Living in Hebrew, Writing in English

By Gila Green

The following piece is an updated version of a post that member Gila Green originally wrote for The View From Here.

Gila GreenI’m unattractive, unwanted and often uninvited. Geographically speaking that is. I write in English, but live in Israel, where the main language of culture is Hebrew. The hardship is double-barreled. I am far from English-speaking audiences, and the pool of English-language publishers is strictly for wading and is, if anything, shrinking. I have encountered countless sites for agents, publishers and literary magazines that read “no international queries” at the bottom of their guidelines.

Let’s face it. New York publishing houses aren’t funding book tours by locals anymore, unless you already have an established audience; who would dream of flying someone in from overseas today for a meeting or a book tour? And could most writers really jump on a plane with ease for an interview?

I believe this is an ex-patriot phenomenon, not limited to Israel. There are probably thousands of us ex-pats writing in English in cafes from Tokyo to Cairo, gazing at the locals every few lines, unable even to explain what it is we are writing about.

I’ve often had the experience of meeting a woman in an exercise class or at a business networking meeting whose eyes light up when I mention I’m a writer, only to darken soon after. “Do you ever write in Hebrew?” Order a falafel or argue with the phone company in Hebrew? Sure. Send an email? A short one. But write a story or an essay in a foreign language? No.

Has the situation for ex-pat writers improved in the last decade? Yes. There are new opportunities that would not have been possible even five years ago. The internet has eliminated some barriers in terms of online publishing and at least connecting with print publishers. But an ocean still divides Israel and the big New York publishing houses.

A brighter light is the increasing acceptance of self-publishing, now that self-publishing is no longer seen strictly as “desperate” publishing. Progress is slow and certainly easier if you have a non-fiction niche. For literary fiction, self-publishing may be more like placing a mountain in front of the ocean you want to cross. Electronic readers are easing that barrier, if only marginally, and may one day even offer an advantage over locals writing in Hebrew, as a far easier way to penetrate the much larger English-language audience. At least we won’t have those huge translation costs to fork out.

King of the ClassAfter refusing to be deterred by all of those naysayers at parties and Sabbath tables who “knowingly” told me that I would have to move overseas to “get anywhere,” I am delighted to tell you that I found a Canadian publisher who is willing to give an ex-pat a chance. I clearly remember his acceptance e-mail: “I’m probably crazy for accepting an overseas writer, but what the heck!”

Since fighting geography is remarkably like banging your head against the side of a mountain, perhaps the only solution is to invest in a stronger helmet; if you’re truly determined to publish, good writing will eventually bob its way across the ocean.

Gila Green moved from Canada to Israel in 1994. Her debut novel KING OF THE CLASS will be released with an independent Vancouver press in April: http://www.nonpublishing.com. Her short fiction has been published in many anthologies and literary magazines and short-listed for seven international awards, including the Doris Bakwin Literary Award for her first collection, WHITE ZION. Visit Gila online at www.gilagreenonline.com.

3 Comments

  1. very cool to hear of your success, in any language, and your persistence. Most Israelis and many ex pat Israelis can read in English. Mazal Tov, Sheila

  2. Thanks for the mazal tov, Sheila.

  3. Pingback: Feature Friday: Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, and Hybrids « Women's National Book Association – NYC

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