How “Talia and the Rude Vegetables” began….

This is a story that, like many folktales, began in the kitchen.

One year, during the Jewish holiday of Succoth, my husband and I were invited to dinner at a friend’s sukkah. I’d offered to bring my favorite vegetarian Rosh Hashanah stew. It’s made with seven root vegetables, cinnamon, and raisins….and it’s delicious.

I started washing, scraping, cutting, and chopping root vegetables. 

As I prepared the vegetables, I pondered what I would teach one of my adult English Language Learners at her class the next day. I had to think quickly. I had hardly enough time to prepare the lesson and cook the stew. 

As I scraped, chopped, and pondered, I realized that non-native English speakers might have difficulty distinguishing between “root” and “rude.” All that separates those two words is a “d” or “t” sound - sounds which, under some circumstances, sound similar. For example, the last “d” sound in the word “dropped” sounds like a “t,” right? 

I began to think…What if…an English-speaker confused the two words? What if…as in the Russian folktale about the Great Big Enormous Turnip, an old man tries to pull a giant turnip out of the ground, but it won’t come out? What if…the vegetables are “rude”….and won’t come out of the ground?

As I thought about these “what if’s…” a story brews. 

That evening, under the sukkah, I discussed the story idea with my friends. Almost everyone had an “ingredient” to add. 

By the time the dinner was over, I had a sweetly and deliciously spiced story.

Of course, it wasn’t fully cooked.

I showed the story to my English language student - a Russian who knew Russian folk stories. She made an excellent suggestion: in a proper Russian story, she said, the main character would give away the extra vegetables. It would be an act of charity! Hmmm…I thought, she’s right. 

I re-read my story.

In the version I was working on, the main character brought the extra vegetables to the market, sold them, and brought the money to her grandmother. My student’s right, I thought. The main character should give the extra vegetables to the hungry.

I re-wrote the ending.

Then I attended a writers’ conference. During a pre-arranged editorial consultation, I presented my story to an editor. She told me what she liked. More importantly, she told me what she didn’t like. 

I discussed the story with my critique group. 

Then I went back to work - chopping, spicing, and fixing the story. 
Finally, I changed the main character to be a little girl, rather than an old man. Instead of a “Bubbe” and “Zaydee,” I now had a little girl and her grandmother. The only problem was…the little girl in the story didn’t have a name.

A few days later, my granddaughter, Talia, was born…and the story got its name.

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