Monday, November 28, 2011

Author Splash with Ilil Arbel

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     This week on the blog we're bringing you another Author Splash. Here's hoping you become an Ilil Arbel fan with so many other readers! Below you'll find excerpts, genre details, and much more! So, without further ado, I bring you Ilil Arbel's introduction video.

Author Ilil Arbel
Introduction Video

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I cannot say that I have written in only one genre, since I have worked with several in a rather diverse range of interests. It is evident in my studies as well – I received my B.A.  in fine arts illustration, while my advanced degrees were in mythology and folklore. And if that is not strange enough, over the years I engaged in studying diverse subjects, including indexing courses, graduate certification courses for business writing, a certificate program in horticulture, a certificate program in fiction and nonfiction writing for children, and the most insane, a course in the repair and restoration of vintage dolls. So this might explain why I am a bit of a jack of all trades and have written nonfiction that included horticulture, mythology, folklore, natural history, crafts, health, biographies, personal histories, and memoirs. However, I love writing fiction too, so I have written some science fiction, fantasy, short stories, and novels.
I think my greatest love is biographies. When I was asked to write the life of the philosopher Maimonides, I was shocked. “But I am not a philosophy expert!” I said to the editor who called me about it. “I am not well-versed in his work. You need a lifetime to study him!”
“We don’t want a philosophy expert,” said the editor. “We want the real life and the real man. A true biography of Maimonides has never been written. All the books about him are an analysis of his work, with some biographical material tacked on. Besides, we tried two scholars and their work was abysmally boring and dry.”
Well. Certainly no sane person could resist such a challenge, particularly since Maimonides looked a bit like Sean Connery, and so I wrote the book. I had fantastic scholarly material available to me about his era, but very little about him. It took a lot of digging, but I ferreted enough to recreate his life. It was a joy.
And then I wanted to write a book about another difficult person. I was told it was not possible, but what of it? I am doing it now, on line, as a blog. It’s the strangest thing I have ever done… I think the introduction to the book explains it all:

The Golden Rule: Introduction

The Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line claims that it is impossible to write a proper biography of Hillel the Elder because “virtually every narrative about him is encrusted with legend.” I completely disagree. True, it may be impossible to give the exact date of his very happy marriage or the precise day when he left Babylonia for the second time, but dates are not necessarily the most important part of the story of a life. Bringing the man to life, showing him against the time and place in which he lived, putting a face on the myriad of legends is much more important. And that is exactly what I am setting out to do in this new book.

War, conquest, murder, scandal. Hardly the words that come to mind when Hillel the Elder is mentioned. And yet, this gentle soul lived against a most exciting historical background. The era, almost two thousand years ago, is dominated by the very handsome and sexually obsessed king, Herod the Great, a mentally imbalanced man of true genius and great charm, but with homicidal tendencies which come to the surface only too often. Herod is surrounded by a cast of glamorous characters -- Augustus, Cleopatra, Caesar, and all their crafty and influential advisors, murderous families, and dangerous spies.

Fascinating details are supplied by Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote an account of the times in his book
Antiquities. Heroes sacrifice themselves on the field of battle. The stunningly beautiful Maccabean Queen Mariamne is murdered by her husband Herod, who then sets out to destroy their two sons. Cleopatra, certainly not the Hollywood glamorous character we are accustomed to, and much more concerned with wealth than with love, greedily plots and counterplots to attain lands. The scene in which she tries to seduce Herod who rejects her as an “ugly middle-aged woman” is priceless, and she retaliates by stealing his lands anyway. Augustus wields his power, sometimes for, sometimes against Herod, once his old childhood friend, now living in terror as his subject.

Against the horrors emerges the image of a man of wisdom, compassion, and courage. Hillel is the most important figure in Judaism since Moses. An influential Talmudic sage, the head of a famous school named after him, and the creator of some of the most important Judaic laws, he is instrumental in liberating and infusing life into the ancient traditions. Without his open approach and innovation, Judaism may have developed in a rigid and limited fashion, instead of the living, eternally growing religion it has become.

His many sayings are still quoted, his laws still practiced. The stories relating his kindness, intelligence, and love of study are still told. They appear in school books, novels, and one of his famous sayings even flashes on the screen as promotion for Public Television.

His kindness and straightforward behavior does not mean meekness or false humility. A truly cosmopolitan man, Hillel came from Babylonia. An international, magnificent city, the center from which kings ruled the entire known world for centuries, and where the Jews changed the face of God from a fierce desert entity into the merciful and omnipresent deity worshiped by today’s Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The place where Hammurabi wrote his Laws, so similar to the Laws Moses gave on the Mount of Sinai. This was a place where a man could grow to be well educated and sophisticated. Hillel knew his own worth and acted decisively when needed, causing quite a few scandals of his own along the way, and showing a certain arrogance at time, totally unexpected. He associated with the most important personalities of his age, acting and feeling as their equal. Some say he had a close association with Jesus, perhaps even acting as his teacher for a short while. The similarity of their views makes it quite possible and there will be a chapter devoted to this fascinating relationship.

A tiny country in a far away land, ruled by a giant empire. The great empire is no more, but it left a great legacy we still follow, images we see every day. The tiny country is still with us, modern and full of life. A story that happened so long ago, and yet is so vibrant that reading about it feels like a page of yesterday’s news. A giant of a man whose wisdom is part of our lives. A strange and fascinating time, full of tainted glory and true greatness. Could it really be two thousand years ago?

Excerpt from The Cinnabar Box

Chapter 5

The girls stole into Grandmother’s tent, carrying the Cinnabar box and a written note of explanation wrapped around it. Grandmother and the animals were sound asleep on their blankets. Donna put the little packet on a clean plate on the workbench, and the girls crept out of the tent and returned to Jessamine’s to attempt the reality shift.
“Not so fast,” they heard a voice. Bartholomew was sitting on a pillow inside their tent, his straw hat pulled low on his forehead.
“Oh, no,” said Donna. “How did you manage that? We woke you up, right?”
“Not exactly. I snooped when you thought you were alone in your tent, and then pretended to sleep in mine. I knew you would be up to something. I don’t trust you, Wicca, and I am coming with you to see that you don’t mess everything up. Camellia will take the Cinnabar box to the queen.”
“It’s tremendously dangerous, Agent Bartholomew,” said Jessamine respectfully.
“Do you think I will let two insignificant Wicca make trouble without trying to save the day?”
“Thank you, Bartholomew,” said Donna. “You are a real friend.”
“Ha!” sniffed the donkey. “I just know you can’t manage without me. Besides, can you imagine how it will annoy Camellia? I can’t miss that!”
Jessamine opened a small wooden box and took out a heavy, cloth-bound notebook. “My grimoire,” she explained. “A Wicca spell book. I copy everything I learn into it. Each of us has her own grimoire. It’s much more powerful than a printed book of other people’s spells, because it’s personal and geared to our own style. I will take it with me.”
“Should we pack anything else?” asked Donna.
“What for?” scoffed Bartholomew. “Either we accomplish everything right away, or we are dead. We won’t need any equipment.”
Jessamine studied a page carefully, then tucked the book into her belt’s pouch. “Donna, I will tell you what to do, and you will follow me, repeating the words and actions exactly as I describe them. Agent Bartholomew, please do not utter a sound, because anything you say may alter the coordinates. Stand near me. We must stay in physical contact.”
She took off a ring, mounted with a small crystal ball, and slipped it on Donna’s finger. She put her arms around the donkey and the girl.
“Donna, stare at the ball. Blink as little as possible, and allow your eyes to get tired. Focus on the center of the ball.”
Small lights appeared in the ball, dancing, fleeting here and there, growing and expanding.
“Donna, create a fog in your mind. Think fog, mist, grayness.”
Gray fog materialized in the ball, easily, effortlessly, gracefully. It filled the ball.
“Donna, make the fog envelop us. Think coolness, mistiness, grayness around us. All three of us. It’s coming out of the ball to embrace us.”
The fog drifted out of the ball like a tiny tornado. It grew into a mantle of soft, swirling wind. It caressed and encircled the trio.  
“Donna, create the coordinates in your mind and project them into the ball. See the numbers in the ball. 003-67-8-4. 003-67-8-4. 003-67 …”
Red, glowing numbers appeared in the ball. They shifted and moved, but were firmly planted inside the gleaming glass.
“Donna. Now. Take us there. We are following the coordinates. See us following the coordinates.”
They stood on a windswept beach, illuminated by the pale light of an early afternoon. Black tar and rank, limp seaweeds mixed in filthy shallow pools and on the wet sand. Blue-black water mirrored sunless sky. The sound of the wind mingled with the shrieks of sea-birds.
“Done,” said Jessamine flatly. “You are good at switching realities, Donna.”
Donna gazed stupidly around her, blinking and shaking. Bartholomew laughed. “Where are we?” she whispered.
“Wizards’ School Island,” said Jessamine. “That’s the Vizier’s permanent home. He studied here years ago and decided that he liked the miserable place. Wizards come here from all realities, so I guess he enjoys the company.”
“It seems deserted.”
“All activity takes place underground, and only at night. We will have to go to the school to get directions to the Vizier’s home. I know where the school is.”
They followed her into a cove lodged between rugged cliffs. A large, dark hole in the ground gaped at them. No gate, no sentry. Anyone who chose to take the risk could go down.
They descended the slippery, winding stairs. The rock walls emitted the odor of brine and seaweed, and the air became increasingly suffocating.
Finally they reached a huge, cavernous chamber cut directly into the rock. Heavy slabs of rock, serving as desks, supported many books, quantities of paper, and various writing tools, but no computers or even old-fashioned typewriters. Donna opened a book at random. It contained nothing but blank paper. Suddenly, letters leaped into the paper from nowhere, and the page blazed with fiery red and green words, written in an unfamiliar language. After a few minutes, the writing disappeared, and the page turned by itself. New words appeared on it, stayed for a short time, and vanished.
“More instruction appears on the walls at night,” said Jessamine. “The same red and green letters. It stays there all night, and the students can copy it. Then it disappears for the day.”
“No teachers?”
“Not visible ones, anyway. Here, I have found the book of locations and coordinates,” said Jessamine. “As it includes jails and current lists of prisoners, perhaps it will tell of Senior Witch Yolanda.”
“Can you read the language?”
“Yes. Here is the address of the Vizier’s home. We have to follow the path by the cove to the low hill in the west. Coordinates 52-1-6. Write it down, just in case, but I don’t think we should use the crystal ball here, we might be intercepted. We’ll have to walk, or fly. Ah, the prisoners’ list. Nothing. No official prisoners at present. Senior Witch Yolanda may be held, anyway, at the Vizier’s home.”
They left the school and walked, following the path described in the address book. The island, a dismal, flat place except for the rugged cliffs on the beach, presented an unchanging landscape.
Their destination was not far. Another hole in the ground gaped at them. “We will have to creep in carefully. The occupants are probably asleep, but they may have a sentry,” said Jessamine.
They crept down silently, treading each stair with extreme care. Reaching the bottom, they entered a room similar to the school, but smaller. A few doors opened to other rooms, furnished with plain, stone carved furniture. Whatever the Vizier did with his incredible wealth, it was not evident here. There was no sign of life, let alone Aunt Yolanda.
“She is not kept here,” said Donna sadly. “It was a wild goose chase.”
“We had to know,” said Jessamine. She opened the door to look into the last room, and suddenly flew back as if some incredible force punched her in the face. A sooty cloud drifted in. Purple lightening pulsated at its edges, and the sound of thunder rumbled through it. With chilling certainty, Donna recognized the purple face outlined in the cloudy substance. It was the same face she saw when her aunt was abducted. The face grinned viciously with its toothless dark blue mouth, and its hollow, yellow-green eyes winked at Donna, just as it did then. But this time she did not lose her consciousness. Grasping at Bartholomew and Jessamine, she visualized the coordinates of the beach she had used before to transport them to the island. 003-67-8-4. 003-67- …
They were standing on the beach. “Donna, here are the coordinates to my home. 005-98-8-2. Repeat. Transport us.”
Donna repeated, but could not continue to concentrate. She saw the purple cloud advancing. It followed them, playing with them, laughing viciously.
“Donna, concentrate!”
She tried. Palms sweating, heart beating. The cloud hovered above them, grinning, obviously enjoying their terror. Without warning, the blue mouth emitted a long, high screech. A small rock at Donna’s feet immediately exploded, sending a shower of splinters and torn seaweeds around her. Some of the material hit the water. A small whirlpool started to swirl in the dark water. It grew steadily.
“Donna, he started Sound Magic. It will grow. Concentrate on the coordinates or we will die!”
Donna’s mind blanked out. Nothing occupied it except the face of the Vizier, mocking her, paralyzing any strength she had left. The whirlpool grew. A huge foam column started forming around it. From a distance, large and small waves, coordinated like advancing soldiers, marched in unison toward the whirlpool. The growing water column fed steadily on the waves. Enormous now, it covered the sky with its swaying bulk. The darkness was torn by purple lightning. The column approached them as if walking on the water, gliding with oily ease.
“Move it, Wicca!” screamed Bartholomew, kicking her with his front hoof. “You miserable cowardly creature! Do you or don’t you want to save your aunt?”
Aunt Yolanda’s face suddenly filled Donna’s mind, replacing the Vizier’s terrifying grin. 005-98-8-2. 005-98-8-2. Smiling emerald eyes. 005-98-8-2. Always there, always supporting and loving. 005-98-8-2. 005-98- …”
They stood at the entrance to Grandmother’s tent.

“You can look now, Prime Minister. They are safe.”
“Temporarily, Your Majesty. He knows them now.”
“It’s a chance they had to take, my friend.”
“But they failed, Your Majesty.”
“I wouldn’t say that, Prime Minister. At least we know Senior Witch Yolanda is not kept at the Wizards’ School. She must be imprisoned on our planet, therefore, because he has no real power elsewhere, and we have a better chance of saving her.”
“True. And he may not think it worthwhile to pursue the girls here.”
“Your Majesty, have you noticed, just before they went, Jessamine said something about our great river having no name …”
“Yes. I am ashamed to own that this thought had never crossed my mind, Prime Minister.”

October Rose

The bit of paper swirled in the wind, attracting her attention. Focusing her eyes was hard, but she followed the small white square until it landed in her lap. She put out one bony hand from under the filthy blanket and grabbed the paper, suddenly terrified it would float away. The paper was a page ripped from a calendar.
For some reason the date stood out, black and important. October 27. Vaguely she wondered why it mattered. She could think coherently only occasionally, and so early in the morning, still chilled from the night on the street, it was impossible. So she just let her mind drift again, staring at the paper. The tired, pale blue eyes, bloodshot and red-rimmed, hurt as she looked at the black print, but she persisted. Suddenly she grinned triumphantly, remembering. October 27 was her birthday.
She leaned heavily against the low stone fence, outside the locked, private Gramercy Park. Miraculously, no one had pushed her away during the night and she had slept for a few hours, huddled in the tattered blanket, holding tightly to her shopping cart with alternating hands. She wasn't sure what objects existed at the bottom of the full cart, but it was important to keep the stuff safe from thieves.
Inside the park, the golden autumn sun glittered on a flock of pigeons as they descended in unison on the grass. The sinuous leaves of the willow tree moved gracefully, creating a delicate pattern of shadows on the chocolate-brown earth. The tiny face of a mouse peeked cautiously from its hollow tree, then withdrew hastily as the old woman moved, composing herself to rise. Something stared at her. She looked through the iron grating into the park and saw it.
The squirrel stood motionless, its immobility unnatural for such a quick, darting creature. Its beady black eyes gazed into hers, almost hypnotically. She felt the remains of her strength being sucked into the little animal's body, the energy draining, turning into something else. With supreme effort she averted her eyes, and the squirrel shook itself and leapt vigorously onto a tree trunk, gleaming as if electrical sparks came off its silvery-grey fur. The old woman could barely move now, but knew she had to get away before the residents of this expensive area would take steps to remove her. She put the blanket in the cart, held onto its edge with both hands, and pulled herself into a standing position, hearing the creaking of her fragile bones.
The bent little figure moved slowly, painfully, into Park Avenue, leaning on the cart. Wisps of colorless hair came loose from under her purple scarf, blowing in the brisk October breeze. Her shoes were too big and slipped off regularly, and sores formed on her feet where the shoes chafed them. But she didn't really notice the pain, only the heaviness, as if the sidewalk itself were dragging her, tugging at her feet, making each step more laborious.
The old woman thought she would go to Madison Square Park, only a few blocks away, and stay there during the day. Many homeless people went there, as it was a public park. Besides, she had a favorite bench in front of a large, circular bed of roses. They smelled so good all summer. But as she trudged on, the grey mental cloud started to descend upon her.
This stupor happened often, naturally enough. Those who survived on the streets, even if they had never touched drugs or alcohol, sooner or later lost their mental faculties. And the old woman lived on the streets for months. So the emptiness came, and she had no idea what she was doing for a while. Perhaps she walked on in circles; perhaps she just sat on the ground for hours.
When she woke up, the sun was high and she found herself somewhere between Gramercy Park and Madison Square Park. She sat slumped, soaking wet, on the cold pavement. The inability to control her bladder was the only thing that could still humiliate her. The raging, tearing anger brought her back to complete consciousness, and she got up as quickly as she could to rummage in her cart for something to cover the stains on her shapeless, torn skirt. She tucked a rag around her waist and walked on, the wind blowing, robbing her of whatever balance she could attain. She leaned on the shopping cart and looked steadily at the ground, effectively controlling a wave of dizziness.
October 27. Her birthday. She tried to remember her age and couldn't. She had no idea how she came to live on the streets, or if she had ever had a family or friends. Did she lose a job?  An apartment?  A husband?  What did it matter?  She only wished she could remember her name, but that was denied, too.
The old woman thought she might beg a bit, then perhaps force herself to eat something. She took an old styrofoam cup from her shopping cart and held it out, reclining against a sun-warmed, brick church wall. After a while, she dozed. Some people dropped coins into her cup. Carelessly, she forgot to take them out and the cup slowly filled. A teenage boy on roller blades stopped suddenly, noticing the full cup. With dizzying speed, he lunged at her and yanked the cup violently from her hand, almost dislocating her shoulder. In a blink of an eye he vanished into the mass of screeching traffic. The old woman was so stunned she didn't even cry out, and no one noticed or cared. No matter, she thought wearily. She couldn't eat anything anyway. Her stomach hurt and felt bloated, and she wasn't even thirsty. It had been days, as far as she knew, since she had eaten anything, but the thought of food caused her to feel nauseous.
When she finally came to Madison Square Park, twilight already painted the sky a delicate purple. The wind swirled the dry leaves in little whirlpools and sprinkled the tall, majestic metal statues with fine dust. A shaft of dying sunlight brightened the dark metal into a reddish tint on one statue, and the old woman suddenly thought that all the statues had winter coats carefully sculpted on them. Aimlessly, she moved from one statue to the other on her way to the center of the park, looking at each with detached admiration, though she had long forgotten who they once were.
A few homeless people were preparing cardboard boxes to sleep in, others collected wood in a metal trash bin for a fire. She moved cautiously in their direction. No one paid attention and she sat down as close to the fire as she dared. She felt her eyes closing as the warmth flooded her, but didn't really sleep. Dozing, she heard snippets of conversation. Something about a dead man. He sat spitting blood in front of a hospital, but wouldn't go in and no one came out to get him. City's policy forbade forcing a homeless person into treatment. And so he died and eventually they came to take his body.
Someone produced a batch of tea bags, but she didn't want any. She got up and wandered off, drawn toward the circular bed of roses and her favorite bench. Her right arm hurt so badly she couldn't use it to pull the cart, and had to struggle using her left hand. It wasn't really the young man who had attacked her, she suddenly thought. It was the City itself. It sent its creatures to suck her strength, to drain away her life. That's why so many homeless people lived there. The City wanted to eat their waves of energy…  She stopped in mid-thought, surprised at her own bizarre idea. So clear, so sharp, so different from the usual, vague thoughts that swam lazily through her head, like half-dead fish in brackish water.
She sat on the bench in the darkness and pulled the blanket around her. You're welcome to it, she thought. You can drain my life and use it as you please. There must be some purpose, after all. A squirrel is a nice animal. There are trees, and sidewalks, and lights and wind… The lanterns shown softly into the gold and green foliage of early fall.
The night passed peacefully. She felt cold, as usual, but not freezing. She dozed on and off, bits of dream and particles of reality mixing, swirling, dancing. The giant clock at the top of the tower shone as white as the moon, marking time that no longer meant anything to the old woman. The trees rustled. The fire in the trash bin died off. The men and women slept, barricaded in cardboard boxes and rags against the wind, or huddled, as motionless as corpses, next to the thick bushes.
The old woman woke up at dawn, but could not get up. She was lying on the bench in front of the roses, some already in their bare winter state, some still alive. Their sweet smell mixed with that of the decaying autumn leaves on the moist ground. Directly in her line of vision was a half-opened rosebud. For a second, just before she died, the old woman heard the brittle sound of the rosebud, suddenly bursting with unnatural speed into full bloom.

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I certainly want to thank Ilil for sharing her writing, and about herself.
I hope you find Ilil to be an author that you will soon add to your collection.

You'll find her books at Amazon.
Follow this link:
Author Ilil Arbel

Stop by her blog/website at:
There's plenty to discover!

See what Ilil has in store for the future!

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Thanks so much for stopping by. Please be kind: Tweet, share, and spread the word about this fantastic author, Ilil Arbel!

We'll see you next week, when fellow author Denise Baer makes a Splash here on the JLB Creatives Blog.

Until then...
Stay casual - live life to the fullest - and have a piece of chocolate fo me!

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