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.