, feel, love, hate, forgive, judge, understand, and yet not be bound by the consequences of all those activities, though you are there as a participant-observer in the most personal and informed ways. 

… And so, tonight, you will hear some of the lies I have written I take to be important truths, serious fictions about our lives and times I thought my books might contribute to the cultural and political conversations and dilemmas of our epoch. If that has not taken place as I wished– and I am sorry to say it has not–it was not for the want of my trying. Complete text of his presentation

Read more about Abraham Rothberg and purchase his fiction


Using Print on Demand to Publish Your Own Books

New print technologies make it very easy to publish your own books. No need for the information gatekeepers to decide what we read. I’m showcasing a few approaches that may be of interest to my readers. 
 
Reading recovery teacher publishes new line of early literacy book
MaryAnn McAlpinand I worked together in the East Irondequoit Central School district while I was the Assistant Superintendent and she was the lead Reading Recovery teacher. I was not surprised when she recently started writing and publishing emergent texts. Although not my area of expertise, it certainly is MaryAnn’s.  She has a remarkable background in and passion for early literacy. She came to the East Irondequoit district just for the opportunity to train in and practice Reading Recovery.
Colors
 
MaryAnn’s Short Tale Press, features “little” books for early literacy that are based on real people and places and authentic life experiences. I can see my own grandchildren in her main character, Colin. This makes her books very appealing to modern children.  Parents and grandparents would be wise to visit her website when gift time rolls around, which we know is all the time! They are also written to be appropriate for students in Reading Recovery, ESL and classroom guided reading.   Visit her website-there is always a new text there – she is a prolific writer / publisher. 
 
Out of print author tired of rejections turns to self publishing
My dear friend and mentor – Abe Rothberg got tired of rejection notices for his latest works of fiction. Ironic – since his previous books were published by mainstream publishers and favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. Plus he was frustrated to see that his previous work had gone out of print. 
We decided to cut out the middleman  - team up and bring a new series of his work into publication. He supplied the manuscripts. I formatted them in Word and converted them to PDF. I designed the covers in Photoshop. We created a free account to publish the books on demand at Lulu.com – a print-on-demand publisher. For more on Abe and his books go to to his site – Abraham Rothberg
 
Teachers – it’s your turn to become a publisher for your students’ writing
I think we need to re-think how we teach writing with a shift in focus from teacher to student.
Old approach:
  • Students are asked to write only on the teacher’s topics.
  • Student writes for the teacher.
  • Teacher grades their writing.
New approach: 
  • Students can develop topics that matter to them.
  • Audience and purpose for writing is identified. 
  • Students are asked to reflect on their growth.
We all struggle to create authentic writing experiences for our students. Imagine if they had an opportunity to see their work in print – and we’re talking about a real paperback.  Let them go through the process of writing, co-editing, illustrating and designing a book. Rigor and relevance meets motivation and self-directed study. I’ve gotten so excited by the results that I’ve done workshops to train teachers. You can see material and sample student books at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish
 
BTW – I’ve been following Theresa Reagan on Twitter. She’s an Elementary Principal from Michigan who is making great use of Lulu to publish student work.  See her students’ books on their Lulu page 

So why aren’t your students publishing their own books?

We all struggle to create authentic writing experiences for our students. Imagine if they had an opportunity to see their work in print – and we’re talking about a real paperback.  Let them go through the process of writing, co-editing, illustrating and designing a book. Rigor and relevance meets motivation and self-directed study. I’ve gotten so excited by the results that I’ve done workshops to train teachers. You can see material and sample student books at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish.

I recently discovered Lulu.com – a print-on-demand publisher. I’ve used it to publish five books for a dear friend and author – Abe Rothberg. He wrote the manuscripts. I formated them in Word and converted them to a PDFs. I designed the covers in Photoshop and converted them to a PDFs. I uploaded the PDF files to the Lulu website. Cost so far – nothing!

Lulu doesn’t actually produce any books until one is ordered. Then the magic starts – Lulu takes my PDF files and produces a perfect-bound book and ships it to the buyer.

The money side at Lulu is pretty straightforward. No charge for uploading a book. (If you want to give it an ISBN number, that’s $35). Book production costs are $4.53 per book plus .02 per page black and white (.15 per page color). Example: a 50 page book with b/w text would cost you $.5.53 plus shipping. No costs are incurred until a book is ordered.  As a book author you can limit sales to only yourself, and buy unlimited books at cost (with a break on author’s orders of more than 25).  If you want to offer the books for sale to the public, you can set the price. You get 80% of the mark up over production cost. Lulu keeps 20% and sends you the royalty checks. They will also host your book as a downloadable e-Book for free.

BTW -  Abe has had a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of seven published novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. His previous work was published by mainstream publishers and has been favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. He’s also a dear friend and mentor whose previous work had gone out of print. We decided to cut out the middle man. For more on Abe go to his website – Abraham Rothberg

PS – I don’t work for Lulu

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