Writer in Motion – Week Four

Writer in Motion – Week Four

The week in which I post the version after receiving helpful critiques from an editor. Big thanks to Justine Manzano for her helpful thoughts on my work! I especially appreciate what she did, as most of the people in the group wrote short stories. I, on the the hand, decided to imagine the start of a novel. That’s something altogether different.

And before I continue, another big thanks for the RewriteIt Club for posting an interview with me this week! Not scary at all, er, was it!?

Anywho… Justine made some helpful suggestions.

  1. Some extraneous info in the second para;
  2. A grammatical oops in the third para; and, most importantly
  3. We have character growth, but we don’t see any motivation. So we know that Cami has been into Ben, and that she has been going through this ritual of watching him while she’s there, and aside from watching a couple make out, we really don’t get any sense of what has shifted that makes her decide that she’ll speak to him.

Yeah, that number 3 comment made me think a bit. So I ended up with this. Here’s hoping it works.

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Writers In Motion – Week Three

Writers In Motion – Week Three

When last we left our hero, it was the 80s. But something about Tom Petty and the song struck me, and, well, here we are. A big thank you to the two critique partners who provided some wonderful insights. I was so hell-bent on keeping my word count to 500 that I did not explore a thing or two. However, seeing as others are in the 1000+ word count, I figured going s l i g h t l y over 500 would not break the bank at Monte Carlo. So now, we are involving Cami with Ben…or at least, on her way to finally interacting with Ben.

So here we go…  Dare to compare it with last week. And this week, I will send it off to an editor for the editor’s perspective. If that is as useful as the feedback I received from my CPs, it should be enlightening!

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Writer in Motion – Week Two

Writer in Motion – Week Two

So this is the week where we take last week’s word vomit rough draft and do an edit. I do a lot of editing in my head, but I am trying to break down the process a little, as the whole point of this exercise is to see how people do it.

First, I will probably break this down into more bite-size pieces — both paras and sentences.

Then, I’ll look in places to see repetitive things. For example, “brayed noisily”–is there really any other kind of braying? Not in my world. I’m keeping zeppoles, even though it is something people probably will have to look up. Zeppoles are a fixture on the Jersey Shore, where the story is taking place. (Zeppoles? Fried dough with powdered sugar on them. When made well, they are simply heavenly.)

I felt like pushing the date back of the time period a little, so I changed the song blasting on the Boardwalk. (So sue me.) We’re now in 1979, for those keeping score. It just felt better to me. The edge of a decade. The edge of…something happening.

So this is what happened.

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Writers In Motion – First Draft

Writers In Motion – First Draft

So yeah. I wrote something. It’s unedited. Unformed. But it’s inspired by the sky in the picture. Don’t know why the sky made me think of a boardwalk town, but it did.  I don’t usually write YA stuff, either, so that was kind of random. But you never know where you brain can take you with the right inspo.

Some folks are writing short stories. I was feeling more like the start of a novel. Rhyme or reason? You got me there. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, as I don’t know whether I will get down the shore this summer?

Feel free to comment and constructively critique. 🙂

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i’m baa-aaack

i’m baa-aaack

did you miss me?

so yeah. as mark twain once wrote, “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” (have mercy!) while i have been blogging in one way or another since 2002 (which is like when dinos walked the earth, or some such), i took a break a few years ago. i wrote a few things, like


and this

and this

and this

and, well, you get the picture.

but for those of you who i am just meeting because of Writers In Motion, well howwww-DEE! feel free to kick the tires around here, though realize that i have a potty mouth AND i have historically written sans capital letters on my site (because i can). (and if that’s annoying, rest assured that my draft will use CAPITALS. and PUNCTUATION. and stuff. because i know the rules. i just like to break them from time to time.)

i am very excited to be taking part in this process where i am going to magically conjure up a draft which will likely be in SERIOUS need of TLC…and will shape it up, right before your eyes, with a little help from my friends.

so now, to think about this photo



silly love songs

silly love songs

some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.

in this week’s new yorker, rebecca mead is wringing her hands over what she calls the percy jackson problem. for those of you who don’t have kids in the house,  here’s some 411:  percy jackson is the wacky protagonist of a series of books by (beloved-in-my-house) rick riordan. percy is a kid who has ADHD and behavioral problems in school — you know, that PITA kid whom every teacher wants to dropkick out the nearest window? percy, we also find out early in the series, is a greek demigod (which is part of the reason he struggles so.) through his adventures, kids (and the adults who read to them) often get their appetite whetted for the magical world of mythology.

so what’s so bad about percy? to paraphrase mead’s argument, between the use of slangy-current pop language and milieus and the less-than-deep storylines, folks in this camp are terrified that books like those in the percy jackson series are a gateway drug to a lifelong obsession with literary dross.  they believe that consuming these sorts of works results in less critical readers. in other words, popular fiction is dumbing down the world for kids.

(for those of you keeping score, this is #25,689 in the ways in which you are screwing up as a parent.)

when i was growing up, my mother took me to the library two and three times a week. no exaggeration here. the librarians knew us at both the ocean county library and the now-defunct bishop memorial library. if there were a 12-step program for bookaholics, my mother would be the queen and reigning champ. any time she has had a spare minute, her nose is in a book. if i woke up at ungodly o’clock a.m. as a kid, i’d usually find my mom,  black coffee and a romance or a mystery in hand. she has always been, and always will be, a book pusher. (ask my kids.) mom always had one rule at the library: take out whatever you want, but you need to actually read it.

now i still recall the day that dennis, the long-haired librarian at the ocean county library, stopped my nine-year-old self trying to take out romeo and julietgod bless you mr. rosewater, and war and peace. he looked at me squirrelly, then asked my mom whether she had actually seen what i was taking out of the library. (please don’t ask me why i had made those selections. it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

are you sure you want wreke taking out these books? he asked my mom.

she looked at me with the seriousness of an executioner. are you going to read them, wreke? she asked. i nodded that i would, in fact, tackle all three within the three allotted weeks i would be granted. she then looked at dennis. let’s take them out, then.

(the only one of the three i finished was romeo and juliet. in high school. kicking and screaming by then.)

yep, mom always let me read anything i wanted to read. there was the phase when i exclusively read partridge family and archie comic books. there was my sue barton, student nurse phase. there was every single book about the beatles phase. (that one is still in progress.) and of course, there was the time in seventh grade where i chose soul on ice for a book report. (i still wonder if my english teacher ever recovered from that one.)

in short, there have been plenty of generations of people reading all sorts of things — and somehow, we still continue to get great literature, great music, and great works of art. we all develop in weird and wonderful ways; and part of that is because we each receive such weird and wonderful input from all directions — from our families, from our friends, from our worlds — and of course, from our books. i know there are plenty of baby boomers who grew up reading all kinds of crap under the covers, and yet here we are. so please, get the hell off the backs of the younger generations. with all the other temptations out there, electronic and otherwise, it is difficult enough to get them to read. there will be plenty of time to refine things once they have caught the bug.

in the meantime (and with sincerest apologies to malcolm x), we need to get kids reading by any means necessary. i am not above enticing my kids’ interest in books however i can do it. i have read any number of silly things to them when they were little — i wanted them to just hear the words and love the sounds. over time, i would read chapter books that i thought sounded fun until they were old enough to make their own choices. i admit, though, that when they are a captive audience in the car with me driving four hours to see family, i break out books on CD that i get from my local library.  and they listen.

meanwhile, back in percy land… while waiting for percy jackson’s book five to come out, jools was jonesing for some riordan to read. we made a trek to central library, where we discovered that riordan has also written books… for GROWNUPS.  the boy borrowed mission road, a novel about a private eye trying to solve a murder. sure, it wasn’t his usual fare. but for a boy who loathes reading, he actually read it. granted, he was especially thrilled because there were CURSE WORDS! and INAPPROPRIATE THINGS! in the book. but you know what? he was reading.

what’s wrong with that? i’d like to know.

oxford comma

oxford comma

clearly, this bullshit did not end in the ’80s. pity that.

recently, i was talking with another parent about college. he was pretty insistent about his child going into engineering. now, nevermind he has no idea whether his child has any interest or inclination toward engineering (and science in general): that is what said child will be pursuing in a few years.  if his child is not interested in becoming some sort of engineer, then said kid can pay his way through school. this parent will not be contributing toward something stupid and useless like an english degree, for example.

(you know, the degree i happen to hold.)

when i was a college kid in the go-go 1980s, it was tough to be an english major, especially when you were child #3 following child #1 (a doctor) and child #2 (computer science dude.) and here i was, in love with language and meaning and, to be honest, writers in the earlyish part of the twentieth century. preferably, but not exclusively, women. oh, and usually american.  and i often answered the barrage of questions which really boiled down into one: what will you do with that english degree?

indignantly, i did what any self-respecting women’s college editorial editor would do: i wrote what ended up being my most popular column in college. who’s afraid of liberal arts? was so popular that it was actually reprinted. (evidently, i was not the only person with this conundrum.) i was tired of people asking me when i was going to get a real major, a pre-professional major. i was tired of people asking me if i sat and made daisy chains, too.  “i am sure,” i wrote, “that somewhere, someone in my family is squirreling away an English Major Fund so that when i’m big and in the real world, i will have a financial supplement.”

didn’t happen.

and, being pedantic in the way only a 21 year old lit student could be, i quoted john henry cardinal newman from the idea of a university noting that education should be for it’s own sake in order to help you grow as a person. education should be:

something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it seeks, which invests it with an idea.

i argued that it was easier to live with yourself when you were someone and not some thing. it is difficult to change gears if you make yourself narrow; but the study of liberal arts broadens you and makes you more of an intellectual utility infielder. in short, it helps you adapt.

decades later, i am glad i chose the path i did. yes, i went on to graduate school and specialized; but when i wanted more than what a career in that specialization offered, i duck and dove into something completely different: i crashed into the early days of the internet. on my interview, my boss showed me how to build something and then asked me, the english major, to build it. i froze at first (i’m an english major, remember?), then slowly attempted to make things happen as he had done.

and i messed up.

but, i took a deep breath, backed up, and tried something else. which worked. (mercifully.) and i got the job.

later, i asked my boss: why did you hire me when i messed up on the interview?

his reply? you backed up and figured it out. i need people who know how to think and who can learn. (it was a new industry at the time.) i don’t need specialists: it’s a new field and there are none.  (in 1995, there really weren’t.)

so yeah. english major here. english major who has developed and built web properties. who has done research studies in education policy. who has performed regression analysis. who has put together several major events, uniting cabinet level secretaries and their entire departments in the process. who masters the world and delivers it daily to her family. (note: i am still a crappy cook. but so far, i have not killed anyone.)  i’ve changed careers plenty, and now, i get to do what i always loved best: writing.

i’m not starving. i’m monitoring my world and changing with it as needed. i can write cogently (most of the time.) i can think. maybe i can’t fuse my identity to some specific career, but actually, i like being stealthy like that. and i’ll be damned if i make my kids tether themselves to a pre-professional course of studies unless it is the course they choose. sure, there are consequences in all choices, but should they be the deciders of their destinies? i think so.

so to that parent who is willing to carrot-and-stick his kid’s future with his own demands? maybe you need to be squirreling away a Therapy For My Kid fund.

oh. and while i am not using capital letters in my blog,  for the record: i do give a fuck about the Oxford comma.

immigrant song

immigrant song

scared little faces peering out from buses at hostile, snarling grownups. what must they be thinking?

loads of children are making a perilous journey, sans parents, to the united states. most are coming from honduras, guatemala, el salvador, and mexico. we can talk all day long, i’m sure, about our immigration policy and how problematic it remains — while we don’t all agree on what should be done, we all, with the possible exception of the US Congress, realize that something must be done to improve the situation. and until they figure things out, we as a nation continue to show our both best and our worst side to the world. i admit i was intrigued by a thread i had read about what sort of parents let their children travel alone to a foreign nation. who in their right mind would put young children in the care of people they don’t even know and hope that they make it to their destination in one piece.

i know exactly the sort: my great-grandparents.

my great-grandfather aron katz was born in 1879 and married rose kogan between 1899-1901 in odessa, russia. aron was a tailor and they were not well-to-do. to put it mildly, things in russia were not great for anyone at that time but particularly not for jews, who were routinely persecuted and often killed. he, rose, and the two youngest children — sam and my grandmother belle — emigrated to the united states in march of 1913. oddly enough, they did not come through ellis island as most did. at the time, a lot of people in the US were pretty hostile to all those jews coming in. instead, my great-grandparents were caught up in the galveston movement, which essentially lasted from 1907-1914 and was an effort to disperse the jewish immigrant population throughout the united states by bringing them in through the port of galveston, texas.

on the manifest of the SS cassel, the ship they came to the United States on in march of 1913, their destination is listed as kansas city, missouri.  now i have no knowledge of whether they ever made it to kansas city; however, we know that by november 1913, they were living on the lower east side of new york. when i was in college, i completed an oral history of my grandmother’s life — and i still remember her telling me that her father was a tailor — and oy! could you imagine a jewish tailor in galveston, tx? she told me that they somehow made their way up the mississippi and then eastward where their relatives lived on the lower east side of manhattan. but we know that they had made their way because in november 1913, they had an important delivery to receive.

because they were not wealthy, my great-grandparents could only afford the fare for their two youngest children. their two oldest stayed behind with relatives until they were able to raise the fare for them to come over. in november 1913, those two children came to america on the ship grosser kurfurst. my great-aunt lillian (or liebe) was 11 years old, and her brother max (or mordechai) was 10. imagine being a child and taking a journey to a place you had never been? according to my cousin ilene (lily’s daughter), her mother had recounted how terrifying and awful the trip had been.  her mother was especially frightened by all the drunken sailors on board. i can only wonder what she dealt with as the elder child in charge — and only at age 11. somehow, though, after a long time fending for themselves on board, lily and max made it to new york, where they were reunited with the rest of their family.

so what kind of parents would put their children in harm’s way? what kind of parent would take young kids and have them fend for themselves among unscrupulous adults who might take terrible advantage of them — or worse? i can imagine exactly the kind of parents — very desperate ones. my great-grandparents lived in a place where they faced peril regularly.  they knew they had to get somewhere safe for their family’s sake. i can only imagine how it killed them a little bit to leave two of their kids behind. they crossed their fingers that the children would be cared for and, once the money was raised, they would send for them, too. i wish i had had a chance to talk to my great-aunt about her trip. knowing that jews were not exactly welcomed when they arrived, i’m sure their initial experience in america was probably not too pleasant; but i can figure that anything had to have been better than a pogrom so they were going to make it work here no matter what.

thinking about this experience sheds light on what mothers and fathers in dangerous places such as honduras must be thinking. they scrape every little bit of money they have and borrow what they don’t and send their children to a place where they hope their children can somehow be protected from their current daily misery. the situation has to be pretty bad for a parent to send her child off with strangers in the hope that somewhere else is better than the child’s current environment.

so whatever you might think about immigration policy, think twice before you impugn the fitness of parents of these children because they send their kids off to america. faced with the same choices, we all might do the same thing. instead, while the immigration situation gets sorted, why not treat the children as you would hope strangers would treat yours?

in the end, human nature is human nature, whether you’re in central america, russia, the united states, or anywhere else parents and children exist.



the tide goes in. the tide goes out.

this morning, i made the trek out to washington radiology. i failed my mammogram on my birthday 6 months ago and, happy birthday to me, ended up with a biopsy. as is my medical custom, i stumped the experts; they didn’t see anything malignant, but they were also puzzled by the quantity of lymphoid tissue in the sample. i told the doctor that perhaps i have a lot of lymphoid tissue because i have all sorts of lymphatic fun thanks to my underlying immune deficiency. i mean, my lymph nodes react when i have an infection, when i drink hot and sour soup, and because the moon might be in the 7th house and jupiter is aligning with mars. you just never know.  so hey, c’mon back in 6 months and we’ll take another looksee under the hood, okay?

like i’d say no?

my mom has lost both breasts to cancer and mercifully, she continues to be a major pain in my ass 30+ years after the fact. but thanks to that little tidbit of medical history, i go ping whenever the subject of family history and breast cancer comes up in a doctor’s office. mom recently underwent the testing to see whether she had the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and tested negative. well, yeah, that’s awesome, and i celebrated, thinking there’s one less thing potentially wrong with me genetically… except i learned, mid-biopsy, that there are loads of other BRCA genes, so there’s always the chance… which then made me want to scream at the doctor who shared that info why on Dog’s Green Earth bother with testing then? except, at that particular moment, the doctor had just cut into me with a very sharp scalpel, and also, there was that little matter of blood literally splattering across my chest, just like in the movies. it was pretty cool, actually, except for the fact that it was my chest and my blood.

maybe next time, i will ask to be put under.

anyway, so back i went today. i was a little perplexed by the fact that i was being charged for a full mammogram (plus the extra $50  for a 3D mammogram, which isn’t covered by insurance but which would probably make a hell of a slideshow at a party.) only one side was getting the excruciating glamour treatment. but the woman behind the desk who seems to repeat the same spiel over and over all day to women of all ages and sizes and races told me nope, no discount for one boob. ah well. you pays yer money and you takes yer choices. when i was finally taken out back and shot, i had a lovely lady who was a wonderful smoosh-o-grammer. after the smoosh, she led me to a room to wait for the doctor.

now, let me tell you about this room. when you are doing your annual mammogram and you have never had any troubles to speak of, they take you back to the closet they stuff you in little changing room where you first got into your little brown gown (open in the front, no deodorant, no lotions, no creams please.) there, you wait for the technician who performed your mammogram to come in, tell you that you passed again, get your clothes on, and make your way up the road to the mosaic district, where you can dine on fine food and shop at neiman marcus last call go home.  the event passes like a tiny bump in your road. but then, there’s the room. there are magazines. there’s a box of tissues. there’s an HD TV against the wall playing a video of the ocean tide coming in and the tide rolling out. it’s a little haven of medical office zen. if there was a giant glass bottle of cucumber spa water in the corner and mani/pedis, it might not be such a horrible place. but it is a horrible place.

it’s the place where women like me go.

it is the holding pen for the women who have failed their mammograms, a sort of  purgatory. it is the place you go when an actual doctor has to talk to you about your results. women like me end up there because we have failed before. women who are new to failure end up there as well. and somehow, that oceanic video is supposed to be a positive, peaceful life buoy. today, though, as i marched into the room, i saw a young woman, probably around 30 or so. at first, all i could see was her blonde hair sprouting out of a head that was bobbing and heaving between her knees.  i bit my lip. clearly, the girl had had some sort of shock, and no amount of azure waves was going to help her.

i walked across the room and grabbed a tissue. i tried to not look at her at first, as i didn’t want to completely intrude,  but merely extended my hand near her arm, gently brushing the tissue against her elbow. i figured if she wanted it, she would take it; if she didn’t, she would ignore me and that would be just fine. you never really know what people want or need at times like these; but i cannot look away from it, either. she picked up her head, gratefully took the tissue, and said thanks  and tried to smile. she wiped her face off, but then a fresh flood came and she put her head down again. reflexively, i started to rub and pat her shoulder, much as i do with my children when they are crying. i don’t generally make a habit of touching total strangers, especially ones who are in terrible pain; but i just didn’t want her to feel alone. i wanted her to know that other people will care about what happens to her, people she knows and loves. if even a total stranger cares, then her loved ones will surely embrace and comfort her, too.

i wanted her to know that maybe something awful was in store for her, but there was also love in her future, too.

she would try to stop crying and pick her head up and smile at me. i smiled back. but then, she would cry again, and her head would once again duck down. i patted her some more til she calmed down. she had just picked her head up when the nurse came in to call her. miss s, the nurse said,  you will need more pictures and then the doctor will see you to talk more. come with me. my new friend miss s picked her head up and looked at me. hang in there was all i could muster. she smiled weakly, and i nodded and smiled back.

my turn came soon. the technician walked me into my little changing cubicle, which i thought was a good sign. after all, i had my biopsy news in the sonogram room, not in the little closets. the doctor came in, told me that the area where the biopsy was done 6 months ago had shrunk, and she didn’t see anything scary. nothing at all. so go on out and treat yourself, she said, smiling. i guess she likes to give good news. when you hit the point where you are sent to the room to talk with the doctor, your talks don’t always go so well, i guess. she’s probably as happy as i am. or close. i whipped off that brown gown and headed out, with big plans to walk around the mosaic district. that was going to be my treat. i walked past the room where i had waited. no one was sitting there. miss s was somewhere else, hopefully getting better news, hopefully sitting in a changing cubicle finding out that she, too, was going to bump into me at a more pleasant place. like say, neiman marcus’s last call. i will always hope so, and i will always wonder about miss s. but all i saw in that room was the ocean video, playing on a never-ending loop in high def.

the tide goes in. the tide goes out.


in memory of my friend syrentha savio.

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