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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Make Festivities Great Again

It’s that time of the year again, when we start making plans for family and friends gatherings. And as it has been in the last three years, some of these events are tense and contentious—mimicking the macrocosm in which we all live now. Our new normal isn't.

Time was when politics did not enter into the holidays, but those days are long gone now. And as much as we all want peace and love and goodwill to all humanity, tribalism and partisanship have turned every conversation into a potential minefield.

Getting through Thanksgiving dinner used to be temporarily traumatic for dysfunctional families, but now it can cause PTSD in what once were happy ones!

I could call for unity, but the truth is that I will be spending the holidays with the family I love (Mom) and skipping people. You can’t attempt to rip somebody’s head off if they don’t piss you off… But, let’s face it, that’s not realistic for most of you.

So my gift to you is this: a new and expanded Insatiable Gourmet Word Search puzzle book. This is the third edition and it was fun to curate the old list. The categories are based on cookbook chapters—with topics such as appetizers, breads, cheese, grains, rice, seafood, and vegetables.

Of course, the book also offers modern and fun categories—like aphrodisiacs, cookies, sushi and sandwiches. The third edition expands the offerings—adding cocktails, condiments, pastries, pizza, salt and pepper, utensils, vegan staples, yummy (a category dedicated to words used to describe an exceptional meal), and famous chefs (a few names, some first names only, of the professionals who inspire foodies, gourmets, and gastronomes).

Especially at the heels of the midterm elections, 2018 has been a long, stressful and contentious year, fraught with ugliness and a myriad of tragedies – not to mention lies and insinuations best left unspoken in polite society.

So these holidays, as you gather with your family and friends, when, and if, the conversation turns to unpleasantness of the political nature: don’t engage. Forgive. But if you can’t, don’t bite your tongue. That just hurts and will make your food taste of blood, rage, frustration and bitterness. (And remember that violence is never the answer, no matter what the snowflakes say!)

Don’t huff away in a snit, that’d be rude and answering rudeness with further rudeness is the foundation of a vicious cycle. Instead, grab a pen and engage in the escapist joy that is puzzle solving. Be a good guest and stay. Nicely. Peacefully. Maybe even learning new words that do not describe colorful ways to self-gratify…

The Insatiable Gourmet Word Search is available now exclusively at Amazon and it can save your next family gathering, your relationships, maybe even your life! 

Get your copy today.

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

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.