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Not Writer’s Block, Writer’s Excess: A Conversation With My Current Manuscript

shutterstocktypewriter2One of the most common complaints associated with the writer’s life is the dreaded “writer’s block” – I can’t say I know many writers who actually suffer from it – actually, I can’t say I know many writers at all. Being a beginning writer precludes me from leaving the house. On my best days, I drag myself out of bed (but stay in my jammies), splash enough cold water on my face to manage consciousness and follow the cold water regime with copious amounts of caffeine: espresso, lattes, regular joe, hot or cold as long as it has creamer, I drink just about any cup of coffee available. When I am finally semi-awake, the voices start kicking in. No, not I-am-completely-nuts-and-talk-to-myself level of crazy. The more normal Imaginary-characters-demanding-to-jump-onto-the-pages-of-their-stories kind of crazy. You see, I have never suffered from “writer’s block” – instead I fight with a different form of writer’s disease. It was a struggle to decide what to call it, but I think I will, for lack of a better term call it “writer’s excess” – since an excess of story ideas is precisely the opposite of a complete lack of ideas, I think the label is suitable. At least, until I can think of something a bit more punny or witty.

SO “WRITER’S EXCESS” – what exactly does that look like?

I am knee-deep in the first draft of a new story, a manuscript that I am committed to finishing despite the roadblocks of the profession, like horrible writing, shifty plot development, and characters that were once “speaking” very loudly and suddenly go silent without much to say. I fight feelings of frustration and failure and drudge on. I remember the wise words of Stephen King, “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” So I carry on and proceed to shovel the additional shit it will take to get me to my next shitty chapter. But then, out of nowhere, without warning or signs, IT creeps up. Now, I’m not only fighting the shitty writing but THIS GREAT NEW STORY IDEA that has grabbed hold and won’t let go. The New Story begins to softly mumbling little nothings in my ear but eventually the mumbles turn into requests and the requests become demands shouted from the rooftops.

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When New Story Ideas Bully Their Way In!

 

keepers-cover1When you are in the middle of editing your manuscript because you’ve finally finished the dreaded first draft but know that there are hours and days and weeks of tedious revisions ahead before you can consider yourself done…then you hear this voice in your head…actually voices (plural) – not the kind of voices you need therapy and medication for, but creative ones, desperate characters demanding to be brought to life. Trying to ignore them is futile. So you give in…or at least I do.

Now I’m editing book 2 in my Friends series, putting off the project (Sanctuary) which I promised myself I’d tackle next – but I can’t resist so I answer the loudest voices first. “The Keepers of Deadwood Forest” was a recent inspiration after watching the new incredible Netflix series, “Stranger Things” – it was so Stephen King, so 1980’s and so dense with mystery and myth that my head exploded with ideas. I couldn’t scribble them down on my notebooks fast enough. Many of these great ideas have died on the toilet, like so many do because I failed to take a pad and pencil in there with me. I am seriously considering installing a hanging writing pad and pencil next to my toilet paper holder!

For now, I guess I’ll keep banging on those keyboard keys and see what comes of this little adventure.

QUESTION: What do you do in the middle of your process when new story ideas bully their way in?

Characters Vs. Stories

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In my humble option, I believe that fiction writers are driven by two main aspects: the characters OR the stories. There are times when we (fiction writers that is) wake up in the morning, or head out to our daytime job, or find ourselves sitting quietly on the toilet taking care of business (oh don’t make that face, we all do it, it’s the way of life) and then and there, out of the blue, we are stricken by inspiration. This inspiration comes in the form of either an intriguing, lovely, unique or quirky character OR it comes in the form of a story arc, events, or ‘what-if’ scenario.

As a writer, I’ve come to discover, as I navigate the writing process, editing hours and publishing efforts (that when I try to bend my stories to the mainstream market, I fail – I don’t do this anymore and don’t recommend anyone else do it either – write what you know – write what you love – period). Ultimately, I decided, I DO NOT write stories, I write characters instead; I fall in love (or sometimes in lust) with the people that populate my worlds. It is not the world, setting, or surrounding that dominates my storytelling, it is the person (that woman or man, that couple, the widower or the new adult  lost in the real-world). And as I write to breathe life into my characters they inadvertently end up breathing life into me.

WHICH KIND OF WRITER ARE YOU? ARE YOU CALLED UPON BY THE JOURNEY OF A STORY? OR ARE YOU SEDUCED BY YOUR CHARACTERS?

The Power of a Book Review

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In today’s connected world, most products and businesses thrive or die based on the reviews they receive. Sites like Yelp, Amazon and Goodreads (the latter specifically for books) give consumers a voice and provide a pro/con discussion about goods and services, so business and/or products focus on that which matters most: customer satisfaction!

It is the same with publishing. Authors and their success or lack of, is closely tied to building a readership. The catch is that readership is usually achieved through with great reviews (unless you are Nora Roberts, Stephen King or James Patterson). But the review game can be like the credit game – it’s hard to get it if you don’t already have it frown emoticon So writers everywhere are worried and hoping for reader reviews (sometimes more than they worry about royalties). The best thing a satisfied reader can do for a new author is get on sites like Amazon & Goodreads.com (it only takes a few minutes to set up a FREE count) and you can rate books, leave reviews and comments or start a discussion with other readers!

“Blame it on the Book Cover” (Must-Read Article)

I had to SHARE this article:

FicVSChicLithttp://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/45-FE5-WomensFictionVsChickLit.html

– Great ongoing debate about the merit (or lack of) when it comes to Chic Lit and the more revered literary fiction. Are Chic Lit, Suspense, Romance, Thrillers, Sci-fi and other commercial fiction lacking the depth provided by the more serious or award-winning authors?

This next quote tries to answer that by comparing Chic Lit to chocolate:


Chocolate Lit

*Disclaimer: substitute chocolate cake in the rant below for a slice of really well-written chic lit…

Caroline Leavitt and I will have to agree to disagree on this front. BECAUSE SOMETIMES A SLICE OF CHOCOLATE CAKE IS ALL THAT IS NEEDED. I know many a day, saved by the glory of chocolate. A perfectly baked cake always puts a much-needed smile on my face. I also know how often chocolate has single-handedly saved me from the blues. That lovely, velvety slice of chocolate helps me regain my faith in humanity (which often wears thin). Of course, I also know serious literature has its place and merit. After all, I have been a literature teacher and Shakespeare super-freak for over fourteen years. I love me a Pulitzer tale as much as the next gal, I just don’t think we should devalue the beautifully spun tales of all our Chic Lit authors who share the most wonderful characters with us. So for me, on a cold, rainy day meant to stay in bed, I say, “Please hand over the Chic Lit. I’ll tackle the literary stuff later.”

Book Review (ENTERTAINMENT)

 

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1. The Road…Well? I try to. Keep my. Posts positive so. I’ll have. To get. Back to this one because. I just can’t say. Enough. about a. Writer that. Wrote. A book almost. Entirely in fragments. The. End.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…a very gripping Law & Order SVU-style exposition that sets you up for the suspenseful ride as we discover the…read it! This was so good a ride I had to read it all in one sitting. I also had to take a quick break to run for a few cups of coffee, because even though I lived in Hawaii at the time, Larsson’s descriptive language made me COLD (and not in a metaphorical way) – I could see the snow, the ice and their frozen breath…IT WAS MAGNIFICENT!!! Kudos Larsson for an awesome series!

Zen Coffee? Confuse Me?!?

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It’s always best to start with the absurd, the ironic, the puzzling. This way you can spend the rest of your valuable time working backwards through the insanity, until you find a world that makes sense, or at least one that should make sense. Therefore, let us start with Zen Coffee.

Talk about your oxymorons. These two concepts are more than just “strange bedfellows”…they are at war (if you pardon my lack of Zen-sitivity). They live in opposing enemy camps plotting and rooting for the other’s demise. Tranquility & Caffeine, a great battle if ever there was one. How then, can we so easily photograph this contradiction? How can we just accept it? What is its purpose? Is it to fool us into relaxation? “Here, Zen your cares away into a soothing cup of caffeine?”–a cup that will surely have you vibrating and trying to repaint your house at two o’clock in the morning.

Coffee Art (mini editorial)

 

Dirceu Veiga is a Brazilian designer living in South Brazil. He works as an illustrator for children’s books. Because of Dirceu’s love of coffee he combines his illustration talent and passion for coffee to create fantastic works of art using coffee as ink.

Creating “Coffee Art” has become a very cool artistic movement that more and more artists are experimenting with.

For more than a decade, Andrew Saur and Angel Sarkela-Saur, have been involved with this art movement by creating art using coffee as the medium, Coffee Art®. Check them out at www.justcoffeeart.com and browse their inspiring gallery and works. If you love coffee as much as I do, you’ll be more than inspired, you’ll be moved to grab your keys and wallet and speed to your favorite coffee house to satisfy the caffeine need.

Tremors (in their gallery) is my absolute favorite because it depicts my coffee just the way I like it: up close and personal!

 

 

Zen Master Bob (an excerpt)

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She walked a few steps across the peddled parking lot toward the main building—a classic temple with a charcoal shingled roof. Sam stopped to admire the two-story wooden structure with accents of deep red and wrap-around verandas. She was impressed but apprehensive. She tiptoed up the flight of steps to the first level and sensed this place was genuine—the real deal. This was a place built for the gods, the masters and the dedicated apprentice; people who took their Zen seriously. She considered turning back when a short, dark-haired woman in her fifties wearing wide-rimmed glasses and dressed in a tan wrapped robe appeared from the shadowy gateway of the interior hall. The woman greeted Samantha.

“Namaste,” She bowed her head and brought her hands together in a praying gesture. “Please follow me, Miss Blake,” she pointed inside and Sam wondered who she was and how she knew her name.

Samantha remembered Jules was going to call someone to arrange the appointment swap so she followed obediently. Through the main entrance, Sam stepped left into a corridor lined with Shoji sliding screens of rice paper to her right where she assumed the interior of the building resided. On the opposing side of the hallway, a series of wood lattice screens let natural light in and connected them with the sunny green exterior of the grounds. The woman walked with choppy steps and kept her hands at her chest. Sam noticed red praying beads wrapped around her left hand. The long corridor disappeared into the darkness ahead. They stopped and the woman, careful not to make eye contact said, “Here we are.”

Samantha was confused. They were standing in the middle of a dark hallway and she wasn’t sure how to beak it to this helpful, but clearly lost attendant, that they really weren’t anywhere. Before Sam could formulate her comment, the woman turned to her and said, “I’ll take those,” she extended her chubby arms from a pair of dangling sleeves and freed Samantha of her Michael Kors bag and appointment card. “You’ll leave those here,” she pointed to the pink Nikes and subsequently to a row of shoes along the wall. Samantha complied without a word, flicking her shoes off with the tips of her toes. “My name is Mishka, please let me know if there is anything you need today. I’ll be right over there,” she smiled a shy smile and pointed to an area back by the entrance with two benches and a table that held a modest golden statute of The Buddha.

Before walking away, Mishka used her right hand to gently slide open one of the Shoji screen doors made of translucent rice paper. This simple movement revealed a breathtaking hidden world—an immense landscaped courtyard with views of the clear blue skies above. Wow, Mishka can do magic! No wonder Jules likes her, Sam joked with herself in an effort not to freak out. She felt so much pressure from the surrounding beauty. The garden below was made up of more gray pebbles and a few large gray rocks that appeared meticulously placed in random order. And on second inspection, Sam, benefiting from a high vantage point on the veranda, realized the garden was split in half by a lighter sand-colored path in the shape of the Ying-Yang line. Two mature cherry blossoms in full pink bloom stood humbly on either side of the Jing-Jang path—their delicate petals allowed to glide off the branches like feathers and carpet the ground below. Samantha found it frustrating that she felt tense amidst the serenity.

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Marriage & the Art of Refrigeration (an excerpt)

The contents of a refrigerator can reveal a great deal about a person’s life. Marly and Sam Franco had the same refrigerator for twenty-three years. It was a standard Kenmore model with 19.5 cubic feet of space and a side-by-side design that allowed for easy access to an icemaker and filtered water on the left exterior door. This cool convenience guaranteed that the kids would effectively make dangerous puddles for anyone to run through and break their necks. This fridge also featured the latest in gallon doors so the Francos hung heavy gallons of orange juice, cranberry juice, mango juice, apple juice and large tubs of V8 with confidence—a true haven for all that was processed and sugary. These same doors turned into a blank canvas that the kids would paint on with greasy fingers, red streaks of spaghetti sauce, and sticky strawberry jam on a daily basis—a caked-in masterpiece that took extra-strength cleansers and an offensive amount of elbow grease to remove.

 For more than two decades, the Francos always kept their beige Kenmore stocked with the most coveted family essentials. There was always a gallon of low-fat milk, which was never enough to last the week with two kids and a dad that demanded cereal every morning. The kids always kept countless rows of Lunchables stacked along the second and third shelves that were often traded at school for more desirable choices. The Kenmore’s crispers always stored the freshest fruits and vegetables alongside a few wilted lettuce heads and a bag of moldy carrots the kids refused to eat. The dairy shelf on top included more than enough butter, coffee creamers, mustard, mayo, catsup, relish, three types of vinaigrette and several cups of yogurt and cream cheese selections well past their expiration date—a true condiment zone. The freezer was home to the proteins but most importantly it accommodated the family’s precious reserves of ice cream sandwiches that were the happy culmination of endless Friday Family Movie Nights.

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Death & The Art of Refrigeration (an excerpt)

          The contents of a refrigerator can reveal a great deal about a person’s life. I am painfully aware that my refrigerator screams of loneliness. During a recent stop at home I became convinced it actually mocks me. After a quick bite of Chinese take-out, while I brushed my teeth over the condo’s kitchen sink, I heard it hum in a low grumble, aaaa-lone…aaaaa-lone. I could be misinterpreting the hums. They could be guilting me into staying: come-home…come-home.

            I keep it well stacked with mayo, soy sauce, spicy mustards, three types of vinaigrettes and all kinds of cream—coffee creamer, whipping cream, hazelnut cream—a true condiment haven. It houses very little actual food: three black bananas seeping like moth cocoons reside on the veggie drawer, two out of twelve tortillas are sprawled on the middle shelf, dry and cracked curling at the ends, but no protein to stuff them with, and an amorphous clump in Styrofoam that was either hot wings or last month’s Sweet and Sour special. In the back sits a lone box of Arm & Hammer working overtime to keep the smells at bay. It’s far from perfect but it’s mine. My smells. My hums.

Now, I rummage through the bowels of Daniel’s fridge for another Corona. Here, in one of Philadelphia’s most coveted suburbs, his stainless GE tells quite a different story. For starters it’s wall-to-wall wines: Cabernets, Zinfandels, Chardonnays, Merlots and the like. No hums. Also no baking soda needed—Daniel’s fridge is sterile and reeks with the odor of cleansers.

As I look past the chilled bottles I spot a gallon of milk tucked in the back. This last gulp of two percent speaks volumes about the new role of widower thrust upon Daniel. It depicts a dad too numbed by his wife’s death to notice the kids will be out of milk for their morning cereal. I continue snooping and start a mental shopping list. The kids need access to easy-to-make, comfort foods: strawberry Pop Tarts, glazed donuts, sticky buns, chocolate chip muffins, and Rocky Road ice cream—all that is processed and sugared and good in the world. Oh yeah, and the milk to wash it all down. After all, who wants to cook at a time like this? Who would want to cook, period?

Daniel (and I) could learn a little something from the world’s best refrigerators. The most efficient ice box I’ve ever seen was a Frigidaire model powered by an ancient generator in the fishing village of Steung Hauv, Cambodia. These fishermen did not mess around. Limited space meant every square inch stored only the essentials: butter catfish or eel from the river, forest rabbits, and slabs of marbled beef, all frozen and layered like a well-stuffed lasagna. Any space left was used for storing daily veggies—Efficient Refrigeration 101.

Unlike their Western counterparts, these guys would never waste valuable square footage packing a fridge with sparkling Perrier or cans of overpriced caviar. This practice might confuse them into believing they needed a bigger fridge when all that’s required is a lesson in priorities—easier said than done for U.S. consumers lost in “The Land That Common Sense Forgot.”

What You Wish For – (Novel Excerpt)

The downstairs buzzer of Leonora’s Upper Westside brownstone rings twice. It is 2:15 in the morning. The buzzing comes in a familiar frantic succession solidifying the intruder’s identity. She is startled in her apartment’s galley kitchen because despite his customary frenzied buzzing, it is not his appointed day. Leo stands barefoot on her maplewood floors orchestrating her late-night Moroccan tea ritual. At the second tap of the buzzer, startled gives way to anger. How dare he just show up unannounced again for a quickie?

She was convinced after their last “talk” that Steven would respect the boundaries she had set forth for their affair —the most important of those being that he would never show up unannounced—otherwise how was Leo expected to keep her other guys a secret and maintain full control of the situation?

The reflection off her frosted cabinet doors offers a gentle reminder of a messy head of chestnut curls that flirt just above her shoulders. She squints a pair of dark brown eyes hoping the  foggy likeness would adjust and paws at her frizzy strands. Leo stops herself when she decides that if Steven insists on barging into her nights he should get a less polished and certainly less agreeable Leo at the door.

She is aware, despite having just turned 30, that the dark circles around her eyes have stolen a certain radiance her face once had—an occupational hazard she has accepted after years of working endless round-the-clock sessions to meet editorial deadlines. Nothing the proper amount of foundation and the right Dior eyeshadow palette and a hint of lipgloss can’t restore.

Without changing into the expected black sheer Claudette number Steven gave her last Christmas, she stomps her way to the doorbell panel and smashes the talk button, “It’s two in the morning! We talked about this!” She releases an angry pointer finger demanding an explanation.

“Please buzz me up. We have to talk.”

“Talk? This ‘talk’ of yours couldn’t wait until daylight? I have work tomorrow. What if I was asleep?”

“Leo, c’monnnn.” His head cocked slightly to the right as he pleads on a dark stoop into the stainless steel panel adjacent the sturdy double doors of hLeo’s white-washed brownstone, “You’re probably up there making your tea. Just buzz me up, I have a surprise. I have news!”

Leonora loves the way he lingers on the Lee in Leo giving her nickname a playful ring. It conjures moments of midday lovemaking under the warm sun rays that routinely crash through her skylight—one of the many perks of leasing the top unit.  And so anger or disappoint melts away as it often does with all her lovers. Curiosity now ruled as the dominant emotion because seldom, which is to say never, had Steven ever added news or anything newsworthy to their ten-month affair.

She can’t complain though. He has turned out to be the perfect romantic cliche. The kind she so desperately wanted after all the failed attempts at real relationships at university. He is a great lover. He is attentive during important holidays and events but surprises and spontaneity are not his forte.

“News or not, it’s still two in the morning.” She presses the unlock button for downstairs access.

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A Paris Story – Flanuering & Ginormous Cokes

The last guidebook I bought cost me $6.99. It was an impulse buy at the checkout counter, where all impulse shopping lives. I’m convinced that if sex was on sale at the “impulse stand” everyone would leave their grocery stores pregnant – not one of those you-have-a-glow-about-you kind of pregnancies, but the one-nightstand-I-can’t-remember-anything-after-I-got-into-the-dancing-cage kind of nauseating feeling that forces us to scramble through our wallets and purses for a return receipt we know we no longer have. Needless to say, the guidebook now lives wedged between a greasy cookbook and dirty saucepan at the corner of my kitchen countertop where it will remain forgotten until next week’s trash goes out.

Paris guidebooks today are still sending hungry travelers to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Elysee and other “must-see-sites.” They may even spend a few chapters recommending best French eateries, best hotels, best values and best ways to get around the city (the Metro being on of the most popular ones, as it is said to be the most clean, timely and effective subterranean train system in the world – well…not so much that it is said, as much as I just decided to say so – so there).

Recently, the only way to get the real world right between the eyes is to watch Antony Bourdain’s episodes of Parts Unknown where he personally (and often painfully) guides you through the get-your-fucking-hands-dirty and prepare-to-eat-shit-with-the-locals kind of experience every worldly adventurer craves. Unfortunately, Paris is yet to be on his list of destinations as his producers tackle Beirut, Miami, Korea, Budapest and New Jersey just to name a few exotic locations – but he did manage two great episodes about Paris on his series, No Reservations and Layover, in which he specifically warms viewers against the common touristy traps and recommends a lot of eating, a lot of drinking (after all this is Bourdain) some great ice cream and sex with a Parisienne among other guilty pleasures.

But after waiting two years to get back to this great city of lights and romance, magic and mystery, I knew to stay away from any guides. Period. This time I fought the urge to type up and categorize an itinerary which I would have packed with way too many things to enjoy properly. This time we would just be true Parisienne flanuers.

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Venice: Among Other Things, the Best Coffee in the World

When we teetered off the water bus at the stazione Arsenale, we were careful to follow the directions from our reservation – we had traveled to Venice two years ago and remembered how easily a tourist could get turned around in its intentional maze – so we followed the Grand Canal over two small bridges and then we were to walk a few hundred feet to the two “bows” where a friendly face would guide us the rest of the way to our vacation rental. Oops! We had reached the park and the directions specifically stated “if you arrive at the park you have gone too far.” We backtracked and stood puzzled in front of a three-story apartment building adjacent the lush grounds – this structure had two tall arches that had been carved out to make two winding alleyways that disappeared in the distance as they made a left turn. These have to be the two bows they’re talking about, right? These arches? After little deliberation, impatience, hunger and fear of finding ourselves circling eternally to the left in a city designed to get lost in, we phoned the number below the directions.

Less than a minute later a thin, Euro-chic brunette in a timeless combo of blue jeans, black chiffon blouse and black flats appeared from the shadows of the alleyway and smiled and waved her way toward us. She was beyond pleasant – much more understanding and accommodating of stupid American tourists than the Italians had been two years ago when we drove down their southern coast making a quick stop in San Remo. Our host spoke absolutely no English and though my Spanish is littered with cognate words that would work in Italian, she and I struggled a few seconds to communicate – thankfully in Europe, due to the multiplicity of cultures that intersect everywhere, she continued to pry for other possible languages and to our surprise, this lovely Euro-chic fabulous forty-something wasn’t Euro-anything. Our host turned out to be from Chile, thus fluent in Spanish. We both celebrated like little kids who had found a hidden treasure; our common language. Because I am terrible with faces and even worst with names, I will christen her Graciela which I am 57% positive is actually her real name. The logistics going forward were simple: the exchange of a few hundred euros for our keys and a personal recommendation from Graciela to try the food at Sottoprova on the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi just off the Grand Canal (this eating experience is one that merits its very own narrative so I will force myself to wait and bite my story-telling tongue for now).

We were still jet-lagged after   checking into our little apartment above the breezy and ultra quiet alley on Calle Colonne at the Two Bows. But we were also famished. The choice to venture out and grab some sustenance was easy and unanimous despite our exhaustion. As we strolled down Riva S. Biasio and then over another little bridge to Riva Ca di Dio, we witnessed the afternoon sun fighting through Nimbus clouds that darkened the horizon to create a magnificent rainbow spectacle over the isla San Giorgio Maggiore.We fought to gawk at the food on  people’s plates as we past Ristorante San Girgio, Carpaccio and a few others. It was pranzo, the Italian lunch rush and a table for five was going to be near impossible to find but we just had to eat something. “Hey, that place she told us about have a bunch of tables opened. Just a couple of bridges back,” a desperate teenage voice assured us over the melange of tourist and locals that had congregated along the Grand Canal. As if in unison, we pivoted and dragged ourselves back over those little bridges, that under extreme exhaustion became a gigantic feat, and found a rather empty outdoor  trattoria with plenty of accommodations. The blonde waitress pushed two small tables together and sat us underneath terracota-colored umbrellas facing the canal. By the way, the rumor about Venetian canals reeking of stagnant water is absolutely false. We have visited twice, sat waterfront every time and never in all our time of winding and weaving down the alleyways of Venice along its snake-like canals have we caught even as much as a whiff of unpleasant air. The people were friendly and helpful, the view was priceless and the food was just, wow! This might explain why, despite the endless choices of great eateries throughout the island, we returned for dinner without hesitation later that same night.

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THE BEST LITTLE APARTMENT IN ALL OF PARIS: ON AVENUE SECRETAN

The cliche says “Paris is for lovers” but at the age of forty-something when my husband and I arrived for the first time in Paris at the 19th arrondissement with several backpacks in toe (his idea for lighter travel which almost gave us hernias) and in the company of not one, not two, not even three teenagers but four, we were far from love but not yet beaten. That would come later at the hands of a simple key and a stubborn locking mechanism on the sixth floor of a narrow hallway on Avenue Secretan.

We knew the City of Light would not hold any romantic interludes or enchanting escapades or amorous adventures for the Dickerson couple – the most we could hope for was to check in to our Paris apartment, set up sleeping arrangements (which often meant us cramming into a twin bed so the kids could spread out a bit more) and see if there were any restaurants open late that would serve the non-French well after dinner hours. Much to my surprise, signing for the key was effortless, unlike the treacherous Parisian rush-hour traffic which I cannot detail at this juncture for fear the horrid memory will send me into another post-traumatic stress disorder episode I may not recover from.

We pull up to the curb on this beautiful boulevard-like street. From the corner we could see the entire block lined with neobaroque buildings – monuments of stoic stony grays with just the right splash of color from the cafes, brasseries and other street-level storefronts flaunting their cool blues, dark greens and vibrant red double doors and awnings – Paris knows how to say, “Bienvenue!” (more…)

Rainy Day in a Paris Cafe – Bring on the Cliche

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We were just a few blocks from the Parmentier Metro station when it started to rain. A subtle but steady Paris rain that makes everything look gray with a kiss of soft lighting, as if the sun were trying to break through the Parisienne firmament. The No.3 Line had transported us from the quaint little neighborhood on the 19th arrondissment north of the city’s center where our Paris apartment sat snug between other neobaroque buildings on Avenue Secretan. Parisians walked on undisturbed under heavy drops, solidifying the French term “flauner” or idle wonderer. It was easy to spot the tourist running about for a bit of cover – I insisted my troop casually walk to the nearest cafe as if making a very scheduled stop. Nothing worst than not being Roman when in Rome.

A quick but inconspicous look down at our iPhone to verify the GPS had us on the right track for la tour Eiffel. But after more than two decades waiting to experience this architectural wonder, this delectable cliche, this unmistakable iconic superstructure, it seemed Paris would have us wait just a few minutes longer, as we ordered the prescribed creme brûlée for dessert and countless rounds of cafe creme. The empty cups and accompanying saucers, drained of all foam and caffeine atop the three tables we’d managed to cram together under the cafe’s striped awning, were like abandoned ceramic carcasses from a past era. And for a wonderful, memorable and elusive instant we forgot our itinerary, we forgot where we were heading to next in our “must-see” list, we forgot about the rain, we forgot to take pictures, we set aside all the things that prevent us from living in the moment and we were at that precise moment…in Paris.

“Saving Galileo”

 “Some are born great, some achieve greatness,

and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”

-William Shakespeare

The café is crowed tonight when I have no patience for a crowd. Minutes will be lost in the long line for a Frappucino, not to mention the relentless effort needed to secure even the smallest of tables-this will cost me precious writing time. A cold urine spot on my underwear rubs against my skin, adding to the increased frustration. It amazes me how after a lifetime of daily practice I still can’t efficiently shake and squeeze the excess pee from my penis. A violent spasm takes over my right knee-my pressure valve. Perhaps I should just go back home and attempt to work through an eight-year-old’s constant demand for attention and the futile arguments of two teenage girls over phone time, nail polish, and all that’s trivial in the universe. The words of my colleagues come to mind: “You are not a true writer until you have produced under the most deplorable conditions.” They’re quick to remind me of the words of the great Toni Morrison who explained in an interview how she wrote around her baby’s vomit: (more…)

“Coffee, Tea or Paris?”

Kate sat at the end of the long coffee counter, back by the bathrooms and public phones, crossing her legs back and forth. She stared numbly into the disappearing foam of her sad cold Cappuccino. Normally, the European-style café only sat twenty on its busiest night. Ten along the bar. Another ten at the tiny circular bistro tabletops. But due to an unexpected afternoon downpour, there had to be over thirty people. Everyone wedged and crammed into every nook and cranny, seeking shelter. The smell of damp earth mixed in with gourmet coffees, steamed milk, teas and assorted baked pastries, took Kate back to the afternoon when she first found this charming little Upper Westside getaway and thought her life had taken a turn for the better.

                     It was almost two years to the day. The rain that afternoon was coming down exceptionally hard. Kate remembered being lucky enough to have managed a seat at the bar just as the place got slammed with unexpected patrons. She recalls the tall man with salt-and-pepper hair in blue jeans and a designer shirt sitting in a relaxed pose on a stool adjacent hers. He had placed his New Yorker down on the sticky counter and attempted to get the barista’s attention with no success. Along the same sticky counter, Kate was paging through her Real Simple magazine, looking for the article “Creating Your Own Place of Peace” the previous issue had promised. (more…)

Departure: Packing for Paradise

It was a typical cold morning in May for the Northeast. A paper-thin layer of ice covered the bathroom windows defying Spring and nature’s careful balance. It was Saturday the tenth. This meant we were only four days away from our 14th wedding anniversary.

Soft hands gently rocked me out of a deep sleep. My husband has always hated waking me—knowing my affinity for sleeping in—especially on dark frozen mornings.  The red from the digital three and zeros of our alarm clock created a somewhat eerie crimson glow against the darkness of the room. I began a slow motion stretch that ended in an embarrassing shriek I couldn’t control. What is it about certain bodily functions, like sneezing, yawning, shivering, and farting that take over, sneak up on us and render us dysfunctional, not to mention hopelessly uncool? (more…)

“Memory Box”

 

My fondest childhood memories are of toil and triumph. At that time, our house was always filled with laugher and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I would sit for hours on hardwood floors and marvel at the colorful tents I engineered out of my Mamma’s vast collection of quilts. These enormous caverns towered above me to become a refuge from the simple pains of school bullies and unfinished math homework. Other times they served as sanctuaries against my mother’s complaints of phone bills, Dad’s late work hours, and the leaky kitchen faucet. On days when the sunlight penetrated the quilts, I pretended the shapes along the nine-patch blocks were friendly faces visiting from fairy worlds, coming to share their fantastic stories. Between the indiscernible patterns, hidden along the stitching, lay the secrets of old maps leading to undiscovered treasures and endless adventure trails. In that place I dreamt of shiny, pink ballet slippers, silver astronaut suits, rusty pirate swords, and of being a mermaid, too. But it wasn’t always a magical journey. Whenever I neglected to secure the corners of the heavy fabrics, my entire fortress would come tumbling down, making gravity my enemy. (more…)

“Hunting for More”

She set out for her customary afternoon ride after a cup of dark French Roast and a few forbidden drags of a cigarette. The grass was still wet from the heavy morning rains and splashed as her horse raced forward. Tall furs lined both sides of the old, dirt road, forming a straight path to the distant cliff. She rode purely for the enjoyment, the beauty, the tranquility. Today had the promise of a serene day. “Rain has a way of soothing all,” she thought. But she was unaware of the darkness carried in by the island’s westerly winds.

She knew that in the far distance, through heavy foliage, the edge of the cliff beckoned. But her ride was interrupted by a grayish silhouette–a bundle of movement in the clearing. Intrigued by the strange occurrence, she dismounted and tied the reins around the trunk of a nearby pine. She moved stealth-fully in an effort to remain unnoticed. The wet grass below soaked through her canvas shoes. The squishing noise startled some birds pecking at remains on the ground. In turn they startled her. Her heart was beating faster with the excitement and anticipation of this rare adventure. And as she got closer, she was able to start piecing the fuzzy picture together.

Several feet away from the figure, she realized it was simply a hunter. He was abnormally tall and wore the usual hunting camouflage. A bit disappointed that her surveillance didn’t garner anything more interesting than a sportsman, she prepared to walk away but realized something was wrong. So she stayed a little longer, observing. Spying.

Ready for the hunt, the man stood in the clear. He was pointing his gun at something, but was trembling with fear. At the edge of the cliff stood a powerful creature. It stared long into the sunset. The curves of its beautiful horns seemed to pierce the clouds. She watched them both attentively, still hiding behind the abundance of multi-colored shrubs. The hunter aimed and shot this steel-like monument off its pedestal. Fast and hard fell the creature. Down. Crashing against the empty abyss. This once powerful, mysterious and astonishing forest dweller was now, nothing more than scraps for scavengers.

Not bothering to collect his prize, the hunter turned to move on. “Perhaps in search of another kingdom to destroy,” she thought, still hidden by tall shrubs.

Suddenly he paused, turned back and looked into the sun. He took a few slow steps to the edge of the cliff, looking down to see the bloody scene. Then he gracefully turned his riffle and shot himself—the ultimate hunt.

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