When Alisse Lee Goldenberg read the Harry Potter series, she wondered where the Jewish wizards studied.
“I always wondered why they only celebrated Christmas at Hogwarts. Where is Chanukah?” she asked.
The 30-year-old wanted to write a book with characters that represented her and experiences she could identify with.
That led to The Strings of the Violin, her series about three Toronto girls on an adventure that involves characters and themes from Jewish folklore.
Although she puts her own twist on the characters, Goldenberg says it’s great for people who have never learned about the myths.
“I tried to teach other people who don’t know anything about Jewish folklore or what our stories are,” she says. “I put a lot of explanations in the book for people who don’t know anything.”
Prizm Books, based in Texas, published Goldenberg’s book in June. She says the people who work for Prizm are nothing like her, coming from very different walks of life. They had never heard of the Jewish folklore in her book, but they enjoyed the story nonetheless.
This is the first time The Strings of the Violin has been published by a commercial publishing house. Before that, she sold it as a self-published work.
She says it gives her a lot more credibility now that a commercial group has picked up the book.
“As an independent author… you’re not really taken as seriously until you get that first contract,” she says, describing it as a bit of a Catch-22.
“In order to get published, you have to be published.”
This has been a good year for Goldenberg so far. In addition to The Strings of the Violin, she has published Bath Salts, a book she co-wrote with author An Tran.
The idea for that book came about when Goldenberg was watching the news last year and heard about a Florida attack in which a man, under the influence of drugs known as bath salts, chewed off the face of another man.
“I was listening to this thinking, wouldn’t it be really weird if these weren’t people anymore, and the drug made them zombies, and the news [reporters] were trying to calm us down by saying, ‘Hey, these are just some crazy people on drugs?’” she says.
In response, she came up with a “foolproof” plan for zombie survival.
She wrote the book as a series of diary entries, basing a character on Tran, and writing it with the idea that “If An and I were in the zombie apocalypse, how would we survive this?”
When she finished it, she thought something was still missing, so she suggested that Tran should rewrite some of the entries from her character’s perspective.
“It was more like an extension of our friendship than anything else,” Goldenberg says, adding that they thought of it as something of a joke rather than a serious attempt at a publishable book.
But she decided to send it out to publishers anyway, and it turned out that Australian horror book publisher Severed Press was interested.
Although zombie stories have been around for a long time, these days they seem to be in the spotlight, especially due to the popular television series The Walking Dead, which Goldenberg says she loves.
She thinks people are fascinated by zombies, because they’re one of the more realistic types of monsters.
“It’s the idea of a virus or pandemic, which actually does happen with bird flu and mad cow and swine flu,” she says. “But this takes it to the extreme.”
As an author, she can tap into people’s fears and come up with various scenarios for how people could survive.
“I told [Bath Salts] from the perspective of a parent trying to protect her family and friends,” she says. “It’s not just to survive, but to survive with her humanity intact and to keep her kids experiences as normal as possible.”
Being a mother of two-year-old triplets helped fuel her desire to tell a family-oriented story, and she recognizes that the story would have been quite different if she had written it before they were born.
“I didn’t have the parental perspective then,” she says. “I would have written it from the perspective of a person and her friends trying to have an adventure.”
Nevertheless, Goldenberg still loves to write about young women having adventures and plans to release a sequel for The Strings of the Violin called The Dybbuk’s Mirror, referring to the Jewish myth of an evil-possessing spirit.
The sequel will also be published by Prizm Books and is due for release next year.
Another of Goldenberg’s books slated for release this year is Sitnalta. It’s an updated version of a fairy tale about princesses and trolls that started as Goldenberg’s first short story, written when she was 13.
For more information about Goldenberg and her work, visit alisseleegoldenberg.com.