Author Event: Fiddler in the Golden Land

Sandi AltnerDoes your family have roots on the Lower East Side in New York?  The immigration stories of the turn of the century have long been a passion of mine and I am very pleased to be doing a special talk on this subject next week in Boca Raton, Florida.

Today, I am busy editing the finishing touches on one of the videos I will be including in the presentation which will be on April 3rd at the Sandler Center of the Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center.

JCC University Series

This is part of the Levis JCC Sandler Center Adult University Lecture series and I am very honored to have been invited to speak about Jewish immigration, with a particular emphasis on New York City.

My interest in Jewish migration grew out of the research I began many years ago for my historical fiction novel Ravenscraig. Since then I have become fascinated with the Lower East Side of New York and I look forward to sharing the stories that I have learned and the marvelous old photographs I have found in the archives of the Library of Congress on line.

Photos and Music

Fiddler Sandi Altner 8x10M

I am particularly drawn to the photos of families at work and will be including a discussion about the sweatshops and what that meant for the littliest workers. The presentation features a video montage of archival photos.

I find these kinds of talks are particularly appealing to people who have a passion for learning their family histories.  For me, learning about the past, and the hardships that had to be overcome is very inspiring.

A Celebration of Family Roots

Whether your family landed in New York, or Chicago or on a farm in Manitoba, as mine did, there is a common experience and a great value in learning the stories of our families.

I am grateful that my ancestors had the determination and grit to make a go of it in the “New World” and indeed, that they were courageous enough to take the plunge.  It was this interest in my family history that inspired me to write Ravenscraig.

Levis JCC Sandler Center:  April 3 at 1:00 p.m.

Please do join me at the Sandler Center on April 3, 2013, if you happen to be in South Florida next week.   For reservations and information, call 561-558-2520.

Book signing to follow the presentation.  See you there. 🙂

Ravenscraig Ranked #4 in McNally Robinson Bestsellers 2012

DSCN3543John Toews, the ever charming special events coordinator at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, wrote to me with big news last week: “I can happily announce that Ravenscraig is Number 4 on our 2012 Manitoba Bestseller list.” The list is called the Best of the West 2012.

Thank you, McNally Robinson, for being so supportive of authors, and thank you to the readers who have been so wonderful in recommending Ravenscraig to their friends.

I will remember 2012 as a wonderful year of connecting with old friends, and making new ones, through the excitement of being a first time author.  I was thrilled to see two old friends, Kathy and Linda, who came out to my talk about the Winnipeg passengers on the Titanic.  We first met when we were in grade 4.

2013 is getting off to a terrific start.  More news to come.

with Kathy Darvill and Linda Hamilton
with Kathy Darvill and Linda Hamilton

Ravenscraig Makes Winnipeg Free Press Best Book List 2012

Winnipeg Free Press Best of the Best Book List, 2012
Winnipeg Free Press Best of the Best Book List, 2012

Happy New Year!

I am thrilled that the Winnipeg Free Press has selected Ravenscraig as one of top fiction titles in their annual “Best of the Year” book list.

The Canadian version of the book will soon be going to reprint through Manitoba publisher, Heartland Associates.

Ravenscraig listed as a Winnipeg Free Press Best Book of 2012
Ravenscraig listed as a Winnipeg Free Press Best Book of 2012

This has been a very exciting year for me in watching the book gain an audience outside of Canada.   Few things are more exciting for an author than to have people you’ve never met tell you how they enjoyed reading your story.

The Kindle version of Ravenscraig, published in the US by Franklin and Gallagher,  has had more than 12,000 downloads in 2012.

I am most thankful to those who take the time to post their reviews on Amazon.  Ravenscraig is rated as 4.7 stars out of 5 with 21 reviews.

I was surprised to learn this morning that there are also reviews being posted in the UK! Very exciting, indeed.

5.0 out of 5 stars Ravenscraig
I read this book whilst in hospital and really enjoyed it. It combined a good yarn with a bit of social history in regard to the persecution of the Jews, their immigration from Europe, and their hardships and successes in Canada and the U.S.A. in an easy to read form. I am looking forward to reading book two!

Published 1 month ago by Nana Dee

Thank you Nana Dee!

Storytellers: The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I’ve been tagged in the Next Big Thing by fellow writer Mary Glickman. Mary is author of novels Home in the Morning and One More River, a 2011 National Jewish Book Award Fiction Finalist.

You can read Mary’ s Next Big Thing post here: to learn more about her work.

I have been invited by Mary to answer questions about my current book and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing.

What is the title of your book and what is it about?


Ravenscraig, is an historical novel that pitches rich against poor as two families from different worlds become inextricably tied together.

Rupert Willows buries his cruel past and schemes his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia.

At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English” and a better paying future at the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.

4366943480_83e8c25e9f_oWhere did the idea come from for the book?

Winnipeg, my home town, has a fantastically interesting history. It was a fur trading post that quickly evolved into a western saloon town and ultimately became one of the fastest growing cities on the continent.  A century ago at the height of the immigration boom, the city was divided with a strong wealthy class clashing against a burgeoning “foreign born” population.  My fascination with the social history of Winnipeg together with my background as a journalist ignited a passion for telling a fictitious story about real events in those interesting times.

What genre does your book fall under?

Ravenscraig is categorized as historical fiction, Jewish fiction and family saga.

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

What a fun question.  Rupert Willows has been described by some of my readers as “the man you love to hate.”  He is very handsome, powerful and manipulative, and utterly charming.

I have most often heard suggestions of Daniel Craig who does such a great job as Bond, and Jon Hamm who is a favorite

Jon Hamm
Jon Hamm

among those who love the Mad Men series.

Josh Holloway
Josh Holloway

Personally, well, I am rather partial to Josh Holloway.  I was watching Lost while I was writing a significant scene in the book and somehow Josh Holloway’s character, Sawyer, became an influence in Rupert’s allure.  I think it was the southern accent that really got me.  Josh

Holloway is to be directly blamed (or credited) with Rupert’s stay in Atlanta during his youth.

For Chadwick the butler, I see Michael Caine.

As for the women, this is more difficult.

Someone special with the guts and grace would be needed to play Maisie.

The image I had of Beth Willows is Billie Burke, a fantastic actress of years ago.

I welcome suggestions from Ravenscraig readers!  Please voice your opinion in the comments below.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

I am not represented by an agency.  Ravenscraig was published by Heartland Associates in Canada, and by Franklin and Gallagher in the USA.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About 7 years of researching and writing, followed by almost three years of rewrites.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Because this is historical fiction and a family saga,  Ravenscraig is appealing to fans of stories like Downton Abbey, the mini-sieris, and to books like Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and the Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.  Younger readers tell me it fits their appeal for books like Anne of Green Gables, by Lucie Maud Montgomery.

Nykola Strumbicky and Aksana (Shmigelsky) Strumbicky, Vita, 1936
Nykola Strumbicky and Aksana (Shmigelsky) Strumbicky, Vita, 1936

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have a deep appreciation for the stories in my own family history.  My ancestors came to Manitoba to farm in 1896. I am very grateful for the many sacrifice they made and the great hardships they endured so that their children and grandchildren would have a better life.

I became interested in learning about the early days of Winnipeg and a fascination grew that led to creating story based on true events.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Old_Titanic_28If you happen to be a Titanic fanatic, you might enjoy this novel. The story about the Fortune Family in Ravenscraig is based on the true account of this wealthy family traveling on the Titanic. I spent a great deal of time learning about this disastrous shipwreck and continue to read about it.

Links to other authors I recommend:

Here are some of my favorite authors.  Please see their work and find your own next best read!

Sally J. Ling is author of The Cloak, the recently released Shea Baker biblical mystery, which is set in Florida and gives the reader a fast paced and inviting read about a likeable writer, and accidental sleuth. I thoroughly enjoyed The Cloak and look forward to other upcoming adventures in the series.  In the meantime, Sally’s latest book is a non fiction book that will be released this month.  Out of Mind, Out of Sight: A Revealing History of the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee and Mental Health Care in Florida.

Sidura Ludwig is the author of the novel Holding My Breath (2007), a wonderful book about The book has been published in Canada (Key Porter Books), the US (Shaye Areheart Books) and the United Kingdom (Tindal Street Press). Sidura was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has lived in Toronto, Ottawa and Birmingham, UK.

Martin Crosbie is a Canadian Indie author who has created quite a sensation with embracing the Kindle Select Program on Amazon that led to more than a hundred thousand downloads of his first novel, My Temporary Life.  You can read about Martin’s new novel My Name is Hardly, here.  Martin already participated in the Next Best Thing Blog Hop, but because I am a fan of his work I could not possibly leave him off of this list.

And finally, two of the books I enjoyed reading most in 2012 were the first two novels written by Terry Fallis.  The Best Laid Plans, and The High Road.

Terry is a PR professional with a gift for humorous storytelling.  His first two novels are a delightful behind the scenes look at Canada’s Parliament Hill.  Wonderful and highly recommended.  His new novel, Up and Down, is on on my “to read” list.

Happy New Year to all!

Canadian New $20 Can’t Be Laundered

So those fancy new $20 bills in Canada are pretty snazzy.  I laughed out loud when a grocery store cashier in Winnipeg gave me an impromptu review and a warning.  She jabbed a finger at the new bill and stared me down. “Make sure you don’t leave that new 20 in a pocket and put it through the washing machine. It melts in the dryer, you know.”

She thrust the grocery bag at me as I was overcome with the memory of finding an American single in my freshly washed jeans some years ago.  It made it okay.  As did the electronic key to my husband’s car.  Whew!  So you can run a high-tech German car key and an American bill through the laundry, but make sure to guard those Canadian bank notes.

I wouldn’t doubt it.  The bill is made of a special slippery substance, which is like plastic and features clear windows and some high tech graphics.

I found this background video that explains the choice in the artwork and how this the new bill offers increased security.  I think this is pretty neat.  And yes, I will always check my pockets before I do laundry.

The Manitoba Archives – Destination Vacation

I went to Weston Elementary School when I was little and living on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg.  One of my strongest memories from grade three was the start of creative writing.  Our teacher would cut out pictures from magazines and paste them on construction paper.  The picture would be passed around from one desk to the next through the classroom and our assignment was to write a story about it.  The pupil with the best story was awarded the picture as a prize.  How great is that?

Over the years I have developed a rather keen interest in old photographs.  So it is that I find that I have spent countless hours poking through old picture collections.  One of my favourite places to search is the Manitoba Archives.  The staff are excellent and very helpful.

Here are a few of the pictures I found.    This one is part of the Sisler Collection and was taken in around 1915. The note on the file says “Clearing Land South of Elma.”  I am using pictures in my video montage that will be presented at Tarbut tomorrow night at the Rady Jewish Community Centre.  The others are early pictures of Downtown Winnipeg.

Clearing Land near Elma. c. 1915. Sisler Collection N11619 Manitoba Archives
Winnipeg’s Portage Avenue looking west from Main St. 1902 Manitoba Archives ON426
Main Street in Winnipeg, looking north from Portage Ave. c. 1912. Manitoba Archives N17779

Tarbut – a Journey to the Past Inspired by Ravenscraig

I am so happy for the wonderful response I am getting to the upcoming program, “Fiddler in the Golden Land”.  This is set for Thursday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 at the Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture at the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg.

Inspired by the stories in the novel, Ravenscraig, the evening will feature the marvelous Jane Enkin who will sing songs in Yiddish.  We’ll talk about the early days of Winnipeg, and in particular, the hardships and triumphs of the early pioneers who settled in the foreign quarter, later to be known as Winnipeg’s famous North End.  Please join us.

For tickets call 204-477-7510.

Ravenscraig Freebie Days November 14 and 15, 2012

Click here for FREE download on Nov. 14-15, 2012

Freebie Days are back! is offering Ravenscraig for a free download today and tomorrow. Available in the US and in the UK.

Why free?  This is part of the Kindle Select Program and the idea is to help authors become known to a wider audience.  I am very pleased that we had over 10,000 free downloads in the last free days over a month ago.

I am even more delighted with the readers who took the time to write a review for Amazon.  11 of the 15 reviews currently posted are Five Star.

Thank you!

Amazon Reviews:

Excellent, well-researched and very moving. ”Liz Stein  |  5 reviewers made a similar statement

The city was a hotbed of immigration and this book accurately depicts the history and immigration of a Jewish family from the “old country” to Winnipeg. ” Shell Beckwith  |  5 reviewers made a similar statement

Kept my interest from beginning to end. ” Ginny Harper  |  3 reviewers made a similar statement

See the Book Trailer here:

Celebrating the Early History of Winnipeg’s North End

Click for more information about Tarbut and to order tickets

I am delighted that Jewish Book Month will bring me back to Winnipeg for a special evening of stories, music and nostalgia.  Join me and the fabulously talented singer, Jane Enkin, on Nov. 22nd at the Rady Centre for the 3rd annual  Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture.

For me it will be a chance to celebrate the early history of the immigrants in Winnipeg who first settled in what was to become Winnipeg’s famous North End with music, stories, pictures of the early days, and of course, a reading from Ravenscraig.

Click here for more information on programming and tickets.  See you on November 22nd!

Fiddler in the Golden Land

with Sandi Krawchenko Altner, author of Ravenscraig

Join as at Tarbut on Nov. 22nd for a lively evening of musical entertainment and nostalgic memories of the early days in Winnipeg’s North End.

Sandi Krawchenko Altner will present a reading from Ravenscraig, her award-winning historical novel about Winnipeg, and lead a discussion about the dreamers and strivers who first settled the North End.

Sandi will share stories she learned from her many years of research on Winnipeg’s boomtown years a century ago, when it was among the fastest growing cities on the continent.   The research inspired the fictional Zigman family of Ravenscraig, Russian Jewish immigrants who struggled to put down roots in Canada.  Sandi will also describe the living conditions suffered by the North End’s mix of Jews, Ukrainians and other “foreign born” residents, and the passion that developed in “the foreign quarter”  that ultimately led to Winnipeg’s North End becoming known as one of Canada’s greatest neighbourhoods for “rags to riches” success stories.

It is Tarbut’s pleasure to invite all who have a connection to, or affection for Winnipeg’s North End to join us for this special evening of nostalgia and celebration.

Ravenscraig, by Sandi Krawchenko Altner, Winner of the 2012 Carol Shields Book Award

Romance, scandal, and tragedy grip the lives of two families and threaten to destroy them both in Ravenscraig, by Sandi Krawchenko Altner.  Winner of the 2012 Carol Shields Book Award, Ravenscraig, pitches rich against poor in the height of the immigration boom a century ago.

Rupert Willows buries his cruel past and schemes his way to wealth and power when he buys his opulent home, Ravenscraig Hall. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia. At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English” as a well paid maid at Ravenscraig. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.

Celebrating Winnipeg’s Past

Ravenscraig,  The Blog

This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.

Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America.  The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig.  I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.  Email me at:

Boomtown Winnipeg:

The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.

Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.

Dufferin, corner of King c. 1904 N7962 Courtesy Manitoba Archives

But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.

On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.

To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.

You will also find that I indulge in some nostalgic remembrances of my childhood  on Gallagher Avenue and at Principal Sparling School, and share stories about my family history.  I am very proud to have descended from the first group of Ukrainian settlers in Manitoba.  The first 27 families  arrived in the summer of 1896 and settled in the southeastern corner of the province.  My family farmed near Vita.

Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.

I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank.  I was horrified, and instantly hooked.

Years later, the Fortune family and Winnipeg’s connection to the Titanic came to occupy a significant part of my imagination, and the Fortunes found their way into my novel, Ravenscraig, which has recently been published in Canada by Heartland Associates.

Thanks for visiting.

About the name Ravenscraig:

Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.

About the novel:

Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.

Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.