Friday, May 3, 2013

Celebrating Ari Goelman's THE PATH OF NAMES!

Today we are celebrating the publication of Lucky 13s member Ari Goelman’s wonderful THE PATH OF NAMES, a novel for ages 10 and up that was released May 1, 2013, by Arthur A. Levine Books.

"Mysteries, mazes, and magic combine in this smart, funny summer-camp fantasy—like THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY for kids!

Dahlia Sherman loves magic, and Math Club, and Guitar Hero. She isn’t so fond of nature walks, and Hebrew campfire songs, and mean girls her own age.

All of which makes a week at summer camp pretty much the worst idea ever.

But within minutes of arriving at camp, Dahlia realizes that it might not be as bad as she’d feared. First she sees two little girls walk right through the walls of her cabin. Then come the dreams—frighteningly detailed visions of a young man being pursued through 1930s New York City. How are the dreams and the girls related? Why is Dahlia the only one who can see any of them? And what’s up with the overgrown, strangely shaped hedge maze that none of the campers are allowed to touch? Dahlia’s increasingly dangerous quest for answers will lead her right to the center of the maze—but it will take all her courage, smarts, and sleight-of-hand skills to get her back out again."

You’ve published in other genres and fields besides children’s literature. How did you come to write THE PATH OF NAMES?

Those other genres and fields never meant anything to me. In my heart I was always loyal to you, MG fantasy.

Okay, that’s not totally true. Really, my interests as a writer have mirrored my interests as a reader. And vice versa.

What I mean is this—I spent years in academia, during which I read a ton of academic articles, and wrote a fair number of them, some of which I even managed to get published. During those same years, more or less, I read a lot of fantasy books, and I wrote a bunch of fantasy short stories, some of which I even managed to get published. At some point, around the time I started to seriously write novels, I realized that I was really enjoying the YA and MG fantasy I was reading, so I started writing YA and MG fantasy. Then I had to read even more YA and MG, so I could sort of figure out how it was done.

As for how I came to write THE PATH OF NAMES, there are a lot of different ways of answering that question. I’ll stick to this one: when I decided to set a short story in summer camp, I kept thinking of my grandfather as a very young man. When I was a kid going to summer camp, he visited once, and told me about visiting the place fifty years before, when he was a teenager. This was years before it was actually a summer camp. The thought of that visit—a teenaged yeshiva drop out, a Jewish refugee from Poland standing in some overgrown fields in rural Pennsylvaniathose same fields where his descendants would someday play soccer and braid friendship bracelets—started me thinking. What story would bring those two worlds together?

Speaking of summer camp, I’m fascinated by all the time you seem to have spent, as both camper and employee, at one camp. How much of your own camp experience informed Dahlia’s? 

A lot. Not in the plot and characters, but very much in the day-to-day details of life at summer camp. That’s one of the things I most enjoyed about summer camp, especially as I got older and my perspective broadened a little beyond the daily dramas of social life and soccer. There’s this way that the whole camp community—hundreds of campers, counselors, and associated staffmove through a daily and weekly cycle together. It strikes me that the summer camp (in my memory, at least) sort of acted like this kind of idealized small town.

Quick—ask me another question before I mention the word ‘Gemeinschaft.’ Shoot. Too late.

The book masterfully interweaves one girl’s modern-day camp life with the historical experience of a rabbinical student. How much research did you do for the book?

After I was basically done the book I did a fair amount of research to get the details right. Most of this ‘research’ involved calling my relatives. I’d call my great-uncle, Yak, for details about growing up on the Lower East Side in the 1930s; my father for details about the numerical equivalences of various Hebrew words; and my uncle for questions about kabbala. Of course, I then proceeded to mangle whatever information these good people gave me in whatever ways I thought the story needed.

By the way, you’ll note that the yeshiva student leaves the yeshiva very quickly, in part because I had no real idea what a 1930s yeshiva would have been like.

I know that you have young children. How are you balancing family life with work/writing life?

Balancing? Not at all. Instead, I find it’s helpful to cultivate a constant feeling of guilt for neglecting one or the other of my professional or familial obligations.

More seriously: the only way I have found to move forward is to accept that I’m not going to be spending as much time on anything as I would like. Having accepted that, I try to make the most of whatever time I have. So it’s not so much about ‘balance’ as about accepting that balance is beyond me right now.

Do you carve out time for writing in advance or adopt more of a catch-as-catch-can approach?

I most definitely carve out time for writing in advance. My life now is such that ‘a catch-as-catch-can’ approach would mean I’d get ten minutes every week or so. I know this because I adopt a catch-as-catch-can approach to showering and that’s more or less what I’m left with. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally hygienic, I just would classify myself somewhere on the European scale of cleanliness. Maybe now would be a good time to ask me another question.)

How did THE PATH OF NAMES evolve from early draft to published novel? What was the process of working with your agent and editor?

It was a long process. In 2001, I was attending the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, and I wrote a short story set in a Jewish summer camp. It was a very flawed short story, and I put it aside for about seven years, during which time I got my Ph.D., got married, moved east, moved west, wrote another novel or two, and had my first child. Then, in the summer of 2009, I had a few weeks more or less free to write, and I took that short story and changed it almost-but-not-quite beyond recognition, ending up with a draft of THE PATH OF NAMES.

After polishing that draft as much as I could (with the help of various first and second readers) I started submitting that draft to agents. At the time, Lindsay Ribar (a fabulous debut author—also a Lucky 13er) was working as an assistant to another agent. She was screening his slush pile, and replied to me with an e-mail saying something to the effect of, “Make the following changes, and let us have another look.” The changes she proposed all made good sense, so I took most of my writing time that fall to dramatically revise my draft. By the time I was done, Lindsay was getting started as an agent in her own right, and so she took me on.

She submitted to publishers, and the brilliant Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Inc. (Scholastic) bought THE PATH OF NAMES. Then we started the revision process all over again. One thing that struck me as hilarious is that when Cheryl first started revising THE PATH OF NAMES, she sent me a file called ‘The Path of Names _ first draft.’ I remember laughing and thinking that a more accurate title would have been ‘The Path of Names _ 27th draft.’ That said, it was amazing how much the novel was improved in the editorial process. (I can tell you, for instance, I’m pretty sure Cheryl would never let the previous sentence stand, given its egregious use of the passive voice.)

What books have inspired you most as a writer and reader?

This is a very long list, so let’s pretend that you asked me to list the four books which most inspired me. That way, if people say ‘how could you not mention Anna Karenina / The Bible / my book?’ I can say, ‘I totally would have but Elisabeth insisted I limit myself to four books.’

Let me start with Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Slave. This is probably a weird book to inspire an MG novel, but his writing is so beautiful, and the magical elements in his short stories totally inspired my use of Jewish folklore in THE PATH OF NAMES. Similarly, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was a big inspiration as far as Jewish magic went, not to mention alternate historic realities.

On a more middle grade front, I love Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Also my friend and writing group colleague Linda DeMeulemeester has published an excellent MG series (starting with The Secret of Grim Hill) that sort of started me thinking about writing MG in the first place.

How will you celebrate the book’s release?

I’m having a book launch party in Vancouver on May 8 (7 p.m.) at Kids Books on West Broadway (everyone welcome!). Scholastic is also throwing a book launch party for me in New York in early June, which will totally be a thrill, too, as I’ll get to meet my editor and publicist and agent in person. Also my younger sister, and she’s a fabulous person to have at a party.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?

I would love to hear from you, reader! You can find me at or on The Path of Names Facebook page. My hope is that getting messages from you might cut down on the number of times per week I google THE PATH OF NAMES looking for early reader reviews. 

But WAIT, there's more! Here, Ari's agent, Lindsay Ribar (who, as mentioned above, just happens to be a Lucky 13-er as well), explains what drew her to Ari and THE PATH OF NAMES.

I first encountered Ari Goelman and THE PATH OF NAMES while wading through my boss's immense slush pile in July of 2010. Ari was referred to Matt the Bossman by his client Patrick Rothfuss, a fantasy author whose work I love and whose taste I trust--so of course I set THE PATH OF NAMES aside to read as soon as possible. (Note that in the world of book publishing, "as soon as possible" means "hopefully in under a year.") Right from the start, I fell very much in love with spunky, clever Dahlia, with Ari's buoyant and engaging narrative voice, and with the magical world he created.

For those of you just tuning in, the magical world I'm talking about is populated not only by ghosts, but by a fair bit of kabbala magic. You've heard of that, right? The thing that celebrities start talking about when they want some extra press, while the rest of us roll our eyes even though we don't have the first clue what it actually is? (Or maybe that's just me.) Well, Ari wove That Thing into the story so convincingly that I was like, "Hey, maybe Madonna was onto something in the 90's." Okay, not really. But it was damn cool to read about.

Back to the slush pile, though. As I said, I was reading this not for myself, but for my boss. So when I read the book, gave Ari notes, and read it again when he took said notes and turned the book into something even more awesome, this was all with an eye toward showing it to Matt the Bossman and saying, "This book is crazy good! You should sell it!"

But Matt the Bossman is a very busy bossman and, as I've already noted, the book publishing world already moves at a glacial pace. So eventually, all three of us decided it would be in everyone's best interest if I signed Ari and THE PATH OF NAMES myself.

Me, on paper, when this happened: "Yes. This is an excellent plan. We will all benefit from this arrangement."

Me, in my head, when this happened:

What I'm trying to say is, I'm beyond thrilled to have been involved in this book's journey from slushpile to shelf--and in the beginning of Ari's career as a novelist! Here's to much success, and many more books. You're awesome, Ari. Happy book birthday!

Much of The Path of Names is based on Ari Goelman’s real life experiences at summer camp, where he was frequently involved in solving murder mysteries and communicating with ghosts. Since then, he’s earned a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as a researcher, university instructor, writer, and stay-at-home dad. Ari’s short stories have appeared in about a dozen venues, among them Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine. The Path of Names is his debut novel.

This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Elisabeth Dahl.


  1. I love this interview!! And the ending, with Lindsay, is too funny!! Great stuff! :)

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