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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Isolation Journal: Magical Rains of Montreal

I arrived in Montreal on a Thursday afternoon. It was cool and damp enough that a light jacket was necessary. The ride into downtown, from Dorval was strange. The driver wasn’t the friendliest of people, an angry stocky Quebecois. He proclaimed annoyance that with the warm weather a horde of rude Americans invade his ancestral lands. These people, he informed me, polluted his province with their loud presence. He turned up the radio and we drove into Montreal without speaking.

The irony: the radio was playing American classic rock from the 1970s. The sky was several shades of gray. Through the odd crack of blueish sky an occasional flash of silvery lightning. It was so strange because for all the light show that we got treated to, there was no thunder. Silent lightning, who knew that was even a thing? I’d never seen such a thing.

The taxi deposited me in the Latin Quarter, at a quaint Victorian house. I was again at the bed and breakfast I stayed at whenever I dropped by my favorite city. Run by a lovely couple, Alain and Colette, in their home. I’d arrived as Colette’s daughter Aurélie finished cleaning the rooms.

She was rushing down the stairs, to meet up with friends somewhere along the rue Saint-Denis, I bet. During festivals, groups of youngsters gathered and hustled cigarettes from the tourists. The American tourists were the easiest. First they'd venture past the areas on the maps pointing to concert venues. Then, they'd try to explain in English they'd lost their way, and the kids would feign knowledge of the language, except for one who’d offer to help them find their way back . . . for a cigarette or two. Sometimes they even sent them back in the right direction.

“Bon jour, Aurélie!”

“Rory,” she said through clenched teeth.

The face emerged from a curtain of hair that covered exactly half of it down to the chin in a neon red. I peeked a scowl, then a huge grin accompanied by an uncharacteristic embrace.

Her mother, shocked, sucked her teeth and muttered, “Incroyable.” She watched as her generally surly girl volunteered to grab my bags and ran up the stairs. Colette shrugged and smiled at me. Her smile was always warm and sweet. “Bienvenue, mademoiselle,” she said as she handed me a key. “I reserved your usual room.”

“Merci,” I thanked her. “It is always good to see you, Colette.” I handed her my credit card and a small gift bag. I knew she loved floral fragrances, so I always stopped at the duty free and grabbed a new bottle of perfume for her.

I headed to the third floor, the family quarters as it were. Aurélie/Rory was sitting on the bed waiting for me.

She said a string of words so fast that it sounded like a single sound. All I knew was that she was happy to see me. I had been a staple in her life since she was a gawky pre-teen. Along with her parents, I too survived her rebellious teens. Now she was entering her slacker twenties.

I pointed to the leather duffel bag, “There’s a carton of Marlboros in there for you.”

She was going to be the queen bee of her posse for the next few weeks. She embraced me again. Then she ran out. Her breathless proclamation which I understood exactly three words: je t'aime and merci.

I did not bother to unpack. Instead, I grabbed by Gypsy bag, the leather purse with fringe. I made sure I had the wallet with Canadian money in it and my ID, and headed out. At the foot of the stairs, I met Colette and she handed back my credit card. I signed the receipt, as we’d done at least 25 times before over the years.

Alain had come in the house with a box from the bakery. I knew it contained sweets for their late afternoon coffee, and dessert for their guests.

We exchanged a few pleasantries. They walked me out and sat on their porch with a friend for a cup of coffee. The neighbor, Madame Boucher, lived across the street and she did not approve of me. She never had. An insomniac nonagenarian, she'd watch me leave in late morning and return after 3 or 4 a.m. She was sure I was up to no good. And sometimes I was, but she didn’t know that!

Every time saw me, at least a couple of times a year, her eyes would narrow and she’d lift a judgmental eyebrow.

“Bon jour, Madame Boucher,” I said. ”Comment allez vous?”

She harrumphed. Alain became very interested in dissolving sugar in his coffee. He stirred it with vigor and unprecedented focus. Colette stifled a smile and sent me on my way on a friendly note, “Have fun, my friend.”

So I headed up the hill to Sherbrooke. I knew after I crossed the boulevard I’d enter a whole new realm. Then back down the hill to where all the action was. Already the Latin Quarter was electric, and it was still early. After sunset there would a general atmosphere of pure merriment with hundreds of people. Music everywhere!

I cut through the square, a small community park. Despite the grayness of the day, pockets of young hippies gathered around. Some singing and others smoking; some reading or writing or painting; and a few sleeping on the grass. Once I made it across the park, through old and beautiful trees and bushes, I had shed all the stress I’d brought with me. I was in my happy place.

I headed to my favorite café, and was very pleased to see that it was still there. I found a small empty table, and sat. A few minutes later a waiter came by. He introduced himself and asked if I was ready to order. I’d been fantasizing about this moment since the moment I boarded my flight to Canada.

“Chocolate cappuccino and madeleines, please,” I said and smiled. He seemed a little confused, a little disappointed, almost as if he did not expect me to answer him in English. I took it as a compliment.

Finally, a clap of thunder in the distance, and a cool breeze swept through. Inside the café, a young man with a guitar sang French ballads. Outside, the wind battered umbrellas flapped and made the sound of castanets.

A few minutes later, my waiter reappeared. He had a small plate of madeleines and a heaping tall glass of cappuccino.

“It will start to rain soon,” he alerted me. “Perhaps you come inside, oui?

I shook my head and handed him twice the amount I owed him and waved him off. “I’ll be okay,” I told him.

“It’s too much,” he said almost regretting it immediately. He tried to give some of the bills back.

“No,” I told him. “That’s for you. I’m staying and won’t need anything else.”

A tall and thin young man with a mane of brown curls he looked unsure how to react. Or he thought I was insane. The jury is still out on that these many years later.

“I don’t mind the rain,” I said. “But I don’t need you to serve me in the rain. I have what I wanted… Go in before it starts coming down.”

He shrugged and ran for the safety of the café as it began to drizzle. It was soft and cool and misty. And it had its own soundtrack. My cappuccino was exactly as delicious as I remembered it. Crème de cacao, maple syrup, ground cinnamon, whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings. The bitterness of the dark chocolate counterbalanced the sweetness. The whipped cream--fresh, cold and unsweetened--added a decadent richness that was heavenly. A sip sent waves of pleasure from my palate down every inch of my body. It felt like falling into a velvet cloud and riding it until you became one with the chocolate. It was almost a religious experience. I was grateful I only had this when I came to visit, because I’d be the size of a polar bear if I lived in Montreal!

The rain picked up in intensity. It splattered against the cobblestones, some of it splashing back in my direction, but I was happy. I did not mind. Montreal rain was magic. I sat back, under my umbrella with my cappuccino and my little cakes. I watched as the cobblestones changed colors and became a glistening mosaic. And in the distance, behind now closed doors, a young man sang of love lost.

Soon enough, the lulling sounds of the rain and the muted guitar entranced me. The sun retired for the day and I unfocused my vision until it felt as it I was in the middle of a Leonid Afremov painting. 

Twenty minutes later, the rain had stopped. Soon thereafter the square began to bustle again. But now, that enchanting scent of petrichor added a musky richness to the air, and my vacation had officially begun.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Carlotta's Wedding Reception Meltdown

After a tumultuous courtship, Carlotta and her boyfriend quietly held their nuptials at City Hall. When her friends Mel and Isabelle find out about it, they set into motion plans for a surprise wedding reception that same evening.

But after the newlyweds make their grand entrance at the restaurant where Isabelle works, it becomes clear that the bride is not exactly in a festive mood. She has things to say. Important things…

Carlotta’s Wedding Reception Meltdown is the story of that fateful evening (in its first installment).

Available exclusively at Amazon (e-book available right now, and print version should be on sale in a day or two).

Thursday, February 6, 2020

We Have Liftoff (almost)

I finally started, finished, edited, revised and sent a story to a few brave beta readers. Feels good to make progress with any writing--especially because I've been stuck on a few projects.

The problem, of course, is me. My inner critic keeps thwarting my progress--that b17ch keeps creating problems where there should be none!

Still, it is a harder thing to practice than to preach: write and edit later. It's easier to let that annoying little voice in the back of your mind criticize your every move within a story until it brings it all to a halt or down like an avalanche. After that, even when you have an idea, it becomes easier to dismiss it outright than to sit and write it down, and try to work it out in writing. Then it becomes a bad habit and getting back to writing becomes harder.

At some point, whether by divine intervention, inspiration, or pure creative overdrive, you pick up a pen or a device, and words begin to flow again. It boosts your energy and your confidence, and you're back on the path.

I have learned not to worry too much because I know I can and will return to my writing, but it feels like an eternity when it lasts longer than five minutes! Now, all I have to do is convince my brain that it needs some discipline and it should just embrace it. Maybe it'll even work this time...

There's three things I must keep in mind, and feel free to do as I say (be better than I am at remembering the following):

  • Your first draft doesn't have to be perfect. It may even suck! But keep going because in the process lies a hidden gem that you will not discover if you stop writing... Just write!
  • Recognize when that inner editor, its ugly sister the inner critic, and their mother Ms. Self-Doubt are whispering in your ear and disrupting your connection to true creativity. Silence it: "Hey! I'm working here..." Just keep writing!
  • Mistakes? I've made a few. Making mistakes in the process, it's all par for the course. Mistakes are the foundation of learning, getting better at your craft. Practice makes perfect: w-r-i-t-e!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Addicted to Love was Our Song

[Trying out an idea to run microfiction to go with some of the daily sketches... This is the first attempt. Not quite sure if it works as well as it played out in my head, but I'm looking at these flash fiction pieces as sketches themselves. Enjoy!]

Another kiss is all you need

It was the winter of ’86 when Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” came into our lives. It was a catchy tune, but mostly it was an iconic video that sprang a fashion trend whereas every club girl could pass as a super model, and all it took was a little black dress, pumps, and the reddest lips you could paste on (gloss optional, in my opinion).

Azzedine Alaïa became aspirational. The whole video was like a fantasy/dream sequence in the minds of girls and young women from their teens into their thirties—and it the video has had remarkable staying power.

It could be argued that Robert Palmer touched on the human condition of the young at heart. Addicted to love is a lovely way to describe that need to be perpetually thunderstruck . And while the video’s imagery may toy with sensuality, the more romantic among us may have taken the words in a more poetic sense.

You can't be saved
Oblivion is all you crave

Personally, the words did not mean much to me. I liked the easy beat. I loved the fashion! It defined a good portion of my closet for the 80s and several decades beyond it. Granted, there were other style icons that influenced my look during the Greed Decade: from Madonna to Cindy Lauper, from Debbie Harry to Boy George to Prince, and from Tina Turner to David Bowie. It was more a look than a statement, but it spoke to our fluidity and the desperate need we all had to be edgy.

Somehow we’d graduated from the Me Generation to wanting to be different like everybody else and our own personal, living magazine cover (whether Vogue or GQ depended on whether it was a week day or the weekend).

Punk, sexpot, and ingénue all in one! That was my twenties in a nutshell. And I did spend a good portion of it falling in and out of love. Not too many heartbreaks, I just fell out of love and moved on to the next adventure.

I prided myself on the fact that I was pretty neutral about the process. I did not invite much drama into my life, especially not involving love. Love, to me, was as stylized as my hair and my look down to my toes. I knew I was superficial, but I was okay with that.

Then I met and got involved with Axel, a German expat that rocked my world to the core. He liked to point out that I craved him as some of our peers craved cocaine, but I waved off his words, and laughed it off. I tried to dismiss it, but he hit on the same theme Robert Palmer was singing about, in almost the very same words…

Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love

Was he right? Perhaps. I dismissed it nevertheless. In my mind, I was with him for a lot of reasons—none of them love related. But I did like the idea of building a fantasy love life with him. It made no difference after he caught himself in the middle of a sudden heart attack that struck him down in a matter of minutes. I knew I would miss him and I paid my respects at his funeral. I mean, I didn’t give condolences to his wife… That would have been fucking rude! But I did wear my Robert Palmer Girl outfit to the funeral.

It was the winter of 1989, and at the church there were three Madonnas, four Tinas, one Sade, and a sea of Laura Ashley loving suburbanites. I loved that I was the slick, stylish presence to usher him to the other side. I sashayed down the steps of St. Patrick’s cathedral singing my favorite 1980s song--our song.

Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love

Sunday, December 15, 2019

About Great-Great-Great Grandparents and Such

Have you seen those Ancestry [dot com] commercials for their DNA kits? There are several, each with these well-crafted little histories… They’re neat and so very clear as to where ancestors came from and what they did and all sorts of fun details.

Of course, anyone who has ever done genealogy research knows it’s not always that easy or that concise. Sometimes it is a frustrating jumble of names and unfortunate coincidences that throw you off.

But for a good portion of people, it is a mystery and a journey through misery—depending on family histories.

When I did the DNA testing, I was curious how my multicultural background would manifest on paper. Certainly, the allure of finding out more about my people was strong; but I did not expect to get full histories for too many people. Any details are fun, but histories would probably need to be as fictionalized as those commercials.

Rather than a family history, or even memoirs of the process, I figured maybe I’d have flashes of stories—or at least tiny details to build stories. Not necessarily true stories, but based on a glimmer of truth.

What I wasn’t expecting was finding that ethnicities I expected to have inherited did not leave a trace, or that I’d find a heritage I knew absolutely nothing about.

I’m not writing any stories about it, though it is tempting. There’s so much there we may be straddling an epic!

And if bringing the details of the past together may be difficult, putting a face to what all the begetting begat is now technologically possible. There is a map that now gives you a glance at your familiars—next of kin to distant kin. Mine is fascinating--especially when you enter the fourth cousins*!

I won’t give you identifying details because that’s not the purpose here, but simply to illustrate that the potential for storytelling is extraordinary (if dizzying)…

At the moment, I appear to have at least 636 cousins around the world. The majority are in the US. I expected some of those. From coast to coast, there are people in almost every state of the nation—except Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Maine.

I was surprised to find I have a distant cousin named Tina in Wasilla, Alaska. I wonder if she can see Russia from her house. I have four cousins in Hawaii, in Oahu and Kauai—which led to a revelation I did not know about. Apparently there was a war time indiscretion… These may very well be the results of it.

I expected cousins in Puerto Rico, but there are far more than I expected and with concentrations in towns where there should be none. Of course, one of my great grandmother’s brothers made a run for it and tried to get away from his people. I expect that some of the folks over the mountain range may be the offspring of his offspring.

Granted, these results depend on the available pool of people tested—but I am missing people in Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Nevis and St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, I expect to have people in the US as well as the British Virgin Islands. There doesn’t appear to be much going on there, but I do have a cousin in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In Canada, I have Jennifer in Manitoba; Yossi, Chas, Violet, Edward and Paul in Ontario; and Marilyn in Quebec. Then there’s my cousin Tucker in Bogota, Colombia, rounding off the Americas.

In Europe, I have cousins in England, from London all the way up to Northumberland. I also have a cousin named Miklós in Hungary. I also have two cousins in Israel: Jacob and Elina. The family extends to Asia too, with Michelle in Seoul, South Korea. And to my surprise, I found cousins in Sydney, Australia, and one Puerto Rican in New Zealand (we're everywhere, even on the Moon!).

Of course, the bigger groups listed in my ethnicity estimates (see map) have no connections available, except for the Hungarian. Again, we’re limited by the pool of people who have DNA-tested, but it is also entirely possible that all connections to the Old World—despite the spicy flavor they provided to the making of me—all moved to the Americas and common ancestors exist on this side of the world.

Storytelling aside, I am tempted to put together a little book with recipes dedicated to my cousins—an addendum to the Food Goddess series. 

* Note: for those interested in the topic, there's a good piece about fourth cousins (actual and DNA-match ones) at

Monday, October 28, 2019

Holiday Creative Mandate

Halloween is coming and we are busy at the house (this begins the busy season around these parts with candy making and baking goes into overdrive). And while I may be a little scattered right now, I'm still trying to get a little writing done. 

I am considering doing NaNoWriMo this year -- it has been quite some time since my last one. I still have no idea where the story is going, or rather I have no idea what the story is. I'm discovering the character through vignettes. But at least this is the only story dancing in my head, so perhaps there is a modicum of focus in the chaos.

"Dressing Barbie" is turning into a story about belonging and family (the ones we're born into, the ones we fall into and the ones we create for ourselves). And I am getting to know Trixie through little snippets of her life.

Perhaps I need to let go of the idea of a specific structure and let it come to me in dribs, rather than force it. It looks like I’ll be building her world and then track her journey through life.

As a writing exercise it sounds interesting. The trick is to make it interesting enough for others to read. I know where her story begins and where it ends, now to fill in the gaps…

So far, I understand some of her quirks and where they came from. But I’m thinking that I need to write it all in the order it happens and then do flashbacks. And somewhere along the line, I’ll need to find he story arc because I have no basic idea.

The other thing that keeps eluding me is the timeline. When does her coming of age happen? Is she an ‘80s kid or a ‘90s kid? Would dating the story really make a difference in her character? It would inasmuch as there is technology in the story that places it in a specific range.

But then, it looks like she grew up in a bubble of sorts. It’s not clear if liberates herself from that lifestyle. But there are lows and highs in her life, that much is clear; and she experiences some ridiculous contrasts—so part of the story will have to be how she deals with these changes.

The growing collection of sketches will feature into the story somehow, but I still have not worked it out yet. Will they be part of the story itself or an online companion in the form of a flipbook? These are little details that require some consideration, and it will be an adventure to get it going.

So as we enter the holidays—from Halloween to the Epiphany—I have my creative mandate. Of course, I’ll keep you posted!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Creating is an International Thing

I can't retire on my current royalties, but I still get a thrill every time I get a notification of a payment by any of the booksellers and distributors I work with. Lately, the books getting the most play are the series on infidelity.

The few copies, I always assume are friends and family members, but eventually, strangers start buying my books. Book buying is largely an anonymous activity, but reports can give me a snapshot of at least where in the world the books are going.

The infidelity series seems to attract an English-speaking readership. The Mistress has made sales in the US, UK and Australia. Sins of the Father and He Done Her Wrong added sales in Canada. Three continents seems like an awesome accomplishment to me. I'm not pulling Stephen King numbers, but it's still fun and exciting and rewarding.

But then all my other titles have made their way around the globe too! Over the years since I decided to self-publish, my books have sold in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru; in Spain and Portugal, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany; in Turkey, the Unite Arab Emirates, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Singapore, New Zealand, Japan and China.

Imagine that? My words are better traveled than I am!

My next goal is to have my words go into space. It may sound ridiculous, but why not? Anyone going to the ISS any time soon?

Of course, I am grateful for every sale. But it was never really about royalties (it was a little about royalties, I just meant that was not my main focus).

And if I won't be retiring any time soon and live off my royalties, I know that some of my stories have a life of their own and, if I did my job just right, little moments--passages, phrasing, scenes--have touched the hearts of some of my readers. That makes the effort, and the torture, all the sweeter.