Monthly Archives: December 2011
Hanukkah Musings

As this is my writing blog, I don’t often delve into religious matters in this space. There’s a good reason for that; religious content can be divisive. For as many people as it draws to you, it can repel many others. That’s why I keep a separate blog for my religious and theological writing, at MessianicMusings.com.

However, when I was invited to take part in the Festival of Books, it was not difficult to decide to take part. I won’t go into the spiritual reasons here, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll share part of why I am taking part in a book giveaway that focuses around the festival of Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, rather than a more typical Christmas-themed giveaway.

You see, when most people think about Hanukkah, the thing they know about it is the miracle of the lamp oil. A one-day supply burned for eight days, when the supply of lamp oil was replenished. On the scale of the miraculous, even the most devout and Orthodox of rabbis will admit, the miracle of the oil doesn’t exactly rank up there with, say, the parting of the Red Sea.

But there’s a deeper story to the festival, one I’m about to share with you.

The Maccabean period in Israel’s history covered the years 167-160 BCE. At that time, Israel was under the rule of the Greeks; specifically, the Grecian ruler Antiochus Epiphanies. Under the Greek system of occupation, it was expected that any occupied territory conform completely to Grecian culture. That posed a problem for Israel, which had a strong tradition of honoring the “God of Avraham, Yitzak, and Yaakov.”

There were two primary impulses in Israel at the time. One was embodied by those who desired peace and were willing to water down and integrate their worship of God to fit into the norms of Greek society and culture. This movement was called the Hellenizers.

Then there were those in Israel who insisted that the worship of HaShem should not be compromised, watered down, or integrated with the worship of other, false gods. This movement became a militant group lead by the Maccabees, who vowed to fight for Jewish sovereignty. It became a revolutionary war movement over the issue of religious freedom.

To make a long story short and to the point, the Maccabees fought and won that battle, driving the Greeks out of Israel, restoring the worship of God to the Second Temple, and gaining – at least temporarily – Israeli sovereignty.

It didn’t last long. Roman occupation of Israel soon replaced Greek occupation, but the Romans learned a lesson from the mistake of the Greeks. Rather than enforce religious compliance to Roman culture with an iron fist, Rome allowed local religions to be practiced freely under Roman rule, so long as Roman civil authority and taxation were observed, and the establishment of separate Roman worship sites were tolerated.

It was a subtle difference, but it was enough to relegate rebellion movements to a far smaller minority.

That’s the brief history lesson. But what is the transferable concept to be derived from it?

Perhaps this: when faced with a choice of either “complying with the majority,” or retaining their own identity, that generation in Israel refused to be dissolved into the majority culture.

And, in a small way, that spirit is honored by the modern movement toward independent writers seeking success outside of the New York publishing system. Have you ever noticed how much of mainstream fiction is set in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington DC?

Sure, there are exceptions; Stephen King writes about Maine a lot, for example. But there are always exceptions, and you’ll noticed that James Patterson’s Alex Cross doesn’t patrol the “mean streets of Portland, Maine.” The mainstream publishing culture is most often interested in thrillers when those stories happen on main, coastal towns. Everything else is “flyover territory” to them; unimportant; a setting relegated to writers who engage in “local color” and nothing else.

Or how about this? Have you ever noticed that the majority of fiction coming out of the big New York houses is easy to categorize, clearly conforming genre fiction? Heaven forbid that one try to stir together a fictional brew that combines, say, suspense, the supernatural, comedy, and high school angst? (Sure, that described Buffy the Vampire Slayer to a tee, but before Josh Whedon created it definitively on television, who was writing anything like that? No one.)

While the rare independent voice has broken through the traditional publishing world on occasion, the truth is that those cases are exceedingly rare. Recent visits I’ve made to the Web site of a popular literary agent, who posts regularly about the sorts of novels he’s currently looking for, only underline this conformance to the majority culture of New York houses: the only suspense he was interested in were police/serial killer procedurals “set in New York City.”

In other words, he’s looking for the next James Patterson.

Prior to the development of the independent author scene that has flourished in the age of digital publishing, conforming to that majority culture was the only way to break into print and find some success. Only after building some success could an author take a risk and start trying to publish something different.

That’s no longer the case. Now, thanks to devices like the Kindle and Nook, and the markets they open up to independent authors, we no longer have to wait to write the novels we really want to write. We don’t have to serve time writing generic New York police procedurals; we can skip directly to writing about the strange goings-on in a remote northwest Wisconsin town – or whatever our personal obsessions and fascinations might be.

Like those ancient Maccabean rebels, today’s independent authors have an incredible opportunity to be true to themselves. For us today, that means writing the type of novels we really want to write, in the setting and voice that we want to write them. Rather than having those elements dictated to us.

Below this post is a list of writers who embody that spirit of revolution and independence. I encourage you to Follow, Tweet, Browse them all, and try out each of their offerings. That would, truly, make this a Festival of Books that honors the true spirit of Hanukkah.

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Stephanie Abbott writing as Emma Jameson, author of Ice Blue (a cozy mystery): Blog and Twitter.
Danielle Blanchard, author of Death Wish (paranormal romance): Blog and Twitter.
Justin Dennis, author of Through The Portal (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter.
Lisa Grace, author of Angel in the Shadows and Angel in the Storm (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter.
Jonathan Gould, author of Doodling and Flidderbugs (both humorous fantasies): Blog and Twitter.
Craig Hansen, author of SHADA (YA thriller): Blog and Twitter.
Larry Kahn, author of The Jinx (thriller) and King of Paine (suspense): Blog and Twitter.
Emily Ann Ward, author of Finding Fiona (YA Sci-Fi) and Passages (YA short stories): Blog and Twitter.