Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What is Behind A Likeable Character?

I was reading someone's post a little while back (I think it was Nicole's) about the tendency of some writers to capture and infuse too much of their own personality into that of their character.

I am "guilty" of this approach as well and find it quite hard, at least in the early stages of the creative process, to separate myself from the main character of the work.  It is the sense of familiarity, the recognition of feelings, the certainty of expectations - all of which, of course, can lead to predictability and monotony.  Without a proper dose of uniqueness, I would create boring and unlikable characters.

The other night, as I was working on defining and developing a proper personality for one of my characters and tried to pull away from too much "me," I asked myself whether I, as an outsider, would actually like myself?  If I could step outside my body and view myself as a separate person, observe my actions, engage in conversation, ponder my motivations - would I like me?

The scary part is - I actually had to think about it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Creative Mess

With one lamp, three decorative objects, six photo frames, seven books (and a thin layer of dust...), the top of my nightstand apparently still isn't busy enough - although that is a condition easily remedied by going to 

It is definitely the messiest spot in my otherwise neat and organized home, except perhaps for the drawer right underneath it...(now, that has a life of its own).

In a few days, the following titles will add to the creative mess:

Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant
Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan
August Farewell by David G. Hallman
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Can't wait!  Have you read them?  What did you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Transportive Power of Language

I felt rather restless last night - close to midnight, it was too early to go to bed, but too late to start a movie; I was too tired to write, but eager to enjoy a satisfying turn of the language.

I stood in front of my bookcase, as I often do (there is no other way - it is five feet wide, floor to ceiling) searching for that pull.  When it came, I reached for my worn copy of Legy Jo Mindhalalig by Moricz Zsigmond.  I realize that most won't know of him, a major Hungarian novelist who lived from the late 19th century until the mid-20th, with the 1996 translation of his novel (Be Faithful Unto Death), as far as I know, being the only one into English.  The story is of an eleven-year-old boy's coming of age just after the first World War (when Hungary was on the wrong side), and his struggles of adolescence captured the essential world view of Hungarians of that era (and beyond).

I have read the English version, which is really good, but it lacks that inexplicable trait I call transportive power.

It's not just this particular novel - reading in a "foreign" language I grew up with (German and Hungarian) takes me back to my childhood, word by word, page by page, recreating a world that is always there but sometimes forgotten. 

Anyone else experience this when reading an original versus a translation?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Good News!

Although not related to my WiP or other writing projects, it is good news that I wanted to share with you.

There are just too many extraordinary things to do in life and too few years given to us to do them.  Thus, I multi-task and live several "lives." One day I am bound to "settle down" but until then...

I am a full-time attorney, a hands on mom and homemaker, a writer, a hobby architect, and a mom blogger dedicated to green pregnancy and parenting (SmartMommyHealthyBaby).  One to make a living, the rest to fulfill it...

I can hear you saying to yourself, "Geez, what the heck is her point?"

Well,  I just stole another hour a night from the time allotted to sleep - as of today, I am also the happy co-owner of Sticky Socks, an online retail venture.  My husband and I have been working on it for the better part of a year and the product (organic grip socks for babies and toddlers) is finally ready and available for sale in our online store. 


And now back to writing! For the time allotted to that pursuit will never be supplanted.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Character Development

I have finally gotten into a nice groove, reading and revising one chapter of my WiP on most nights (alas, not tonight).  Spending sixty to ninety minutes just with those few pages allows me to taste and digest each sentence, to let each word sink in and find its place - or hang out of line and scream for a replacement. I have reached the point where this task at least feels easier with each re-draft.

As I labor over the language, I also keep my eye on my characters.  Are they fully developed?  Are there any holes?  Are they real or at least believable?

The following "checklist" has helped me:
  • Are the character traits that are relevant to the story fully covered?
  • How about irrelevant traits that nonetheless enrich the character?
  • What are the character's strengths and weaknesses? Vices and pet peeves?  Are they shown or told?
  • Do glimpses of the character's past explain his present? Is he too predictable?  Or too random?
  • Are his thoughts, actions, speech, and interactions with others synchronized?  Should they be?
  • What are the character's physical characteristics and are they relevant?
  • How do his relationships with others define his personality? 
  • Does the manner and content of his speech evoke his personality?
  • What are his motivations?
  • Is there too much of me or someone I know infused in the character?
For some of my characters I wrote a resume - that really helped with the concrete aspects of their personality (where they live, what they do for a living etc.)

I'd love to hear about anything I missed!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Looking for A Few Great Reads

I am about to finish Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and I am looking for a good lineup to replenish the dwindling stock on my nightstand.  I have a few books lined up but I thought I'd ask for some recommendations as well.

I recently finished McLarty's The Memory of Running, Adorjan's An Exclusive Love, Stockett's The Help and enjoyed each of these tremendously.

Anything you think I would like to pick up?

Thank you!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

ProgLess Report...During NaNoWriteMonth

That's kind of what it is. 

200 words.  Yes, that is two-hundred words.  In seven days.  
Instead of participating I have managed to withdraw from the event.  Revising my WiP has proven to be challenge - as much as I insist that I want the work to please me first and foremost, as I am revising I keep getting sidetracked by evaluating whether others (agents, editors, readers) would like what I am putting to paper.
So, I have decided to put it aside for a week while I clear my head and fight the urge to meet others' expectations.

Does anyone else struggle with this?  I can't be the only one!

It's not all hopeless, though.  In October I revised one chapter, which I think absolutely rocks, and I ended up entering it into a contest.  And there I was not even trying.

In the meantime, I'll be reading!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Giving Credit

In accepting the Versatile Blogger Award and the Liebster Award, I had to accept certain responsibilities, which I am now fulfilling.

I received the Liebster Award from Kelly at Savvy Suburban.
I am passing the award on to:
- Hallie Gomez - W is for Writing
- CM Grote - Random Thoughts From Midlife
- Cassie Mae - Reading, Writing, and Lovin' It!
- Iain - Iain's Iainspirations
- Shanona Ryder - Shanona Writer

The Versatile Blogger Award came from Nicole at The World of My Imagination and Cassie Mae at Reading, Writing, and Lovin' It!
I am passing the award on to five writers:
1.  Peggy Edelman - Will Write For Cookies
2.  Josh Hoyt - The Blog That Helps You Diagnose Your Characters
3.  Rick Watson - Life 101
4.  Maggie Fechner - Mommys Always Write
5.  Jessie Humphries - B-Word

And the second condition is sharing seven things about myself.  How about five?
-  I used to be a champion sprinter
-  I am a hobby architect
-  I can knit
-  I am fluent in three languages
-  I went "green" four years ago

Thank you all for reading and visiting!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Much to my surprise I received three blog awards over the last couple of days!

From Kelly at Savvy Suburban, I received the Liebster  Blog Award.  Thank you Kelly! Check out her blog - she has interesting posts about a variety of relevant subjects!

In accepting the Liebster Blog Award, the recipient agrees to:
- Thank the person that gave the award and link back to their blog
- Copy and paste the award to your blog
- Reveal the 5 blogs you have chosen to award and let them know by commenting on their blog
- Hope they pay it forward by accepting and awarding it to bloggers they would like to honor

From Nicole at The World of My Imagination and Cassie Mae at Reading, Writing, and Lovin' It!
 I received the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you Nicole and Cassie Mae!  Well, I am versatile, but do not manage to do everything super competently... not enough time for that, but I do appreciate the award!  Check out their blogs too - they are both great and their blogs are always up to date and interesting and they are versatile for sure (not falling behind...)

The rules for accepting the Versatile Blogger Award are:
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Tell 7 things about yourself so that your readers may learn more about you
- Nominate 15 other newly discovered bloggers and let them know you nominated them.
So, looks like I have work to do! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writer's Wednesday and a Blog Hop

I just joined the Writer's Wednesday Blog Hop.  I don't usually blog hop (couldn't tell you why), but after giving it some thought I decided to participate now.
Why now?  
I have learned a lot by following other writers/bloggers, seeing what they are working on, what their challenges are, and how they go about solving them.  So why not continue down that road!

Do you want "in on the action?"
Go to The World of My Imagination, add your link to the blog hop roll, and follow a few simple rules.

And enjoy the results!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Are They, Really?

Writing competitions, I mean.  Waste of time if you enter or wasted chance if you don't?

I entered one YA piece into the WD YA competition last week.  I was not particularly in love with the story - of course I liked it, otherwise I would not have entered, but I feel like I almost can't find my voice when it comes to YA.  Anything I write and re-write ultimately ends up sounding too adult.  I start out well and then it all goes downhill.  But at least I am trying.

I am also going to enter a short story into the WD Short Short Story Competition.  This is a story I absolutely love; it is a stand alone chapter from my first novel.  My character is well developed and the voice is distinct. 

My question to you is - what do you think about writing competitions, especially ones we pay for (like WD)?  I browsed the WD boards where some opinions are less than gracious about these competitions (or the writers who enter them), spewing negativity thicker than rhyolitic lava.   Others seem to think they can help budding writers get practice and perhaps recognition.

I'd love recognition, sure, but the main reason I participate in these competitions is that a deadline keeps me on track.  I write even when there is no deadline, but if something is on the line, so to say, I make sure I find the time, even if it is at midnight or two in the morning and six-thirty is not too far off.  Perhaps if I did not work full time as an attorney, have a family, and keep a second blog, maybe I would not need extra prodding, but it is what it is.

So, what do you think about these competitions? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Random Thoughts From The Trenches

As I am finishing up one novel and starting the next, I am pondering the style and "voice" of my new novel.  First and foremost, I want the work to please me, but wanting to get published in this lifetime, my work must have a certain quality that will make an agent willing to sell it.  Thus, producing a novel with a salable voice is possible only if the agent's definition of voice is the same as mine.  Otherwise, writing a novel with a voice to please others means I am a sell out and I am not going down that route this time.  At least I already have a list of agents who I believe would appreciate my style and recognize my voice - a slender hope, but hope nonetheless.
But anyway - why the focus on voice?
Several interviews with and commentaries by agents who take literary fiction say that in many submissions the work itself is good, the grammar at times impeccable, and the sentences flow nicely, but the novel is missing something - missing "it."     
Some agents called it style or tone, but most have called it voice.
The dictionary defines voice as the distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.  Others say that voice is the author's style, the quality that makes the writing unique and conveys the author's attitude and personality. It is the element that brings the novel together, that makes it come alive.
For me, the following are great examples of true, recognizable voices:
The next day commenced as before, getting up and dressing by rushlight: but this morning we were obliged to dispense with the ceremony of washing: the water in the pitchers was frozen.  A change had taken place in the weather the preceding evening, and a keen north-east wind, whistling through the crevices of our bedroom windows all night long, had made us shiver in our beds, and turned the contents of the ewers to ice.
Jane Eyre/Charlotte Bronte
 I don't buy gold eye shadow, but I do pick up a bottle of Black Death nail polish.  It's gloomy, with squiggly lines of red in it.  My nails are bitten to the bleeding point, so it will look natural.  I need to get a shirt that matches.  Something in a tubercular gray.
Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson

Yet both of them experienced the same flash of envious but joyful surprise as they recognized that the other has passed the had test: the forty-one years that had elapsed, the time of their separation in which they had not seen each other and yet had known of each other at every hour, had not broken them.  We endured, thought the General.  And his guest felt a strange sensation of peace, mingled with both disappointment and pleasure - disappointment, because the other man was standing there alert and healthy, pleasure because he himself had managed to return here in full possession of his powers - as he thought, "He's been waiting for me, and that's what's kept him strong."
Embers/ Sandor Marai

Later he would tell her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express.  The year was 1937; the month was September, the evening unseasonably cold.  His brother had insisted on taking him to the opera as a parting gift.  The show was Tosca and their seats were at the top of the house.  Not for them were the three marble-arched doorways, the facade with its Corinthian columns and heroic entablature.  Theirs was a humble side entrance with a red-faced ticket tacker, a floor of scuffed wood, walls plastered with crumbling opera posters.

Invisible Bridge/Julie Orringer

Mom and Pop were at their best when it was worst.  There was a kind of calmness, and it would settle over our house.  We'd spent so much time waiting for the bad part that it was almost a relief when it came.  We didn't have to wait in that edgy, nervous zone, because what we waited for had come, and for a while we were rescued from it.  From the waiting, I mean.
The Memory of Running/Ron McLarty

What are some of your favorites?  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Revising Again (Before Querying Again) ... But What and How?

Although I hoped to get a positive response to my first query, I knew that a rejection was almost guaranteed.  Still, it rattled my confidence and filled me with doubt again as to my novel (which I really do love).  So, to quiet those voices of discontent, I am doing another read, and edit where needed.

But am I doing it the right way? 

There are many different kinds of revisions and edits we employ as we polish our novels, but has it ever happened to you that after spending endless hours perfecting your sentences and creating a great flow of words and phrases, you end up tossing the entire section simply because it does not fit within the story structure or framework?

I find the following helpful every time I question my approach.

The initial revision should be nothing but a review of the structure of the entire work.  Read and re-read the novel and determine, first as you go along and then after you are done and reflect on what you read:

--  Is the story smooth?  Does the plot / main character's development work?  Does it have the classic elements of a novel, however modified or unique?
--  Is the story / main character's journey interesting?  Can it carry the whole novel?  Are there any irrelevant subplots?  Or does it need subplots to add background or simply some spice?
--  Is the main character real?  If not, does he/she successfully make you suspend your disbelief?
--  Does the main character develop, grow and/or change and carry the story through?
--  Is there a central theme?  Does the novel say something?
--  Does it have a voice?
--  Is the pace right?

After the overall structure, I attend to the supporting elements of the structure:

--  Does the main character monopolize the story?  If so, should he/she?  Do the supporting characters get enough time to stay relevant?
--  Is the dialogue real and believable?
-- Are the transitions between time and place smooth enough?  How about the transitions between sentences?  Between paragraph?  Chapters?  Are they all properly "connected?"
-- Do you need every scene?  Do you need ones that are not in the story yet?

Once I am satisfied with the structural and supporting elements, I look at the paragraphs and sentences in more detail and polish them as needed. I do this as I write, but there is always lots of room for improvement.

--  Is there a proper balance of show and tell?  Is the character telling us or showing how he feels and what he is doing?
--  Are the words the right ones?  Is there too much repetition?  To many adjectives?  Not enough?
--  Does each sentence flow and make sense?
--  Are there enough action words?  Too many cliches?

Of course it is never as simple as this.  I thought I was done with all three and now I am checking again and again... just to make sure.  Writing the story took about one year, the editing and revisions just as long.

Anyone else use this approach?  Do you have a better one?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

HIs Products and His Words

I am a big Apple fan - I always have been.  My first computer was an Apple PowerBook 140.  I bought it in 1991 and, twenty years later, it still works (well, it turns on and opens word or excel, but not both...). Of course I have upgraded since then and these words are being written on a MacBook Pro. 

But it is his words that inspire me. 

"If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

"And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Wrong Agent Versus Bad Writing

I sent my query package to an agent for whom, I thought, my first novel would be a great fit - his likes and preferences, as well as his willingness to accept first time writers without referrals or references gave me just enough hope to believe that something might just work out.

This unreasonable amount of hope, brewing until I could almost smell it, soon evaporated when I received a rejection letter via email.  It was addressed to me and mentioned the title of my novel - a form rejection but at least it had some some personality.  Although I really like my work, I am not exactly sure what made me think a positive response was in order when novels like The Help were rejected 60 times.  Perhaps a bit too much confidence.

The letter made me rethink my approach and I returned to the questions and answers I put aside just last week, when I thought I was query ready.

Aside from the obvious (does the agent handle the type / genre of my novel, does he accept unsolicited submissions),  what are the key qualities and factors, or that "subjective intangible" that makes agents decide onto which pile the submission is going?  For some, it is the tone of the work, for others the voice, and some just say it cannot be defined but they know it when they see it.  Writing aside, a novel has to have a certain something that connects with the agent and what is a star submission for someone may be a nightmare for another. 

Going back to my list of agents, it is that certain something I have to identify in the books they represent.  Then I may be on the right track.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's Too Late Now...

for me to change a word, to move a sentence, to worry about timing, to obsess about the response - or the lack thereof.

The envelope (containing a one page query, a four page synopsis, and a nine page excerpt) is in the mail - somewhere in the bottom of a mail delivery truck, perhaps sitting between a contract and a love letter. 

On Monday, the mail man will deliver it to the receptionist or the assistant at the agency.  The agent will get the envelope before the day is over.  Maybe he'll open it, maybe he'll look at the name of the sender and throw it on top of the pile.

Someone will open it sooner or later - and it will either garner an immediate response (half a percent chance), be placed in a maybe pile (five percent chance), or land in the recycle bin (ninety-four and a half percent chance).


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This one is about writing!

We often hear the old adage "actions speak louder than words," yet as writers we must rely on words and it is our task to select those words that will make the actions come alive and not just describe them.  Is this a difficult task?  Certainly!  But is it worth the effort?  Absolutely!
Showing versus telling was my staunch enemy when I first gave creative writing a try; I am not even sure I really understood the difference (and I still have trouble at times).  For decades I devoured books but I was usually so engrossed in the story and the words that I never thought to look at a novel as a whole or to consider its particular components. 
Both showing and telling have their rightful place.  Telling, by way of a description of a scene or by providing information, is essential to almost any story - imagine War and Peace without telling...
Yet, as the saying goes, actions generally speak volumes and can, often in one single motion, show us a trait or a consequence that may otherwise require a page full of exotic adjectives (which, if diligently employed page after page, could result in the loss of your readers). 
Thus, a meaningful balance of showing and telling is what we should aspire to - a task I hope to perfect one day. 

I was brushing my teeth last night when I looked at the almost empty tube of toothpaste I had just used.  The new tube had already been opened too, by my significant other.  I thought that a single and absolutely routine action like brushing one's teeth could perfectly demonstrated the difference in personalities and, with a healthy dose of fiction mixed in, would allow me to practice some showing versus telling and experiment with balancing the two.

Consider this:

Caroline liked to use up every last bit of toothpaste; leaving even half a brushtip's worth was a waste.  And to Caroline, waste, and especially waste of money, was quite simply the eight deadly sin.  She mended her clothes, vacuumed the rugs, and never odered take-out.  She often wondered how she and Larry, the epitome of wastefulness, lasted thirty years as a couple.  Larry left the lights on in every room of the house and had his undershirts laundered.  To Larry, doing something that he could pay someone else to do for him was nothing but a waste of his time.  
versus this:
Caroline rolled up the tube and replaced the cap before she squeezed every bit of paste towards the tip.  A smile of satisfaction spread across her face as she opened the cabinet and put the snail-shaped container on the shelf.  She wiped the drop of water that fell from her finger onto the glass shelf and closed it.  She hung the towel on the rack and anger replaced the peace in her brown eyes when she saw the open tube laying on top of the toilet tank, leaving behind a trail of red and blue paste. 
"Larry!" she yelled.  "How many times do I have to ask you to please close the paste when you are done with it!  Besides, there is still some paste left in the other tube," she said and her head shook with dissatisfaction as she fought to control her breathing.
"Whatever!" Larry mumbled under his moustache and washed his words down with a cold sip of Amstel. "Can't you just leave me alone?" he said and threw his sandwich in the garbage before he walked out.

Writing is fun, isn't it??

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Good Vacation... from Writing

I thought I would write and review and revise while I was away, but instead of reading my WIP I read Super Why's adventures with my daughter and my nephew's notebook took the place of mine.  Perhaps I should not have planned to work on my writing at all during an event as rare as a week-long vacation with the extended family (indeed, more infrequent but infinitely more precious than a hurricane in New York...), but the promise of one entire week off from work, with hours available to be dedicated to writing was just too sweet to pass up. 

Since returning to my real world three days ago, I have been struggling to recover from both jet lag and the lethargy caused by the break from writing.  Getting off track is effortless - getting back on is exacting.

That said, tonight was a good night for writing - my query letter is finally finished and ready to be sent out to the short list of seven agents I handpicked (yes, I know, a list that meager is certain to result in heartbreak).  Every one of them asks for a synopsis and a sample chapter, both of which are ready and standing by.

But what really happens next? 

Assuming the work is any good, what are the chances for a "request for more" for a no-name, wanna-be writer without credentials and without connections in the business?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Writing Out the Hurricane

As a Manhattanite, I am not used to hurricanes.  Although we have experienced some major storms, flooding, and other significant man-made disasters in our city, the effects of this approaching hurricane are unusual for most of us.  The shut down of the New York City mass transit system (trains, buses, subways) as a result of a (potential) natural disaster is unprecedented.  The airports are also closed, and the tunnels, bridges, and certain highways may be next.

The Whole Foods at Time Warner Center is busy on an average day, and many times I stood on line for twenty minutes.  Yesterday and this morning, I held my produce and other nonperishables in my arms and waited for my turn, for more than two hours combined - perfectly calm madness ruled every store I went to.  No impatience, no pushing; as a matter of fact, most of us New Yorkers were more civilized today than on a nice sunny day running errands after work.

Foodshopping complete, we taped some of the windows, made bags of ice, put fresh batteries in the flashlights, filled bottles and pitchers with water, and charged the iPhones, iPads, and the MacBook. 

What's left?

Baking some muffins.  Those will last for a few days even if we have no electricity or gas.

And tonight, when the storm rolls in, I will be too nervous to sleep. 

That is where the fully charged MacBook comes in.  Let's hope "The Muse" will cooperate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Am I "Forcing" A Genre?

Reading M.J's post about not being able to get started made me think of my inability to climb out of an exceptionally deep hole I dug for myself. 

When I work on my "normal" contemporary/literary pieces, I can generally manage even after a rough start or a break of sorts.  The ideas start coming, although usually at the worst of times (like during a meeting at the office...), and once I know where I want the story to go, the words keep coming.  This could be a full-length work (admittedly, I am only on my second) or, more often, a short story.

But when I switch genres and (try to) write a piece of YA, more often than not, I fail.  First, I think I have a genius plot or an unusual idea, but once I start writing it all goes up in smoke.  My characters, the settings, the voice - everything. 

Yet I keep going back to writing YA because I like reading it, and because I like a good challenge.

Well, I'll let you know when I finish my current YA short - or not....

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Give and Take, and Then Some

I am waiting.

Although I am not exactly sure yet what it is I am waiting for (it could be inspiration, story lines, inner peace, a break in the rain, or bedtime), here I am, sitting in front of my MacBook, thinking, reading, typing, and chewing the inside of my cheeks.  I should be giving a final read to the last couple of chapters of my first novel, the synopsis, and the query letter, or maybe work on the outline of my second novel, or perhaps find inspiration for the two short stories I want to write and enter into the WD competition in October.  I should not waste the little time I have - my real life will awaken together with the rising sun.

But I guess there is value in (almost) everything we do:

- if I do not get signed by an agent, I will not be destroyed, and, instead, will become stronger.
- if my first novel ever get published but does not sell, I can always say that the novel was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.  
- as I gear up for my second novel, "imagination is more important than knowledge." 
- I cannot give up because without art and the world it creates, reality could make my world unbearable.  
- I must keep writing to ensure I do not die without having really lived.

Yes, I know.  Instead of poaching the words of others, I should find my own.  But tonight, their wisdom gives me peace.

I guess that is what I was waiting for. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The First Paragraph of My Second Novel Now on "Paper" - But Which PoA?

I realize it is only one paragraph each and neither the message nor the theme can be devised or understood from passages as short as these, but if you have an opinion on which one sounds or is better, first or third PoV, I'd love to hear from you!  This is all I have written so far - the rest is in my head.  And I will (try to) stay true to my word and start with (some version) of a synopsis first.


The massive lock jolted open with a sudden thud, as if it had just awoken from an unexpectedly long and restful sleep. I gave the handle a gentle push and stepped inside.  Although the air was stale, the mellow rays of the afternoon sun lent the room its familiar warmth.  For a moment I thought she would come out of the kitchen carrying a trey of poppyseed beigli in her hand and a reassuring smile on her face.  Knowing that soon I would be cleaning and packing up my grandmother's house felt like she died again; I felt guilty having to remove the memories that witnessed her long and adventurous life. 

Julianna pressed down on the rusty handle and it gave way with a sudden thud.  She pushed it gently and stepped inside.  Warm afternoon sunlight flooded the living room and the hallway and Julianna took a deep breath.  She turned toward the kitchen and, for a moment, a smile full of expectation and sadness flashed though her face.  Here she was, two years after her grandmother's death, ready to clean the house and remove Teresa's personal belongings so that the new owner could put his mark on the house that witnessed her long and adventurous life. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

First Person for the First - Third for the Second?

For me, first person point of view comes naturally; it feels like the "right way" to write.  But is it?  Or rather, is it always the right way?
It clearly has its advantages.

-I know what is inside my protagonists head, what he feels, thinks, dreams.  Thus, it is "easier" to write my story.
-For my (future) readers, there will be an immediacy between the protagonist and the reader, a level of comfort and understanding.

The list of disadvantages (at least in theory) is much longer.

-Subplots are often out of the question.
-There is a constant danger that the protagonist, in particular in the early drafts, will sound like me and not like the character I am developing.
-All characterization of the protagonist is derived from him, which could limit character descriptions and, thus, the readers' understanding of his personality and traits.
-The protagonist is in every scene, potentially boring the reader.

I had no choice but to use first person point of view for In The Shadow of Honey Locusts - it could not have been done any other way.  I did not even try third person; it is a story only my protagonist knows and no one else can tell.  The subplots are minor and the protagonist's struggles and feelings are the heart of the story.

With my first novel almost ready to be sent out to agents, my second is brewing in my mind and heart and I don't know whether I want to stick with first person or try third.  Well, to be honest, I know I want to use first person again - but I wonder if I should perhaps try third person this time?

What do you think?  What POV do you like to read and why?
To make it more interesting, I will write the first paragraph of my second novel in both first and third and will post it here.  Maybe that will help the decision-making process!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's in a Title?

Knowing that perfection is but an elusive goal, the novel must be as close to perfection as it can be.  The query letter must persuade the agent to read the synopsis and the synopsis must capture the essence of the work in order to dazzle the agent into requesting it.
But how about the title??
I titled my novel "Silent Words" the day I started writing.  It captures the main characters mood perfectly as he sets on his journey.   But is it a good title?
I was never convinced.
Choosing a title is exciting in the most excruciating way - it is important because it is the first impression the agent, the editor, and the reader have of the work; it can, if well chosen, capture the essence of the work as it catches the imagination of the reader; and, as a marketing tool it can prompt a purchase.   
But how to choose a title?  What is a title, anyway?
I stood in front of my book case for about twenty minutes, looking for a pattern, a reason, a revelation.
Here it is.
Titles vary by:
A.  length:
(i)  long titles (some form a complete sentence):   Murder on the Orient Express, The Summer Before the Dark
(ii) short titles (some are comprised of one word):  Speak, Twilight
(iii) phrases (a few words, often enigmatic in meaning):  The Rule of Four
B.  conceptual meaning:
(i)   describe a person:  Jane Eyre, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(ii)  describe an object:  White Oleander, 4:50 from Paddington
(iii) describe an action:  How to Breathe Underwater
(iv) describe a feeling (or two):   An Exclusive Love, Pride and Prejudice
(v)  describe a place:   Bertram's Hotel, Caribbean Mystery
(vi) describe a notion: Thirteen Reasons Why, East of Eden
Perhaps there are other, better ways of characterizing or grouping titles, but such methods escaped my notice in those twenty minutes.
These are books I like and, for various reasons and during various stage of my life, have enjoyed very much.  Setting aside the genre and ignoring the level of enjoyment garnered from reading each story, I stared at the titles, this time waiting for a connection, a pull to any one type of title.  What is it that attracts me most?  Do I want a no-nonsense title that tells me what happens?  Murder on the Orient Express.  Or do I want to figure out what the story is about and how the title relates to it as I live the story? An Exclusive Love.  Does the geography of a place awaken a sense of adventure?  Caribbean Mystery.  Does it even matter what I want?  What about what agents or editors or readers want?
Yes.  An excruciating process.  Yet so rewarding.
In The Shadow of Honey Locusts.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Synopsis - It Is Done!

The synopsis is finally finished! 
I wrote the story I had to write - back then, I did not care about a synopsis or a query letter.  I am not even certain I knew what those were when I started writing. 
Then, for a long time, I feared even the idea of a synopsis and did not want to touch it.  It seemed like an unnecessary burden that would neither reflect my style nor capture the message of my novel. 
It took me two weeks to draft it, rewrite it, and finalize it.  It was not a labor of love...
Yet, in retrospect I realize how useful the exercise was and how valuable its product is.  It gives me clarity.  It allows me to better summarize my novel and its key points for whatever purpose and to be more articulate about its characters and their struggles.
It also helped me revise my query letter, which is also in its "final" form.
I have learned my lesson -  for my next novel, I will start with the synopsis.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lovin' the Language Blogfest

I am still not sure what exactly a blogfest is or what it is supposed to achieve, but the subject of Jolene B. Perry's Blogfest is too interesting to pass up.  For me, reading and writing are about the language, the way the words transport me into the character's world, the way their mere sounds can change my mood.  So - lovin' language, here we go!  My five-sentence entry from my WIP:

"I have been lucky.  I haven’t been to a hospital in forty-three years.  I received my conscription papers from the Serbian military a week after my seventeenth birthday and I was ordered to submit to a physical exam.  All young males had to serve and my kind, the ethic German and Hungarian teenagers, were the first to be called in.  I was just a boy then, short and bony, and my hand felt the barrel of a gun before it ever held a razor."  

And here is another:

"The long white curtains are dancing to the afternoon wind, flowing like the skirts of lithe dancers.  The breeze is warm but refreshing, cleansing the air of the putrid smell of disease that has infiltrated every molecule around me.  I wish it would dissolve my gaze glued to the old man walking the hallway and dragging his skeletal frame behind his gray cane.  I must close my eyes; I must stop polluting his dignity and feeding my fear.  But it is too late.  I missed the opportunity the second I laid my eyes on him."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Girl and the Synopsis

I have received some valuable feedback to help me recognize the moment when my story may be really "done."  While one fellow WD group member suggested that the third draft may be the charm, another person told me that a novel is complete when you get to the point of replacing and removing commas and periods - and nothing else.  Yet a friend observed that there is no such thing as a completed novel - there are only various stages of imperfection.  
So, while I am working on that.... I also started drafting a synopsis.  When I first sat down to write my novel, I knew where I wanted to go with the story, understood its theme, and had a mental blueprint of the structure - although I would not have been able to actually name these as key factors.  On the other hand, I had not an inkling about synopses, queries, pitches and all the other unpalatable aspects of writing with a goal of publication. 
One week into writing a synopsis I discovered that drafting a query letter first works better for me - starting with a short plot summary and clarification of the theme came more natural and now I am building on those elements to create the various parts that comprise a synopsis.
Yes, queries, synopses all need to be done, but mostly, I think, I am focusing on these just so I can avoid another dreaded revision and face the possibility of my novel still not being done.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How Do You Define "Done?"

A well-respected agent to whom I am hoping to send my novel (at some point anyway) noted on the submissions page of his web site that he accepts queries from aspiring writers  - but in that sentence he also asked that nothing be sent to him until it is complete; until the writer of the full-length novel "would not change one single word."
Quite a tall order, isn't it?
Can we ever really get to that point?  Be so completely and absolutely satisfied with a sizable work that we truly believe we cannot improve upon it?
I don't know.  I learn something every day, a new experience, a different point of view, an unusual word - the world around us is complex and inviting and I have (almost) never reached the point of absolute satisfaction with bringing to life the experiences it allows me to have.  After I am "finished" and let the story rest, a read a few weeks or months later inevitably produces some changes. 
Of course there are always exceptions.  There is one short story I wrote - 1,500 words of perfection in my eyes. 
Yes, quite a tall order for 80,000 words.

How do you know when you are done?

Monday, June 6, 2011

You'd Think I Am Depressed

The third draft of my novel has been sitting on my dining table for a month now, waiting patiently for me to decide.  Re-write?  Add another chapter?  Take one out?  Or let it sit a few more weeks to gain (more) perspective?
While I am agonizing over that decision, I have spent some time to organize my writing in general.  I have read a few books on queries and synopses, agents and publishing houses, and made a list of my works.
And here it is.  They are all about death and loss, desperation and suffering.  Every single one of them.
I tried to write happy stories, ones that sing of contentment, joy, and perfectly balanced personalities, but everything that comes out is boring and unoriginal. 
What is that all about?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Stories Are In ...

The Annual WD Competition deadline came and passed.  I entered only one new story  - a personal essay to be more specific.  I wanted to enter a (sort of) stand-alone chapter from my novel but somehow I did not get around to finishing the necessary revisions. I was going to do it last night, but a nap turned into a full-night's sleep....
What am I expecting to get out of this year's Annual WD competition?  Mostly five months of a restless subconscious as I wait for the results.  It was last year that I first tested the waters, that I wrote my first short story and personal essay.  Both of my stories received honorable mentions, and, emboldened by my unexpected success and perplexing courage, I wrote two short stories for the Writer's Digest Short Story Competition.  I was certain as only a novice can be that I will receive at least honorable mentions, and secretly hoped that I would do much better.  Of course my hopes were dashed by the sharp blade of reality and I felt embarrassed (more like a fool, really) in front of my own self. 
So, let's wait and see what happens this time!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Man in The Blue Baseball Cap

A raw, unedited short short "written" on my way to work and inspired by an old man standing on a street corner, waiting to cross.  These challenges sure are tough - and rather uncomfortable.

He was standing in the middle of the mailroom, his hands stone fists inside the pockets of his pants.  His lips drawn in a thin line, he focused his eyes on the flatscreen display with unusual disinterest.  He was still staring at it ten minutes later when I took the elevator back to my apartment.   A rather peculiar old man, I thought, always seems to be waiting for something.
I had seen him before, many times, always disengaged from the activity he so intently pursued.  In each passing contact, his eyes were unwelcoming and cold, rejecting acts of urban civility commonly accepted in tight living quarters.  His wardrobe displayed a sense of monotone, matching the despondency that enveloped his behavior; he never parted with his steel blue jacket, always unzipped, his cream collared shirt, always buttoned up, his white socks that peeked out from under the cuffs of his dove gray pants, his white sneakers, and his blue baseball cap.
I was leaving for the evening when I saw him for the third time that day.  He was standing in the hallway, seemingly overwhelmed by the soda machine selection that had not changed in a decade.  
"Who is that old man?" I asked one of the doorman.  If anyone, they would know. 
"You mean the guy in the blue baseball cap who stands around waiting?" he asked and nodded his head toward the hallway that dissected the ground floor.
"Yes.  Just seems an unlikely person to live in a highrise in midtown.  I guess I am just curious."
"He sure is strange.  I have never heard him say a word.  Someone told me years ago that the old man was a prisoner of war in Korea and then served in Japan for a while.  I don't think he has any family - he has not had a visitor in the five years I have been working here."
"Who?" a sharp voice interrupted from behind the concierge desk.
"The old man in the blue hat," I told the night shift.  "I am being nosy."
"Him.  Yes.  I don't really know what his story is, but I heard that he was a stock broker back in the day and used to live in a townhouse uptown before he lost everything.   You know, most nights he walks the corridor between the mailroom and the gym, as if he were waiting for something."
"Well, I guess we are all waiting for something," I told them and headed out the door. 
The old man in the blue hat was gone when I returned later that night.  The morning shift told me he had died of natural causes.
Was that what he was waiting for?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The World Is A Stage...

And I am going to try to figure out how badly cast the play really is - for me, I mean.   Do I have the ability to use the riches it offers or will I waste its (in)finite resources on mediocre creations? My goal for the next week is to build my creative side by manufacturing believable stories around random persons I see as I go through my day.   Keeping it realistic and making it interesting will make it a tougher challenge for me.  I just hope I won't get hit by a bus trying to cross the street while my mind is not where it (technically) should be.  Wish me good luck!

Has anyone else tried this with success?  I hope I will have some striking or fascinating items to report in my next post. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

R is for Reflection

The ability to reflect on any matter of relevance in one's life is a luxury.  We have too many things to do and not enough time to do them.  We work, we eat, we clean, we worry, we pamper, and we chide - who has the time to see the forest when there are too many trees in the way?

This Friday marked the first full day this calendar year that I managed to step back and think about certain things that are important to me apart from the elements of my daily existence (and I actually took the day off from work to do it).  It being Good Friday and Earth Day, what better occasion to take a balance?

Writing, of course, is one of those matters of great relevance.  Why am I writing? (It makes me happy). What do I get out of it? (Immense satisfaction and the chance to "escape" into the realities I create).  What are the challenges I face? Naturally, this was the most difficult one to answer.  To know my strengths and weaknesses presupposes that I have the wisdom to know the difference.  (And I hope I do).  In the end, I can sum up the results of three hours of deliberation in two words - recycling and remembrance. (I guess R stands for Reflection, Recycling, and Remembrance)

I have a tendency to "recycle" my main character in certain of my short stories.  I borrow many traits from my heroine in one work and bestow them upon the heroine of my next story.  Why?  Because I like the character I once created in a short story that to this day is my favorite piece.  And I need to learn to separate myself from her.  Otherwise, boredom and complacency will ensue. 

My struggle to imagine and develop unique characters who will be remembered by my (future) readers is a natural extension of my recycling.  I need to step outside of myself and create that which I do not feel comfortable and familiar with.

I need to start clearing that forest.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Invisible Bridge - Still Visible

I don't write book reviews.  I have neither the time nor the energy - I am glad if it all comes together in a perfect storm and I can do everything I have to and some of the things I want to. 

But every once in a while comes a story that won't leave long after I finished reading it, a story that will dance in the obscure corners of my mind like a silken ribbon, slowly weaving into moments of my day.

This is that story.

It is a long book, but one of the shortest I have read in quite some time.  From the first two sentences ("Later he would tell her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express.  The year was 1937; the month was September, the evening unseasonably cold.") I knew I was hooked; the brilliance of Julie Orringer's writing shone through in just those thirty-nine words, gracefully setting the stage for a haunting yet uplifting story of love and survival without resorting to melodrama.  I sat with Andras and Tibor at the Budapest Opera while they listened to Tosca, I walked along the platform with Andras as he waited for his train to pull out of the station in Vienna, and admired the architecture of Paris with him as he first stepped onto its busy streets.   I inhaled her words as if they were air.  As the story progressed, I felt lucky to have never had to face the challenges they encountered. 

The characters were challenged by the political circumstances of the late 1930s and the Second World War, enduring incredible conditions with humanity and strength.  I am certain I was not the only one who wondered how they (and many others like them who were faced with such adversity) were able to persist and find the strength to hope.

I fancy myself a writer and hope to be published someday, yet novels like The Invisible Bridge remind me I have a long road ahead.

(Other novels that stayed with me, some for decades, are on my bookshelf, just an inch to the right)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's Blogger Award Time - Well, Sort of...

My fellow writer and blogger CMSmith ( bestowed The Versatile Blogger Award upon me.  Thank you.  I accept - sort of. 

By accepting the award, I must fulfill certain tasks and I have decided to vary them a bit.  I too hope the "blog police" is not going to fine me for not following the rules.

Anyway, first requirement is to thank the person who gave me the award.  Done.

Second requirement is to share seven things about myself.  How about five?  Here we go:
-  I used to be a champion sprinter
-  I am a hobby architect
-  I can knit
-  I speak 3 languages fluently
-  I went "green" four years ago

Third, I have to name 15 bloggers onto whom I want to pass the award.  How about I pass the award on to five bloggers (writers or not) and then name four of my favorite sites related to writing?  I think that is a fair compromise.

- Hali Gomez's Blog ( - a fellow writer who shares her daily efforts and challenges when it comes to writing.
- David Lebovitz's Blog ( - a published author and pastry chef living in Paris.  Enough said.
- Healthy Child Healthy World ( - an interesting and relevant blog if you want to go green.
- Apartment Therapy ( - Style. Space. Inspiration.
- The Virtual Linguist ( - An alternative to a dictionary or thesaurus, and certainly funnier than both.

- Noah Lukeman's Ask a Literary Agent ( - a literary agent's blog about writing and getting published.
- Query Shark ( - submit if you dare!
- Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents ( - I make a point of reading his blog every week.
- Angela Booth's Writing Blog ( - her focus is helping others become better writers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Forty-Seven Minutes

Forty-seven extraordinarily rare and precious moments, without the continuous ringing of the phone, the predictable work "emergencies," and the hungry cries of my little one - nothing but forty-seven beautiful moments of solitude with only the rhythmic clicking of the train's iron wheels.  Forty-seven minutes.

And no pen.

My phone is smiling at me with only one line of battery power indicator, barely enough for an emergency call.  My BlackBerry, that despicable device that controls my days and ruins my weekends, is hanging on its charger in my kitchen.

But I do have a piece of paper - a winkled receipt from Whole Foods, actually - and a black eye liner I sharpened just a few days ago.  And so it goes.  This story and then three-hundred more words.  And a completely blunt eye liner. 

Forty-seven beautiful (and lucky) moments. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On the Subject of Writing Competitions

I have not gotten far - yet.  Although it is still mysterious like a dark forest oppressed by rain clouds and dense fog, it's building and brewing - something is coming together in my mind.

I am also working on my novel and as I was reading a particular chapter the other day I thought that it would make for an intriguing short story.  It fits perfectly into my novel and it is one of my favorite chapters in it, but it is also meaningful on its own, descriptive and vivid, with a surprise at the end.

I wonder if I could enter that chapter into a writing competition as a short story - or would the best possible scenario for my short story (a top ten spot and publication - one can dream...) also mean the worst scenario for my novel (no agent would want to read it or represent it because a chapter of it had been published?)

A tough business this is, isn't it?  It all we had to worry about was writing....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Challenge A Day Keeps My Complacency Away

I submitted two personal / motivational essays in last year's Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition and, luckily, both my entries received honorable mentions.  Naturally, I am going to enter a couple of pieces this year as well, looking for affirmation (and a boost to my self-confidence) that maybe it was more than just pure luck that I ranked at all - perhaps I do have some talent.  And perhaps I can do even better this time.

But what do I submit?  I started several short stories over the last year,  experimenting with mysteries, young adult stories, and more,  but I did not find inspiration in them - I did not "own" any of them the way I own my motivational stories, essays, or my full-length work of literary fiction.  After picking them apart I realized that each piece felt off because it still read and sounded like me - my eighteen year old heroine simply felt too old and out of touch and my mysteries centered on character development and psychology instead of focusing on suspense and plot twists.  I was expecting my writing to change with, instead of adopt to, each genre. 

Now that I have figured that out, I just need to make it work.   I will enter a personal essay again, since I like working on them and I have become fairly comfortable with that form.  Yet, I know that if I want to develop as a writer I need to leave my comfort zone and explore the hidden corners of my creativity, learn to show not just the why but also the how and the what in various forms.  And do all that without losing my style.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Rudely Unaccommodating Muse

She strikes at the worst times and at the worst places. 

I am rushing across town, pushing my two-year-old's stroller like a madwoman so I can get her to nursery school and then catch the bus to my office, when a brilliant idea flashes through my mind, with words and sentences so perfect that I smile with a kind of satisfaction that garners raised eyebrows from my fellow Manhattanites.  But I can't possibly stop and start writing with a stroller handle in one hand, a lunch bag in the other, plus a purse on my shoulder, and a little (but infinitely adorable) screamer just inches from  my face - or can I?  No.  Maybe I need to improve my multi-tasking skills, but until then, the words will have to wait and circle around until a more convenient time, or at least until I get to the office and take the two minutes to write them down while I get "organized" for the day.
But when I have nothing to do or, rather, when there is nothing that needs to be done right away, and I sit with my computer or my notepad - nothing.  Not one lousy perfect sentence, not one brilliant idea.  Rather unfair, is it not?

Maybe it is time for an iPhone so I can record while I walk (or take the elevator to my office, or stand on line at Whole Foods, or cook the food I just bought at Whole Foods) - I think iPhones can do that, right?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Are We All Blogging? Why am I?

Yes, I am a novice writer in the Blogosphere - after all, this blog is barely a month old.  And it was just two years ago that I asked my husband, who is well-versed in all new media and technologies, what on Earth these things, these "blogs" were that I kept hearing about.

Well, things change and some of those things I cannot ignore.  If I want to succeed as an author and be published someday, I need more than just skill (as if that were not enough) and a unique way with words - I need a platform.  A marketing plan.  Publicity.  Online followers.  Things I don't think I would really want.  After all, as an introvert, I don't want to share my world; I just want to write stories that are worth reading and create moments (or hours) of enjoyment to those who read them.  And make some money in the process so that one day I can actually write during the day and not only at night or during other stolen moments. 
But publishing is a business and its operation is independent of my wishes and preferences.  Hence, I now blog.  Usually once a week.  And I hope some of you enjoy it.

Of course I realize blogging is more than just a must.  Now that I do it I see that it has real value; it helped me take that first step outside and test the waters, see if I can take the heat, and introduced me to a number of interesting and talented writers.

Yet I wonder - how useful are blogs in helping us create a platform and develop a following that will impress an agent or a publisher? 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Switching Between Genres

I realize that most published authors chose one genre - I presume the one that makes most sense in terms of critical or financial success, or the one that complements their background. 

However, I am just a writer who hopes to be published someday.  Is there a good reason why I should not experiment with various genres?  What if I write literary fiction and follow it up with a YA novel?  Could that "inconsistency" turn agents off?  How about publishers?

I feel drawn to both literary fiction and certain types of YA.  Literary allows me to burrow deep inside the mind of my character, to feel his conflict, to live through his journey.  It is the action of the mind not the body that attracts me and keeps me writing.

At the same time, I keep devouring certain YA novels (I just could not put Wintergirls/Halse Anderson down).  Many of the YA novels I gravitate to, and the one I am working on myself, focus a lot on the character's development and psyche and, thus, are literary in nature.  (At this point I query why I,  a not so young adult, still read about the struggles of teens, most of which I never experienced myself - but that is another post).

Any thoughts on whether to mix it up or keep it simple?

Monday, February 14, 2011

And One More Time

Now that I have finally gathered the courage to post a part of my work for the world to read - I am doing it again.  It still feels strange to do this.  I feel like I am about to take my clothes off in public.  The first half of Chapter 2 of my novel is below.
Thank you for reading.

The End of Innocence

The ride into town is painfully quick.  Hundreds of tall linden trees stand by the roadside like curious spectators silently cheering as we rush toward the finish line; their thick crowns filter the bright sunlight like a giant sieve. 
An empty parking spot is waiting for me in front of the hospital’s main entrance.  The building is a proud, fragile relic of the 1930’s.  The yellow stucco is crumbling on the corners, revealing battered gray stone beneath, and faded green shutters cover the large windows. The heavy wooden doors and rusty steel handles resist at first, then surrender with a sad creak.
“Do you know where we have to go?” I turn to Emma.
“Yes. The exam rooms are on the second floor, toward the end of the hallway,” she replies, her façade of cool tinged by worry.  I wonder what she is thinking.  Or maybe it is best I don’t know.  She is no stranger to this desperate place; her mother and father both passed away within its lonely walls.
I had been lucky.  I haven’t been to a hospital in forty-three years.  I received my conscription papers from the Serbian military a week after my seventeenth birthday and I was ordered to submit to a physical exam.  All young males had to serve and my kind, the ethic German and Hungarian teenagers, were the first to be called in.  I was just a boy then, short and bony, and my hand felt the barrel of a gun before it ever held a razor.  The doctor glanced at me from the corner of his eyes and stamped the paper that sent me to the desolate black mountains of Montenegro for a two-year tour.  They put me on a train the next morning, in the middle of winter, and I arrived two days later into the dilapidated barracks that had no heat and no indoor facilities.  Twenty of us slept in one open room; our beds were hammered together of rotting wood and covered only with thin mattresses.  We used feed sacks and hide to keep warm yet on many long nights I thought I would not see the sun rise again.
A nurse directs us toward an exam room.  Black and gray tiles cover the floors and sterile white subway tiles line the walls.  Some of them are chipped, others are just a hair from falling off.  It is a place that holds no hope. 
There are no chairs and we stand in silence with three others.  A man in his forties is leaning against the wall reading the sports section and an elderly couple is holding hands, waiting patiently with resigned smiles on their faces.  They already know why they are here. 
The windows are open and I busy myself listening to the chirping birds when an ursine woman opens the door.
“Markus Wolff!” she bellows my name.  “Come in.”
She closes the door behind us and points to a chair by the window.
“You can sit over here.  Please roll up the sleeve of your right arm or remove your sweater,” she continues.  “I will take your blood pressure first and then draw the blood.”
I sit down and watch her attach the device to my arm.  She inflates the cuff with short squeezes, watches the gage, and then lets the air out with a quick burst.  I don’t need to observe; I know my blood pressure is low.
“90 over 50,” she calls out while she scribbles the numbers into the chart.  “I’m going to take three vials,” she continues and I close my eyes as she inserts the needle into my arm.  “We’ll do the tests right away; it should take no more than twenty minutes.  You can wait in the hallway again and Dr. Zeltner will bring the results.”
“Thank you,” I tell her and Emma and I follow her into the makeshift waiting room.  I lean against the wall and watch Emma pace while she talks on the phone, yelling in silence.
“We need to stop at the supermarket on the way back,” she says and drops the phone in her bag. “Ilona called and said they have no vinegar or black pepper.  She should have told me this morning when I asked her to check.  She knows we have a busy day today.  She never listens and he is no better.  Why do they think I pay them?  What am I running here, a charity? But when it is time to get paid they suddenly remember it’s a business.” 
“Why are you surprised?” I reply.
We opened our twenty-room bed and breakfast twenty-two years ago.  Twenty-two years that have often felt like century, drawn and exhausting.  Days and nights, weekends, holidays, vacations, illness, and even the birth of our son – we are always open and we are always there.  The last time Emma and I took a real vacation, just the two of us, no kids, no work, and no commitments, was over twenty-five years ago.  Since then, it has never been the right time to get away and there is always a perfect excuse: we’ll go away after the summer rush, we’ll take a break next year, or we’ll have plenty of time to do that when we retire.   It is just that.  One thrown opportunity after another.  And now we are here. 
I look up and see Dr. Zeltner approaching.  Her face is equipped to win a hundred poker games.  Maybe we should take her to Vegas.
“Good morning, I’m Dr. Zeltner.  I believe we know each other.  I treated your mother a couple of years ago,” she says to Emma.  She did.  And Annuska died just a few months later.   I shudder as a feeling of darkness envelops me, crushing me from the inside.
“I have the results of your blood work.  Let’s go into the exam room so we can go over them,” she continues and we follow her in.  “While most of your results are fine, there are a few numbers that should concern you.  Your bilirubin level is extremely high, and your cell count is off.”
My heart starts racing and I struggle to get the words out.  “What does this mean?”

Thursday, February 10, 2011


The first chapter of my first novel.  As someone else so eloquently put it - should my first also be my last?


Close to six and a half feet, I was steady and robust like a Spanish Fighting Bull in its prime.  A full head of black curls crowned my commanding shoulders, muscular arms, and lean but powerful legs.  At the age of sixty years, I strode forward with a steely posture that exuded quiet determination.  I felt the strength of a prized bull preparing for his final, passionate pass, and reveled in the nonchalance of invincibility reserved for those who gave it their all and expected respect for passing every challenge.
And like the bull, hopes dashed by a sword’s heartless blade, I earned but tearing disappointment as I stared into the mirror.  The fighter was gone, leaving behind nothing but his sad, deep eyes forced to face the biggest challenge.  I resembled an exhausted ox too weak to graze; my stomach was flat, my shoulders deflated, and my hair stripped to the color of stale wood ash.  Yellowing whites encircled my caramel irises in an eerie match to the pallid tone of my skin.  Yet I felt no pain.

I should have known.  The shadows were lurking around and following me with incredible stealth, but I sensed their presence on occasion.  They were there when Emma and I picked up our car from the dealership that summer.  The last of our carefree, happy days.  I was staring at the grill in a numbing daze when Emma came over with papers in her hand, and touched my elbow.
“Markus?  What’s wrong?” she asked.
“This is it.  This is our last car,” I said. 
“Why on earth would you say something like that?” she asked, her smile twisted in uncomfortable surprise. 
“I am not sure. I just know,” I said and took my seat behind the wheel.
We’ll see, like the blind man said. 

And I did.  And now I wait.  Until the sun rises again.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Too Afraid ... of What?

As an aspiring writer, my goal is to create remarkable and well-written stories that I can (hopefully) share with everyone in the form of published works.  So - why am I so afraid to post excerpts of my work here and on my WD page? To have my friends or family read it?  To show it to my husband?  Heck, most of the people I know have no idea that I write.   I used to give myself all kinds of excuses - what if they think I am silly for spending time writing when I have a "real" job; what if they think my stories are boring; what if they think I can't write well? What if they laugh at me? Of course it all comes down to one thing - as long as I keep my stories to myself, I have hope.  I can dream of achieving excellence and success instead of facing utter failure.
But, to use a cliche, no guts no glory, right?

So, part I of something is going up on this page next week.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

8th "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest - Last Day to Enter

Today is the last day to enter the eight "Dear Lucky Agent" contest on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.  The latest contest's niche is literary fiction, so if you are working on a novel that is considered literary this is your time (as it is mine) to enter!

I have never entered a Dear Lucky Agent contest before, but it could be a great opportunity - to have an agent review the first 10 pages of your work and provide valuable pointers could be very helpful.

All you need to do is send the first 200 words of our unpublished, full-length novel to, along with your real name, contact information, and logline of your novel. To be eligible, you must also either mention the contest twice on your social media (like Twitter and Facebook) or, if you are like some of us and not overly social, mention it only once and add it to your blogroll.   That should be easy enough - the GLA blog was one of the first ones I added when I set up this blog yesterday.

Enjoy and good luck!  I am sure we will need it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So much to say - yet nothing to write about!

Has it ever happened to you?  Your mind teeming with things to say and thoughts to share - yet you cannot put them into words?

It happens to me every so often, including tonight, trying to write my first post.

As long as it does not happen again when I return to the third draft of my first novel, "complete" at 80,500 words.  I often wonder how many drafts it will take until it is actually, finally complete.  Even if it takes ten drafts, I hope that day will come, the day when I have no words to add, no words to take away, and no words to rearrange.

My next post will be more thought provoking - I promise.