The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

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When I started this, I’d been looking for a new angle from which to write, since, after over five years of blogging, I’ve been getting tired of writing about myself and my own experiences, and wanted to write from another point of view.I also wanted to get into writing about some emotional issues which were difficult to express from my own point of view (especially when they involve other people who also would have their own emotional stakes in the situations). I was stuck for how to do that, until I thought of a story that I had heard: the author Theodore Sturgeaon was upset about the political situation in the McCarthy era, but wasn’t able to write anything directly about it for fear of being red-baited himself. His editor, Horace Gold, suggested a story line that seemed entirely irrelevant — but said that if he wrote that, he would safely express exactly what he thought about McCarthy.

The Bible seemed to be the best source of suggestions for characters about whom I either already knew a significant amount (having had a strong Jewish education and parents who both taught Hebrew school leaves a strong impression) or could research easily. Louis Ginzberg’s multivolume Legends of the Jews is freely available and easily searched online, as are a plethora of other commentaries and writings. And, if no nifty stories appear, I can take the fiction writer’s prerogative and just make stuff up.

Rather than making a list of people about whom I’d like to write, I decided to use chance operations. I downloaded a reasonably good and easily read translation of the Bible (the World English Bible — though, since I was primarily using it just to search for names, just about any translation would do; I could probably have just grabbed the Hebrew text, but it’s harder to search it with the tools that I have, and harder to spot names), and loaded it into a text editor. I then had an online random number generator create a list of 100 numbers, between the line numbers of the beginning and end of the text of the Jewish Bible in that file.

For each selection, I go to the line corresponding to the next random number, and find the first name in that line. (If there aren’t any, I keep going into the lines that follow it until I find a name.) I skip names that I have already used until I reach a new one.

I suspect that the results will have a disproportionate number of well-known people towards the beginning, since they get mentioned the most. It may also be heavily tilted toward characters in the Torah, since they are referenced by the later books.

I’m also waiting until I’ve completed each text before I discover the subject of the next one. This feels like it will give me more flexibility than I would have knowing what characters were and were not going to appear.

This page has the usual links to subscribe to RSS feeds, and you’ll be able to comment on the posts. I look forward to whatever feedback and conversations may happen.

By the way, I’m doing much of the writing on my Sony Clié PDA — sort of like a Palm device but niftier. I’m using the very cool Note Studio software, which is like a very flexible personal wiki for the Palm and Windows (no Linux version yet, though there are rumors that it may be released Real Soon Now) ; Bible+, an open-source multilingual Bible browser for the Palm OS; and Plucker, an e-book browser for the Palm OS that I use to browse and read the Ginzberg books as supplied by Project Gutenberg. I’m also using Wikipedia as a good first source for information and links, though I cautiously take things written there with a grain of Moab’s grandma.

This project is continuing from the Moses project, thought that text was formatted as poetry rather than as prose. (I would like to think that the new ones, though formatted in paragraphs, are just as rewarding to read aloud.) The suggestion of focusing on the emotional moments in Moses’s story gave me a hint of how to proceed with this.

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