Blue Thread and Downton Abbey? As I was watching a recent episode of this popular TV series, I was struck by how much the two stories have in common.

Time period for one. Both works are set in 1912. Blue Thread mentions the sinking of the Titanic only briefly, with Lillian worrying about taking a vacation in Europe. In Downton Abbey, the ocean liner’s demise is linked to the fate of the manor house and its owners, the Earl and Countess of Grantham.

Then there’s the loss of a male heir. In Blue Thread, Miriam’s brother, Danny, has died, and her father refuses to leave the family print shop to her. Ownership of the shop will go to Miriam’s two younger male cousins. The family in Downton Abbey faces a larger problem. The estate and title of the fictitious Earldom of Grantham is entailed, meaning that it passes to the closest male heir. […]

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Taking a break from elections and suffrage, I thought you’d like to read this guest blog from Michael Feldman, who lives with me and my fictional people. Thanks, Mike!

One of the key characters in Blue Thread is inanimate: a strand of blue thread. Why blue thread?

The blue thread is part of an old tallit (pronounced ta-LEET in modern Hebrew), or prayer shawl, a family heirloom which Miriam Josefsohn receives from Uncle Hermann. What is this shawl all about?

In the Bible’s Book of Numbers 15:38, the ancient Israelites are commanded to add fringes (tzitzit) to the corners of their garments. The ancients simply wore fringed robes or caftans. The Biblical edict goes on to require a thread of blue in the tzitzit (p’til t’chelet). Opinions vary about just which dye was to be used to make the blue color. Some think it was vegetable in origin, others claim it came from a certain Mediterranean snail. […]

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With thanks to education students at Portland State University, I can now offer you a teaching guide to Blue Thread.  The guide is wide-ranging and thorough, with activities that include curriculum-framing questions, writing prompts, lesson plans, bio-poem worksheets, and brainstorming charts. I expect I’ll use some of these activities myself in school visits. Yo, dude, see for yourself. […]

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Hi, it’s Michael again with a guest post.

Every Jewish house of worship has a cabinet or Ark which contains one or more Torah scrolls. Each scroll is made of parchment, on which the entire Hebrew text of the Torah—the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament)—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—is meticulously hand-lettered with a quill pen by an expert scribe. It typically takes a year and a half to write all 304,805 letters; no mistakes are allowed. The scroll is wound on two rollers and stored in the Ark robed in protective fine fabric. The use of parchment has enabled some Torah scrolls to survive intact for over 800 years.

It is traditional to study one section (called a parshah or portion) of the Torah each week. At least a part of that week’s section is read or chanted aloud in Hebrew and/or translation during the Sabbath worship service. […]

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Ephraim Jacobowitz, who loves his boss’s daughter, Miriam, has a small role in Blue Thread. We get a hint of his life before 1912, when he tries to persuade Miriam that he wants to help her print her postcards.

“I think you are printing cards for the suffrage campaign—and, yes, women should vote. I do not discuss this with your father; I need my job because of my sister.” He stood taller. “This does not matter to you, I know, but Bella is one of her three children. Their father was killed in the 1906 pogrom in Bialystok. So many Jews die for no reason. You know of this?”

I lied with a nod of my head.

Miriam had never heard of Bialystok (a city then in the Russian Empire and now a part of Poland) or of the attacks against the Jewish community living there in 1906. Here’s a bit of background she could have known in 1912:

The majority of the population of Bialystok in 1906 was Jewish. […]

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Let the tour begin!

Thanks to five gracious bloggers, you can find out my take on writing fiction vs. nonfiction, why I think Pacific Northwest Jews have a history that fosters a different perspective than that of East Coast Jews, and how a copy of Blue Thread wound up in The Gambia.

You also have a chance to win a signed copy of Blue Thread and a tasty packet of licorice from Sweets Etc., the best place to buy licorice in Portland (and perhaps the world).

All you have to do to be eligible for book plus licorice is to leave a comment on at least one stop on the tour.  Please make sure that your comment links to your contact information, or email me your contact information separately.

Let the tour begin!

March 26—Lisa Ard’s Adventures in Writing & Publishing

March 27—Barbara Krasner’s The Whole Megillah

March 28—Cynthia Levy’s Blog

March 29—Miranda Paul’s Blog

March 30—Maeve Tynan’s Yellow Brick Reads […]

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There she was again, that odd girl, wearing the same gray dress and stuffing cucumber sandwiches into a large handbag.

I’ve received a lot of questions to answer for an upcoming blog tour (which I’ll tell you about another day). So far no one has asked: “Why in Blue Thread is Serakh so totally into cucumbers?” Just in case inquiring minds want to know, here’s the answer.

The Serakh character in Blue Thread is based on two references to Serakh (or Serah), daughter of Asher, in the Bible. One refers to her being among the first Israelites to go to Egypt (Genesis 46:17); the other refers to her leaving Egypt during the Exodus (Numbers 26:46). So the way I figure it, Serakh had a long time (about 400 years!) to enjoy the fruits and vegetables that grew along the Nile, and she would have missed them during the forty-year trek through relatively arid lands. […]

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As some of you know, Blue Thread is about a 16-year-old girl who discovers an ancient prayer shawl. Embroidered on this magical garment is a phrase from the Bible with the commandment to pursue justice. One of the organizations that pursues justice for women in the here and now is Micah House.

I asked Ed Lazere, president of Micah House and the executive director of the  DC Fiscal Policy Institute in Washington, DC, to tell us more.

What is Micah House? Micah House, is in fact, a house.  A single family home in Washington DC with four bedrooms.  We use those bedrooms to provide transitional housing to women in recovery from substance abuse.  Working with a case manager, the women build confidence, work on job skills, address credit problems, and rebuild family connections. After two years, most are ready to live on their own.

Micah House provides the tools for success–a nice home and case management–but the women have to do all the work.  […]

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During a Q and A session with Ooligan staff about Blue Thread, Stephanie Kroll—now with Scholastic in New York (yay!)—leaned over to me and whispered, “It’s a midrash.”

Exactly. OK, some might argue that Stephanie and I are stretching the meaning of this Hebrew word. Midrashim (the plural of midrash) are part of a body of writings that developed over the centuries to expand upon, and explain, the moral, legal, and ethical writings of sacred Jewish texts, particularly the first five books of the Bible—the Torah.  Highly educated scholars and rabbis wrote midrashim.

Disclaimer: I am not a rabbi or a highly educated scholar. Still, I think Stephanie is right. A midrash is often a story that offers the reader a way to understand text from a different angle in order to glean new understanding. It’s fair to say that Blue Thread looks at certain people and passages in the Torah from the angle of the woman suffrage campaign in Portland in 1912. […]

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Sometimes you have to give it your all.  So here I am in the Collins Gallery of Portland’s Central Library, after a photo shoot for an article on the centennial of woman suffrage in Oregon and the launch of Blue Thread. I’m decked out in my 1912 costume, from outrageous hat to button-sided boots, and I’m sitting a few feet away from the suffrage exhibit.  I’m also a few days away from my Petticoat Postcards! presentation with artist Addie Boswell in this very room. I want inspiration. I want Birdie!

Birdie Wise graduated from the University of Oregon in June 1912. She won first prize and $150 (big bucks in those days) for her “Dawn of Tomorrow” oration at the graduation exercises. Birdie argued that suffrage was a natural for women. Here’s why (to quote The Oregonian quoting Birdie):

The home is not a mere house bounded by four artificial walls. […]

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