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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Several Faces of Tragedy


Almost four years to the date of my last hospital stay, I spent about a week in the hospital earlier this month. In the intervening years, the hospital lost its religion (used to be Lutheran) and became NYU Langone. For this NYU alum, all that purple felt comforting.

My first roommate was out of for a procedure when I was admitted and for hours afterward. When I first noticed she was in the room, I had awoken in the middle of the night, and she was slumped over the bed – she fell asleep watching some animated film and the TV operating instructions were playing on a loop, inexplicably in Spanish.

The next morning we introduced ourselves and we talked and laughed for a couple of hours. Then her husband came and we had an animated conversation. She let me use her cell so I could call Mom and put her at ease that I had a good night and sounded better. I even got to chat with the lady’s daughter on the phone for a minute. The laughter was easy and plentiful. It was joyful—a shared bliss in meeting the sun another day.

Then they released her and, tragically, I was all alone…

Soon another roommate came and she slept as a man and a woman hovered over her and spoke to each other in Greek. The woman, a tall and lanky blonde, seemed just a little angry all the time and spoke to the man with unveiled contempt.

After they settled the sleeping beauty, the blonde left and only the man remained. Hovering. Lost in sadness and anger. At the end of the evening, he kissed the patient’s forehead and left. The next morning, the man was back, with the same pained look in his eyes.

We nodded. Soon we were exchanging pleasantries. I asked if the patient was his mom. To my horror and embarrassment, he replied, “No! That is my wife.” He looked at her lovingly and added, without a trace of rancor, “We’ve been married for forty years.”

Apparently, having put a foot in my mouth further depleted my oxygen saturation and I got stupider, and instead of apologizing—or better yet STFUI doubled down on the stupid: “Oh, I guess I thought the bossy blonde was your wife.”

He looked at me for a moment, thought about it and, after a long pause, laughed. “Yeah, that's her sister and she’s always like that… She thinks she is everybody’s boss. But it comes in handy with all the doctors. Nobody talks down to her!”

He soon forgot and, having Brooklyn and this hospital stay in common, we were soon being sociable and forgot my faux pas. And soon, just as some of my neighbors, he was able to ignore my vague ethnicity and began to spew all sorts of racist crap, which I politely ignored because I realized he had bigger problems…

The love of his life was wilting before him and after forty years, I suspect his bravado and denial masked anger, sadness, and fear.

I can’t write romance, but I could visualize a tiny Greek beauty fresh from the old country taking his breath away and how she still does; and so she still believes she is that pretty young thing (plus she is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s). Their love affair is slowly turning tragic because he is losing her: her body is failing her, her mind is failing her, and he believes he can bring her back by reminding her about what their life has been. And he thinks he can care for her on his own because no care facility cares more than he does... (This may be partially true but also will be his undoing, and realistically will lead to more tragedy.) He doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to. Her sister calls her a "survivor" and does not see that her sister is deteriorating. 

And again I find myself staring at wounded love broken by this illness and reminded that I wanted to write a story of a mind trapped in it. I may still do it, but staring directly at that face of tragedy requires a courage I have not mastered yet.



Monday, May 14, 2018

There's Two Kinds of Self-Publishers


I always resented the “there’s two kind of people” trope because, especially as the result of multicultural marriages, it relies of the low-hanging fruit of extremes but ignores the more interesting middle--where things mingle and things get juicy. That proverbial gray area is a lot more colorful than people give it credit!

Sure, I understand the “gray area” was born of a combination of the “black and white” of the trope – because nothing in life is truly, purely black OR white. Still, many will argue this, of course, and consider it fighting words that you’ll want to add any relativist value to dilute the absoluteness of their message…

But I digress. What I wanted to say, though I resent putting it in this simplistic way, is that there are two kinds of self-publishing authors: those who are fast to publish and those who can’t seem to reach that finish line.

Of course, there’s nothing quite that simple! Writing a book can be a complicated process. Once the book is written, there are numerous steps to be taken. But my point is that some authors can hand over their project and launch it. They let it go (to print, to sell, to the critical eye of readers and such).

There are authors who can’t let go that easily. And we all understand that some books—especially the first one we toil with seriously—are hard to give up. I’ve read some writers describe the process like childbirth and having strangers yank your baby out of your hands and then throwing it out into the cold, harsh world were readers and critics live!

As a freelancer, I have grown accustomed to working with self-publishers who let go and launch relatively quickly. I have worked with writers who can’t, just as well. A client who subcontracts my services seems to attract this type. Of the three biggest projects that I spent months (years collectively) working on getting the books to market, not a single one is done to date.

It’s not her fault, of course. The writers are not ready to let go yet, there is always something off here or there. And, no, I am not suggesting that any author publish something imperfect for the sake of getting it out there—but every book can always use improvements; short of glaring mistakes there is a phase for revisions and new editions.

I seem to be stuck right now in a cycle comprised of several slow launchers—and I don’t mind working at other people’s speed, but it curtails the work I can take on because now I live in Schrödinger’s Project where I work or wait to work as the client’s interests, fears, or sudden memories of “ooh and another thing!”

Of course, some books move faster than others--and you learn never to discourage the client from improving their book (that is their prerogative, always!). And with one exception, I have stayed with my clients from the beginning till the end of the process (and sometimes on to additional editions). Clients that work with you on more than one project gain confidence in their method and your collaboration, and pick up a little speed--but don't rush them.

Rushing is the enemy of excellence.

Of course, I am grateful for every bit of business I get. But when surrounded by slow launchers, I am left to sit for long periods of time, seemingly forgotten. And I can’t give in to my own creativity because I just know they will all want to finish off their projects the same week and then I won’t sleep for days!

What can you do but adjust? In my world there is only one kind of client: the paying kind. So you adjust and help them get across that finish line in any way you can. It’s just that sometimes it is a  r e a l l y  slow process.

Some weeks, that's the speed of freelancing. 



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Brooklyn ain't here to follow your rules!


I remember reading “Winter’s Tale” and thinking that New York was a character in the piece because you got a distinct sense of each part of geography visited (from the semi-lawless downtown to the fairy-like upstate). And Brooklyn was its own thing.

The same could be said of Harlem in the Luke Cage series. Harlem was a character on to itself—it had a personality, a feel, an influence on other characters. And those who created the comic book and then recreated and committed it to film, felt a love and admiration for it that was palpable and brought it to (and gave it) life.

Of course, you’d have to understand a love so deep that “place and setting” becomes almost vulgar as a description for the thing that breathes alongside your own yearning sighs for it.

Borrowing the beauty from http://www.brooklyn-usa.org/

I loved Brooklyn the moment I stepped into it. I became an adult in Brooklyn. I gained my personal freedom in Brooklyn and was finally able to be who I wish to be. Even after 9/11, I pledged to it that I’d never leave and I’d die here because I am part of it.

I have visited other places, and adore several--Boston, Montreal, and San Juan top my list. But I do not think I could live anywhere else as (thoroughly) myself as I do here. It is part of who I am.

Brooklyn is old but also quite adaptive; it is also its own reality. That "Brooklyn attitude" extends to the place itself.

Right now, we are supposed to be under a blanket of nor’easter storminess. And certainly, the skies have been gray all day and grown progressively darker as the day inches along (we have lights on and it is not 3 pm yet).

But when snow already blanketed roads along New Jersey and flakes were beginning their dance onto the scene on Broadway, on my end of Brooklyn it was raining. A few hours later, snow began to fall, but falling diagonally to the right were tiny flakes that began to accumulate on our backyard. Falling, diagonally to the left were giant flakes—frozen bits of water that began melting on contact as they hit my window screens, leaving drops in their wake that look like tiny jewels against the gray sky and the blanket of white that rapidly encompasses all visibility…

And then, almost as soon as it started, and before a firm film of snow could take hold, the snowing stopped.

It won’t snow in Brooklyn just because the storm is supposed to hit the whole of the Eastern seaboard.

“Screw you!” Brooklyn says. “Here, I’ll give you high winds and maybe some thunder and lightning. What? Nobody predicted high winds or a light show with accompanying percussion?” And here Brooklyn sucks its teeth and gives you the finger. “I ain’t here to follow your rules.”

Brooklyn does what it wants when it wants and if you have a problem with it, move to Queens! We freestyle in Kings County.

I love Brooklyn, but I wonder if I am talented enough to do Brooklyn justice on the page and make it come alive the way I see it stand in its mythical glory. Could you?



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A New Year with Bigger Challenges


I just got done with a truly challenging project. We were trying to duplicate part of the look and feel of a physical book in an ebook, with elements that did not always translate well. The client had a very clear vision of what she wanted, and I wanted to give her exactly that or a close facsimile. It wasn’t always easy to get there. We did maintain a good working relationship and great communications—despite being half a world away.

I found a humble point where I had to recognize that my finesse is finite. Don’t misunderstand, I hustle for my clients and always try to find ways for them to be satisfied with the process and the final product. But at the same time, any project where I learn something is a success! After all, a limitation can turn into a new goal to learn more and become better. Getting a payday and a good review is worth the few frustrations.

Freelancing is how I remain relevant in the workforce, but it does cut into the writing life!

So far this year, I’ve started one new story. I have no idea how much time or energy (or indeed creativity) there will be for my own stories and books. Perhaps I’ll spend more time working on getting others published. Certainly any good fortune in terms of business is welcomed. I love writing, but I really enjoy having electricity, Internet, a roof over our heads, and food on a regular basis. We’ve gotten used to eating every day now!

The way I look at it, helping authors get their work published is still a learning experience to help my own publishing in the long run. And, who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and start making a serious dent at the total debt.

My biggest goal this year is to actively try to find the time (to learn, to read, to create).

I want to write too, but there is a parade of ducks that must be lined up in some sort of formation first… It is clear that we are living in interesting times and it is imperative that adjusting to the times we all expand in whatever ways are necessary to meet new roles we must fill to move everything forward.

This year will not be an echo of last year. This year will be better and bigger and brilliant! And if we keep the theme going, 2018 should be bookish in many splendorous ways. Of course, I can afford to remain even a little excited. I haven’t paid my taxes yet! There might be a fantastic story right there.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Write What You Know


The scene plays out in her mind almost on a loop. It’s not continuous or it would make her insane. No, little things trigger it and it starts all over again.

Someone she has not seen for a long time, someone who did not approve of her choices when she decided to assert her independence comes back into her life. Not by choice but mostly by circumstance.

Their distaste for her very survival is clear and palpable. It’s in the way they pronounce her name, adding a syllable by lengthening the first to almost a full five seconds of psychic venom. Hell it might as well be Parseltongue she can almost hear the hissing!

First, she left. For that alone, for thinking she could make it on her own, they want her punished in perpetuity. How dare she go against the grain, giving the other females highfalutin ideas about their self-worth and whatnot? Then, she let out a big secret and contradicted all known authorities—planting seeds of tolerance and acceptance where it was not her place to declare that love is love. No, that’s not so, because it is only so as decreed by those who know God-love is what God says it is and there are people who speak for God. And why would God tolerate a nasty little girl like her who claims God accepts aberrations as loveable? And finally, she wrote truths long buried. That she’d fictionalized them meant nothing because those who knew the truth recognized it, even as they denied it.

And so, face to face again, after so many years, she inched in carefully for an embrace. Instead, they throw her book at her feet.

“You read my book?” she says, unsure how to take the moment but already fearing the worst.

“I will never forgive you,” they say. Rancor carried in the breeze, the words becoming a distant melodic percussion, almost a prayer. No, a mantra! A fortified and extended mantra: “You will never [amount to anything, be anything without us, be beautiful, be smart enough, matter].”

Her childhood hurts come crashing down on her to remind her that death is a way out. Welcome death!  

“I will never forgive you,” they say and she feels a thousand stabs prickling her deeply inside her soul because she realizes there will never be a moment she won’t be at war with them unless she acquiesces. She is reminded why she left. She survived because she left, she remembers. She can live. She can breathe (but only apart from them). Living, existing, surviving, thriving—none of these depend on their forgiveness, because she never had it and she never will.

“Then don’t,” she says and starts writing another memoir.

Write what you know, they said. But all that does is piss the family off until you can never go home again!


***

I was reading a piece about writing and the author made the point that if you only write what you know there’d be no science fiction or poetry or horror. I took it a little more literally and thought that what you know would comprise mostly memoirs materials, and those of us who have used our personal truths know how hard it is sometimes to release them to the reading public. And then, sometimes even veiling these truths in fictionalized accounts—changing names and details to protect the innocent as well as the guilty—it does little to ease the guilt that you may be overstepping. And then you realize that even the nightmares it produces make for interesting writing . . . and as long as you can’t go back home anyways…

Write what you know, write what you imagine, write what brings you peace, write what makes you laugh, write, what makes you cry, write what you fear. Just write and don’t listen otherwise. Just write!

And if writing depends on using your experiences, remember that your recollection is yours. If anyone begs to differ, they can write their own damn book and sweat out the details and how to finesse the truth into palatable morsels that readers can digest.



I take your disdain and double down with a piece of crazy Mexican music. 


Monday, October 23, 2017

Terror is Here and it is Us

Does art imitate life? If it does, can we expect darker stories in the books being published in the near future? Or does art make us strive for better, and thus fantasy is likely to explode in every genre and category because we desperately need escape? Or will life infect fantasy and bring more mashups like Nazi zombies?


Our current reality includes an interesting shift in crime in the last couple of years, but especially in the last year, where assailants (mostly male) either randomly attack, rape, or mug victims by striking them hard enough to knock them down.

The pure anger fueling the action is terrifying. The randomness makes it terroristic. Victims range from men to women of all ages, color and ethnicities, age, sexuality… I don’t think it matters. And there is nothing sacred: Clergy, elderly, disabled. They all get hit with equal hostility.

There is power in striking another down with enough force to maim and possibly kill, to feel their bones break under the force of contact. But I suspect that this new crime trend may have more to do with accumulating felonies. A good punch doesn’t score as high in the criminal justice system as assault with a deadly weapon.

This doesn’t make the incidences any less horrid or less terrifying. They happen at all times of day and night, in public places (train stations, in restaurants, in the street), inside residential buildings, in urban as well as borderline suburban areas.

You never know where or from whom the attack will come.

So I listened with a non-committal face, with no trace or tick that would betray my queasiness or my broken heart that the horror has probably reached us in the mythical borough (we were never crime-free in Brooklyn, but we have been pretty shielded from it in our little corner for almost 30 years now).

Mom told me how she went to buy the Sunday papers and noticed a young man in a leather jacket outside the supermarket. She went in and picked up a couple of staples that'd just gone on sale. She noticed him again after she’d cross the street to make a stop at a green grocer a block away. The third time she spotted him; she slowed down and stopped abruptly. He stopped too and began a pretend conversation on his phone.

She was almost home but now had to consider whether she wanted to try to outrun him or fight him, if he tried to attack her. She backtracked half a block, crossed the street again and stuck her face in the biker bar.

“Excuse me,” she announced, “I think I need some help.”

The customers are all local and so more than a few recognized her.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” the bartender asked.

She explained her suspicions, and as she expected, the young man, had remained across the street, still watching her.

One of the bikers said, “Alright, gimme the bat!” and walked out into the street resembling a bigger and taller Negan, with three others following him out to go have a word with the young man—who suddenly decided he needed to be someplace else, and stepped it up quickly and out of arm’s reach.  


Mom made it home without the need of a protective biker escort, but she was nervous enough as she told me the story. She tried to sound nonchalant but the truth is neither of us can or will pass the moment off as blasé.

We are living the origin days for Thunderdome… Perhaps it is the right time to start writing revenge porn where the little guy can still win a battle or two with some modicum of cleverness because I am afraid we’re losing the coming war.


Forget the zombie apocalypse, the criminally poor will get us all first—and the label will fold onto itself as we all become equally unrich. Happy Halloween, suckers and losers all!



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Finish What You Start

The last couple of years have been trying for a good number of us for a variety of reasons; not the least of which seems to be that the world is upside down and insanity rules our world. It’s hard to maintain your head clear under the circumstances.

My biggest worry was that I’d lost my ability to create. But I was churning out story ideas and creating a portfolio of projects for the future. Still, there was a growing concern that as that portfolio grew no finished work materialized.


Was I unable to put “The End” to anything? I know I can finish a story, a collection of stories, novellas, memoirs, cookbooks. I remember finishing books. And it felt so good! Nothing replaces that feeling you get when you finish a writing project. I sometimes think writers write chasing that feeling, like addicts chasing a high.

I finished two stories for the final infidelity collection, He Done Her Wrong, and one was relatively decent (for having undergone no rewrites yet). I tested its mettle. The beta readers responded in a mostly positive manner and guided a few changes, necessary for clarity. Once I got that done, an improved ending suggested itself.

While there is still feedback due, and we shall see if they agree with the rest of the panel; I am done with that story and confident it will make the final manuscript.


The real problem is me, of course. I have lost focus and let my discipline trail off. I answer to no one, but right now I am not even answering to myself. It’s total anarchy in my head! And while the freedom to create is a good component in the creative process, so is a work ethic.

And even as it is fascinating to observe the craziness that happens daily in our world (from the sublime to hilarious to the truly horrifying), unless it’s research (YEAH, RIGHT!) it does nothing for productivity. You can promise yourself to do better, but you’d be lying to yourself. It’d be more effective to create deadlines and serious consequences for missing them.


The cost has to be painful enough to leave psychological scars otherwise you’ll never learn the lesson. I read that a writer pledged to give a substantial donation to a political candidate he hated if he missed a deadline, and gave the signed check to someone else to send it out – making the consequence very real because once he missed the deadline, there was no going back!

Like I said, I now have two stories finished. Surprisingly they both involve food, though in different kinds of engagement. I haven’t decided how many stories in total the last collection will have, but as I went through the story ideas for the collection, I realized that there is a third story involving food (one of the main characters is a chef).

Suddenly, for a woman who a month ago wasn’t sure whether she’d lost the ability to put two sentences together, more creative ideas continue to come to me. There’s a book of food stories somewhere in me… “A Recipe for Disaster” lends itself to consideration, and surely my friends can come up with even better ideas (complete with puns intended).

Ah, but first, to finish what I started and think of consequences for my own inaction.