Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Countdown is On....

In addition to my ongoing work with LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER, I am now officially one of thousands and thousands who will be writing as fast as I can during the entire month of November. I am taking part in NaNoWriMo. Start date is November 1st. That means you'll hear about 200,000 tushies plopping onto chairs worldwide at one minute past midnight, Sunday. Some people actually write standing up. Whatever floats their hemorrhoids....

From NaNo's site:
"In 2009, we had over 165,000 participants. More than 30,000 of them crossed the 50K finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever."

Whoa! Not terribly encouraging percentage-wise. Maybe I should forget the whole thing....but, see, I am a long-standing member of the Compuserve Writers Forum, and we have enough forumites registered this year to generate 1,000,000 words. I guess I have a few to contribute. Like Marc Chagall, Auguste Escoffier, Gavroche (he's a fictitious art critic.)
One thing I am mindful of is I am a Montrealer and I have two fellow Montreal forumites keeping me company. Yay Montreal! Je t'aime. Break out the Brie, grab those croissants and let's just do it. (Actually, this is more of a poutine fest, I guess.)
According to founder Chris Baty, Week Two is the toughest. I'll let you know. Frankly, I don't know how I will get to day three.

I am no stranger to words and masses of words and tight deadlines. So, it's not like I haven't done this before -- it's just that I haven't done it each and every day for thirty days without stopping before. And, I have never written without editing. I don't suppose it's cheating if I make my daily word count and edit as well? I have no earthly idea.
It's all a head game, anyhow. How many times have you gone a whole day without eating for one reason or another, and then, all of a sudden, you are told you can't eat for six hours and suddenly, you are so hungry you'll drop dead on the spot if you don't get a Ritz cracker into your mouth?

Tell me I can't use the bathroom for three hours because the plumber will be fixing a pipe, and all of a sudden, I'll need to go in the worst way.
Tell me I have to write 1600 words, and suddenly, I can't get two out. But, tell me nothing, and I'll write 2,000. Head games, that's all it is.

The starting gun is set to go off in a matter of hours and I am numb, as though a hurricane is about to hit, but since I don't see the winds picking up, I don't believe those pesky meterologists.

Nevertheless, I am preparing my bunker-- Saturday, I shall be laying in supplies:

-Spare contact lenses
-Spare reading glasses
-Loads of junk food and good stuff, too, like veggie dip and crudites, trail mix
-500 cartons of cigarettes -- "I don't cough, I don't write"
-Special dark roast blend coffee by the kilo, must remember the cream
-Tia Maria or Kahlua for when the day is done - er, is the day ever done, I wonder?
-Advil and Ativan
-Steak. When I write, I get famished. When I get famished, I need protein.When I need protein, I need filet mignon, medium rare, with a green vegetable and potato and mushrooms and wine.
-Dark chocolate
-Plenty of husband. Husband will cook, if I don't. Husband will feed cat. Husband is a good guy.

On Sunday, I will be pulling out books and notes and photos, and reading Thomas Mann or doing something else equally as pleasurable to help me leave the 21st century behind.

I am about to re-enter Berlin in the 1880s in THE SCARF DANCE.

I'll see you there.

(And, if you are also part of NaNoWriMo and reading this, GOOD LUCK!)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grace Metalious and Victoria's Secret

Photo from the back cover of  Peyton Place.

I have a photographic memory. I remember all the way back to my crib -- standing up in a yellow romper, made by Dr. Denton. Of course, I had no idea what it was called or where it came form or even how much it cost.   But, it had a trap door in the back, and snaps, and was duckling yellow, which I suppose went very nicely with my blonde curls.

I remember smells, tastes, sounds, pictures, song lyrics and music and the way Campbell's Vegetable Soup made me nauseous, and how good my daddy smelled. (Old Spice).

This ability to see entire scenes and commit them to a page layout in memory is a handy thing to possess when you're a writer. When I was a student, reading textbooks, I'd always know where I saw something, on which side of the pages, and if it was at the top, the middle or bottom. Flipping through magazines quickly, I'd do the same thing. When I listened to Broadway scores, I'd be able to memorize the entire show --  even today, I can sing every word from every song I ever learned. You want My Fair Lady? Or, Gigi? Or, maybe Camelot? How about West Side Story or Funny Girl?

If it was something that engaged my interest, bang! -- it went right into that cerebral hard drive. That's why I can honestly say I know what I know and know what I never learned. I also know what I learned but never cared enough to commit to the bank. You should see it in there. It really needs a defrag. It's littered with a series of halves of geometry problems, quarters -- scattered like musical notes all over the damn floor -- of algebraic equations, times a few hundred. That adds up to failing grades in math. But I can tell you what presents I received on my fourth birthday (small yellow records from Disney and a clunky record-playing machine that needed new needles every other record, the way dental drills had to be constantly refreshed.)

So, what has any of this got to do with what you're looking at? Well, nothing, except that I wanted to show you how my brain works. 

I said that I was going to write 50,000 words in November, and that I needed jammies -- or at least something very comfy, and so, I started idly flipping through Victoria's Secret online and then, I saw an image in my head from long ago -- that of Grace Metalious, the author of the notorious bestseller, Peyton Place.

I remembered her just as you see her on the back page of her book, a young woman, with a decidedly '40s-style hairdo, sitting with her feet propped on a stool, facing down one of her non-alcoholic monsters, the typewriter, in jeans, a plaid lumber-jack type shirt, and maybe a pair of Keds. I'll bet that shirt was scratchy.

As soon as that image sprang to life, I understood why I was admiring the photo of a plaid shirt in the VS catalogue. True, Grace's shirt was quite possibly red plaid, not gray, and true, I'd probably find a closer match if I look at the flannel pajamas in the online catalogue, but, I went and ordered this shirt anyhow. I love Victoria's Secret -- they always give you extra buttons.

And, here is why the brain "firing" happened. When I looked at the skinny modern model, I noticed she is sitting with her back on the left of the frame, and that one of her legs is bent. That was what triggered the Grace Metalious recollection.

To reassure myself that my memory was correct, I went on a google hunt to try to locate that photo from so long ago.

Silly, but thought I'd share. I tend to drive my family crazy because I remember things said and done, eaten, and explored with them, and they do not. It's lonely sometimes. Like I lived my entire life in a dream-scape or a nightmare, completely alone....

Cue up the music to Gaslight!

Victoria's Secret plaid boyfriend shirt

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cracking the Mother Code - Call For Submissions -Two

I have always wanted to learn how to juggle things just like professionals -- apples, oranges, flaming shish kebobs or kebabs. With that in mind, I am now practicing the art of the two-handed toss. So far, nothing has landed on my head, but, I don't throw very high. Call me chicken, or better yet, make that lamb.

Anyhow, as the deadline for NANOWRIMO approaches along with Hallowe'en hobgoblins and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, because pie couldn't hurt, I just want to remind readers that submissions are beginning to trickle in for the anthology LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER -- info about how to submit is listed on this blog page -- and it is highly interesting to read the various thoughts and stories from such diverse age groups, and locales.

Please send us (Marion and me) your stories! We are gathering a vast number (hundreds and hundreds), and out of that we'll be able to sort through and decide who and what goes where, chapter-wise etc.

Some of the material we have looked at so far is very somber. We are hoping for more amusing stories, touching, light, poignant yet hopeful. We want to feel inspired and amazed. Not depressed. Goodness, no.

I have a cousin from the Bronx -- everyone should have a cousin from the Bronx -- who is uproariously funny. He sent me his piece -- fairly short, but certainly long enough to cover his subject.
Having a male voice is great. We want to hear from men -- because even men have mothers and I bet they learned a lot from them in many useful ways.

So, keep those stories coming in. Remember, anything from 800 words to 1500 will do fine. We're flexible. We'll even look at one-act plays.

Now, tell us everything 'cause... Mama said!
Happy Writing!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Novelists Getting The Lead Out!

It is just 5 days away -- but still enough time to decide if you want to throw caution to the wind, or continue to sit and wonder -- am I a writer or not?

Starting November 1st, it's NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month

For all the information go here

It's free. It's very popular. It's open to the world.

Why, you might wonder, would anyone in his or her right mind even attempt such larceny? Good question.
One of the chief goals of this writing frenzy is to make you write without looking back, fiddling, rewriting, stalling.
This is where, according to the folks at NaNo, quality is not what matters -- it is quantity.

 I read that and I squawk -- who the Hell wants to turn out piles of sweaty brain garbage?

As it turns out, there are probably more reasons to step up to this challenge than meets the eye:

1) Let's say you keep telling yourself you have a story to offer the world -- but you never really get around to doing it. You come up with all kinds of excuses. This is your chance to stop with the nonsense, already, and sit down somewhere quiet and just let it all pour out. 

No more wasting your life wondering shoulda, woulda, coulda. And what's the worst that can happen? You'll peter out on day two and never ever tell yourself you are a writer again. Maybe that's a good thing. Or, maybe, you are still fooling yourself. Maybe you actually are a writer but haven't pushed yourself into any kind of disciplined approach. Since this whole experiment is free, you have nothing to lose by trying to churn out those words.

2) The folks at NaNo encourage participants to begin a brand new novel on day one. If you start fresh, you have no emotional baggage or problematic scenes weighing heavily on your mind. Fresh is good. Fresh is liberating.
But there are equally thousands of writers who have stalled on existing novels who also join NaNo for the month because they feel a public and self-imposed final push might be the ticket to arriving at a completed -- or very nearly completed -- first draft.

3) Discussions of book lengths and what is and isn't acceptable in today's market to one side, consider this: 50,000 words! This translates to approximately 175 pages. That's almost an entire novel, in many cases, and certainly, it could be the bulk you need. Looking at this another way, you will arrive at a huge pile of pages that were only a fantasy a month earlier.

4) Here's another biggie: If you already write, you know how much quality trumps quantity. Nevertheless, you also know you are eminently capable of editing. But, trust me, you'll have zip, nada to edit if you have no pages to work with.

5) Finally, as one nifty writer in the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum said recently, even if all fifty pages end up in the shredder, two things may have been accomplished. One-- surely a few gems are there to be salvaged. And, two, you just learned a great deal about the writing process and your own methods of attack. You flew by the seat of your pants, tossed away some stringent rules and just let the story flow. It's all good. You even may have stumbled on a book plot that intrigues you, even if the writing is ho-hum. It's all good.

In point of fact, I am still dithering, although one thing I know -- whether formally or not, I have decided to turn out those 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. That's roughly 1600 words a day, every day for thirty days. (I need new jammies and slippers.)

Join me. Let me know what you plan to do. I'll be posting my progress here.

November is a good time to 
-get a flu shot
-lay in some comfort foods
-ignore nasty weather and smart-alecky kids already nagging at you about Christmas, Channukah, the question of sexting...

Come Nov. 30th, you'll be so pumped, you'll actually look forward to holiday madness. You will have achieved something important that matters to you and you alone, or, you will, like Charlie Brown, feel like the absolutist mostest worstest goat -- there are great buys for booze at this time of year. You'll be able to drown your sorrows, overeat, overheat, wallow in too many stale hors d'oeuvres, tell perfect strangers how much of a loser you are, pour your troubles into a YouTube video that really goes viral, and voila! -- next thing you know, you'll be on a writer's circuit, promoting your new bestseller, How NaNoWriMo Nearly Killed Me, raking in the cash so you can get to a decent rehab.

Seriously, think about it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Three O'Clock In The Morning

Three o'clock in the morning in a stately apartment house,
When embers have winked their last in the fireplace,
And walls, wrapped in robin-egg's blue and celestial, vault upwards toward white moldings,
Ignore the frost on the darkened trees outside;
When burbles of steam and the occasional tick of a radiator
Count the minutes to sleep,
I sit and listen.

Can you hear it?
The anticipation of tomorrow,
Almost here, on its way,
Not yet day, but too much awake to be night.

The courtyard lies still, the street slumbers,
The flame and gold leaves on the walkways
Embrace in final repose,
The cat flicks an ear, then sighs,
I sit and listen.

Can you hear it?
The whisper of dreams
So quiet, you might nod off
And miss it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Confessions of a Writing Slut

If you ever meet a female writer who is absolutely potty -- obsessively and compulsively drawn to the keyboard for protracted periods with resultant accompanying groans, screams, shrieks, sighs, sobs, tears, teeth grinding or gnashing -- back away!! 

She's a writing slut. 

Not only will she throw mugs, ashtrays or the bloody cat at you if things aren't going well, she'll snarl and threaten to blare Disco Duck on YouTube.

Then, she'll tell you, you are less than zero -- which, she emphasizes, you really are -- and finally, she'll turn the verbal gun on herself until she either passes out from 

a) stress
b) alcohol or drugs
c) typing too many useless adjectives
d) typing too many useless adverbs
e) too much tell and not enough show
f) the stench of excessive backstory
g) the realization she has no talent at all

or...(drum roll)

the phone rings and it's the Man Booker Committee or the Nobel Foundation in Sweden assuring her they have heard so much advance buzz about her as-yet-incomplete manuscript, they have already decided to short list her when the book comes out.

or...(quick intervention)

The doorbell rings and she's staring into her future - the man from the Old Spice commercials, sans towel, is offering her a pound of Leonidas Belgian Chocolates with all her favourite centres, Cristal Champagne, a box of ultra-soft Kleenex, all the while kissing her bleeding fingertips and murmuring, "Oh, but you're lovely, never, ever change, keep that breathless charm, won't you please arrange it 'cause I love you just the way you write tonight!" **

**With apologies to Jerome Kern.

Only slightly mollified (he does look good), she will calm down and think it over.
Maybe the opening paragraph can go. Maybe, the plot doesn't really suck, maybe she can write a little better than "See Dick run. See Spot go. Look, Sally, look!"

Maybe there's a faint hope in Hell.

Maybe the cat is a sweetie.
Maybe you aren't less than zero after all, but don't press your luck, she's still fragile.

Curtain falls on another day followed by the next morning.

Then, it's lather, rinse and repeat. She won't even take time for a shower -- she has to sit down with her coffee and her Advil and begin all over again....

I have done some research into the word slut which is all too often used as a synonym for nymphomaniac, a condition terribly riddled with non-factual moral observations. People think it's about uncontrollable sex urges. It's more than that. The classic nymphomaniac very often goes from partner to partner in search of the Big O. Until she finds it, she's a horny dudette, filled with fantasies and urges and unrequited longings. Poor thing doesn't realize that the Big O has to begin and end with her -- she's in control, and a man will want to please her any way he can -- but she has to tell him how, for goodness' sake!
The writing slut is also searching for that ultimate release, that pure joy, that witty beast with two backs that reads to perfection from any and all angles.
The only difference between her and her nymphomaniac sister, is that she already knows she can't hope for any external massaging.

Sex starts in the brain. Writing starts in the brain. And, many people weep after sex (triste post coitum). So, too does the writer after the book is published.

It sits on the coffee table or bookshelf, the writer quickly grows sick of it, hates it, and has moved on a long time ago to something else. And who really cares, hmm? You are only as good as your last book, you may not have anything left to give, it's just as hard to write today as last year, and the damn backstory is still there, and why haven't you learned the lesson about "killing your darlings" and you hate, hate, hate this new stuff and have no talent whatsoever and ---

I am a writing slut.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Was It Really A Dark and Stormy Night?

I can't speak for everyone, but lately, it seems, people who read books are dissing description -- seriously. They don't have the patience to sit through anything that doesn't bark, scream, ooze, bite, suck, lunge or blink. Perhaps they are reading within narrow genres. Perhaps they have never read the classics. Possibly, they are young and so embedded into their cell phones and various pods, they've become pods themselves. It's sad.

Description in novels has its place and serves a very important function. It sets a scene, or imbues sentiment; it may even be that one wonderful pause in the pace or tension which cleverly allows the reader to take a breath. But descriptive passages can't go on and on and on with no purpose or they'll weigh everything down like bad hair conditioner.

You really can't blame description for making a book bad. You can blame bad writing, instead. And when it comes to that, heck, bad writing will give any device a bad rep. There's bad dialogue, bad plots, bad (as in bad, not way cool devious) characters, bad something or other that makes you want to toss a book against the wall. Or smash your Kindle.

But getting back to description. I was thinking about a few things I wrote having to do with the weather. Weather is a big deal in Montreal. It's big everywhere these days. It's so contrary, unpredictable and unsettling. And yet, in fiction, we tend to ignore the new realities, and probably will until it's official -- when the world is finally upside down; Montreal's a tropical paradise, and Nassau is a winter hideaway.

I use weather and descriptive images as indicators of interior mood and exterior ambiance. Regardless of genre, weather is universally recognizable and touches everyone with its unmistakable language and poetry.
We may not know what a two-headed vampire really smells like; we may not have ever walked through a desert or a snowstorm -- but, we can do it vicariously and that's what makes reading so habit forming.

Here are three winter contrasts:


"Every year, when the first snow of the season arrived, Emmaline Lerner stopped what she was doing to watch its descent. Today, it fell in thick silence and quickly blotted out the pitted roads, the garbage bins, and the squalor of poor neighbourhoods.
Then a hush spread over the city as invisible fingers sugared the many winding wrought iron stairways, church spires and cupolas. Traffic lights twinkled intermittently. Sparrows, tittering in sprays of excitement, left delicate tracks on tree limbs.
People, quite forgetting themselves, gazed outward in amazement as time and motion slowed in the gathering dusk. Freedom to wander and dream in a child’s faerie world – if only for an hour or two – this was the fleeting gift of urban snow." 


"Winter whipped along the coastline of Travemünde with the force of the Furies, shrieking in gusts of heavy rain and snow that blew in from the open sea. Like an uninvited relative with repulsive habits, it settled in for a painful visit bringing a penetrating chill that pierced bones.
Icicles formed into gargoyles and attached their rigid spines to the eaves where they surveyed their domain, until finally, drooling and dripping in the weak sun, they melted away.
And then the Christmas season announced itself in a feathery frost that etched its way across the open-shuttered windows of the fishermen’s houses behind Front Row.
The quiet streets grew festive; some prosperous citizens dressed public doors and lampposts with red berries and fir branches and everyone placed fragrant Advent wreaths and four red Advent candles on tables or walls inside their homes.
For a month of Sundays, even the meanest streets brightened at  sundown when a faint copper cast spilled pink shadows over snow and rutted walkways. The prized red candles burned in weekly progression until all four blazed together on the last Sunday before Christmas Eve. As the flames flickered in the dark, snowflakes hovered like white moths around street lamps, and in the air, the baking aromas of ginger Braune Kuchen and Spekulatius pierced the damp night with a sweet balm of hope and expectation.

When Otto walked up from the harbour with the fishermen, swinging a small lamp on a pole and stamping the numbness from his feet, he considered himself lucky. Soon, the metallic smell of gray ice and pungent fish oil would disappear into the warmth of a bowl of soup and a slice – albeit a thin one – of Tante Gertrude’s Advent Stöllen with its rich centre of marzipan. “Oh du froehliche Weihnachtszeit!” O, You Happy Christmastide!"


"January, dull in the aftermath of Christmas, limped with a sodden deliberateness through Travemünde, followed by a February whose bite reminded Otto of the oversalted herring he found on his dinner plate. His tongue swelled, he could taste nothing, and his appetite fell away.
The only antidote lay in Tante Gertrude’s fruit compote which he pilfered from the cupboard by the spoonful until the ceramic jar disappeared, no doubt spirited upstairs to the back of her wardrobe, where it would languish and then rot to satisfy her spite.
Otto moved woodenly in the thin gray dawn, loading bait, traps and nets onto the boats with the other fisherman on the wharf. They worked in silence against the cold, fighting inflamed joints and fatigue, their eyes red and encrusted with sleep. It wasn’t until they had cast off in triangular formation that they spoke in low voices and let tiny phospherous sparks fly upwards as they lit their pipes.
           Otto sat beside old Hein in the boat’s stern and observed the gray skies growing pink as a reluctant sun poked through the mists and streamed onto the smart houses and hotels along Front Row. He watched the shore come to life and imagined himself waking up warm to the aroma of coffee and cinnamon."
It's not winter yet -- but I can't put off rummaging through the hall closet to find my boots. Now, that's a description nobody needs at all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Tale of Three Aacks!!! Three Books, One Woman, Go Figure....

I should talk about what's "pressing my nerve," as they say in Frenglish-Quebec. It's about goals and the need to reach all of them even if it kills me.

To begin with, I feel alone in the challenges I have chosen to put in front of me. I have many wonderful journalist friends who are quite content to work the beat on their non-fiction side of the street, never straying from that type of writing. For years I worked alongside them, first in hard news for both television and radio, and then as a lifestyles writer and editor for magazines and newspapers with a focus on fashion, beauty, fragrance, movie reviews, arts etc. I learned a great deal about the writing process and the various milieux in which I circulated; I earned my keep. I attended exciting product launches and grabbed all kinds of swag. I wallowed in the latest skin care and fragrances.
But, it wasn't enough.

A quirky editor friend with creative fingers in several pots, invited me to write for a Disney licensee and publisher --  board books for very young children, and some fairytale adaptations for a slightly older audience (7-9). I created four original texts for Disney about Winnie the Pooh and his friends. It was so much fun! Imagine sending faxes to lawyers in Burbank, asking permission to put Piglet in a 1920s-style swimsuit with a belt. It was part of a plot twist I very much needed. We waited and waited while legal heads convened and conferred -- such important matters to decide in one afternoon! Then, the answer arrived -- yes, Piglet in a swimsuit was "a go." You can view A REEL FISHY STORY  here.

I have always loved writing for young audiences because that's really where this whole writing business seized me -- how impressionable I was as a kid! How hungry for all those stories, fairytales, legends, Mother Goose rhymes. I devoured everything, inching my way up the ladder to more sophisticated fare. Leaving Honey Bunch books and Nancy Drew for the worlds of Leon Uris and Harold Robbins, I never forgot where it all started -- and even now, Betty Smith's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN remains at the top of my list as the one book that most affected me, changed me, helped me realize who I was and how I might one day fit into the world.

So, non-fiction...check...children's books...check...and of course, the Holy Grail within still my heart!

There you have it. I have to write in many disciplines, for various markets, in various genres. Well, I don't have to, but I want to. I need to.
Which brings us to the present.

The most urgent Aack! is a non-fiction anthology, LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER -- the one described in my Open Call For Submissions post -- it's a joint venture with a need for speed. It has a real deadline.
The second Aack! is THE SCARF DANCE, a literary historical novel, now almost a decade in the non-making. I have completed reams-- reams more will have to be added before I even reach the completed first draft stage. I absolutely adore this book -- I am going to post a wee snip of the synopsis, mostly brief descriptions of three of the main characters:. 

THE SCARF DANCE - Synopsis Snip:
Chance throws three unlikely people – scarred physically and spiritually – into the 19th century melting pot of Berlin’s Bohemian society. THE SCARF DANCE captures their unique alliance and remarkable journey, spanning seventy years and two continents, as they move from Berlin to Montreal and back again. It is a family saga charting extremes – love, betrayal and redemption, poverty and riches, set amidst the relentless clash of politics and culture that thrusts their world toward modern times and destruction.

Anna Garber, born into an upper middle class family in the heart of Berlin, is the daughter of an ambitious science professor and a traditional mother, whose plans for her include a successful marriage and a place in elevated social circles. But, a childhood accident involving frying oil, leaves her badly scarred from the neck to the wrist and the plans change.

Berliner Otto Lerner, whose mother dies in childbirth, is born with a broken hip that leaves him with a limp. His father Jakob, a famous distiller, disowns him at birth and sends him north to Travemünde to be cared for by his unstable sister. Otto is raised as a Lutheran, unaware of his Jewish heritage, unaware of his birthright. Through the most miserable of circumstances, his optimism prevails, and though he is an unschooled fisherman by force, he spends most of his childhood painting and drawing, dreaming of a better world far away from the smell of fish.

Arkady Nekrasov, born Yissur Davidovitch, in the Pale of Settlement in Russia, is spirited away at the age of ten by the Russian army where he is brutalized and forced into a twenty-five year conscription. At sixteen, he runs away, determined to head west. His brief journey takes him first to Elizavetgrad to reunite briefly with his parents. He arrives two days after a pogrom has killed them... he makes his way to Berlin.
Well, so much for levity.

Finally, my third Aack! is a YA called BOSOM BUDDIES told in first person blog format. It's a coming of age with a twist, a story of an atypical mother-daughter conflict that turns things upside down. It's quick, it's compelling, it's funny and poignant and it manages to combine diverse topics such as Johnny Depp, breast surgery and Catherine the Great of Russia in one neat package.

And, that's the lot. I have yet to figure out how to juggle, but there simply has to be a way. I am determined to find it. Apart from the discipline required to make tangible inroads, there is another factor -- the emotional one. I have a tendency to submerge myself into my worlds to the detriment of everything else. Writers talk about this shared affliction...the one that means you listen to someone talking over dinner but you aren't really there. Or, you're stirring a pot of soup but you aren't really there. In the shower, words and ideas wash down like a musical curtain bestowing major insights that you pray will stay with you long enough to grab a towel and race to a pad and pen.
So, how on earth does one write three different books simultaneously? I'll let you know. Maybe it's the Godfather approach -- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, then Wednesday, Friday. That leaves Saturday and Sunday. Build it, sez I, and they will come! (There is a publisher in the US who is eager to see Bosom Buddies completed. I need an agent who can handle all of my various markets.)

In the meantime, it is now Monday, or close enough...I'm off to write an essay about my mother and Van Gogh.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chocolate-Pudding Days

Today is awash in shades of gray and rain and huge wind gusts. Like a November day-- bleak, stark and unyielding in its relentless pursuit of winter. Some people chirp, "It could be could be snow out there." I'm like Lou Grant (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) who hates "spunk."
I hate chirp. Not the real chirpy people -- the fake ones.

Anyhow, I don't need to be cheered up because I have the perfect remedy -- chocolate pudding. Warm, creamy, rich -- of my favourite comfort foods. It's easy to make and deceptively indulgent because I use a secret ingredient -- Carnation Evaporated Milk -- Non-Fat.
All that velvety smoothness without the extra calories. And, besides, the recipe calls for a nub of butter. Heh.

I wish I could properly categorize my food moods. Today, for example, could be perfect for tapioca pudding with a dollop of jam, or a warm spice molasses cake, or bread pudding made with croissants and cream. Today could be matched with butter-rich cinammon chocolate cake or old-fashioned rice pudding or even brownies. But for some reason, it's got to be chocolate pudding, the darker the better. I need to see bubbling and I need to be able to dive into a pool of warm chocolate when no one is looking and slurp it from the pot.

That's what I like to do. So, sue me, or join me. It's Friday all day long.
Bring on the rain.

 Carol's Chocolate Pudding
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder -- or chop and melt about 6 ounces of your favourite semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 3/4 cups Carnation Evaporated Milk (I use Non-Fat)
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or butter (Please, butter only!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine sugar, cocoa, salt and cornstarch in a pot.
Over medium heat, add the Carnation milk, stirring as you go. Bring the pudding to a boil, stirring constantly, and allow it to thicken. It will look like you are staring into a Willie Wonka-designed volcano. In about 2 minutes, the pudding should be able to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and add your butter and your vanilla. If you are moi, you'll be head first in the pot, making savage, pleasurable noises. If you are more restrained, allow this to cool a little, pour into ramekins or dessert bowls and serve either warm or from the fridge.

People talk about pudding skins like animal pelts or muffin tops. Some people like them, some people don't. If you don't want that skin on your pudding, place some plastic wrap directly on the surface.

Nietzsche said the abdomen is the reason we don't take ourselves to be a god. I think he must have had his fair share of chocolate puddings.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Heart Jack

Jack Ruttan is a good friend and he is most likely a friend of all mankind. 

He's what you'd call an inabitant of space and time but not necessarily in that order or even on this planet. If "alternative" is a descriptor for people living outside the so-called norm, then you might think to use it to describe Jack -- but that would be a big mistake. Jack is a chameleon -- he's Johnny Depp cum Peter Pan, the original roadie, Beat poet, art house indie filmmaker, off-the-wall Brooks-Brothers pitch writer from Mad Men , or, perhaps he's Frodo, or maybe even Tim Burton's second cousin everyone keeps in a padded cell with a hundred cats. Yeah, Jack's also a shepherd. A free thinker who'd just as soon shoot movies perched on a kitchen counter as any other flat surface.

Jack's a cartoonist and an artist. He paints watercolours of zombies and regular people -- wait! -- Jack says zombies are regular people; he sketches whatever he sees, he sketches himself sketching watercolours. He's like Paul Reiser in MAD ABOUT YOU -- the episode in which Reiser, a documentary filmmaker, obsesses over his latest subject, a weed growing in the urban jungle of Manhattan. Jack films "things," he's an archivist of life's inanities.

I like this photo -- I enlarged it slightly so it's blurred. That's Jack. Essence and form and lots of enigmatic vibes that radiate goofy optimism, Zen purity, and so much frenetic energy, he reminds me of Mozart and his predilection for "too many notes."

If you need someone to write comic strips, a play or musical, prepare original indie scripts, or outlines for zany TV shows, Jack's your man. He'll perfrom in them, too. Even inside the comic panels.
He's an ideas guy; he turns chaos into order or the reverse; he can go from 0 to 110 m.p.h. in a nano second and grin like a Cheshire cat while's he's doing it.

When I meet people with Jack's talents, I can't help wonder what their brains would reveal under scientific scrutiny. I feel like a dweeb. Sure, I can walk and talk at the same time, and I can chew gum and pat my tummy simultaneously. I can even balance on one foot and sing Handel's "Where E're You Walk" -- but, compared to Jack, I'm an octopus with only four arms. Jack has 16.

Jack is my blogmaster. He's responsible for dragging my sorry ass into the 21st century. The blog is a work in progress, just like me. If there's any design or art you like, it's Jack's. He's trying to cajole me into buying a camera. He has a tough nut to crack since I remain a techno-dork, convinced that Blackberries are strictly cereal toppings.

A goodly dose of smiles and chuckles can be found at Jack's place. Visit his blog, Utopia Moment at

And when you get there, tell him how much I HEART him.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cracking the Mother Code - Call For Submissions

One of the three projects I am working on is a non-fiction anthology about mothers --  yours and mine.
The idea came to my partner, Marion Witz, after she and I completed the memoirs of Elizabeth Grant, who is a tour de force like no one I've ever known. That book, which took us two years to complete, details one woman's remarkable achievements despite enormous odds. (Elizabeth Grant My Life--My Story is available everywhere.) When it was done, Marion really got to thinking about women through the ages and what a profound impact they have always had, not the least of which is expressed through motherhood.

We decided it was time for a book about our mothers -- not some treacly thing that drills holes in teeth when we take a bite, but a more honest examination of our mothers and ourselves. We are looking for real. For stirring. For levity and drama. We are convinced that even tough relationships bear useful fruit, so, please give us some juicy flesh, not pulp. Inspire us. Delight us. We can't wait!


We (Marion Witz and Carol Krenz) are creating an anthology entitled Lessons I Learned From My Mother, a collection of stories, anecdotes, plays, notes, essays, poetry and assorted vignettes that recall various pieces of wisdom and observations we absorbed from our mothers in early childhood and well beyond.

The book will document personal thoughts and memories that touch on humour, drama, compassion and other aspects of the mother-child experience and we invite you to share your stories with us.

Our focus is based on the unique ways people learned from their mothers, often without even realizing it, or perhaps, in typical rebellious fashion, how they rejected many lessons in youth, only to rediscover their merits later on.

We welcome stories (real or fictional) that illustrate how those lessons made an impact –   how they changed or coloured lives for the better. Regardless of the complex relationships we have with our mothers, how did we emerge? Perhaps by examining our mothers’ challenges and the arcs of their lives, we developed compassion, humour, kindness and patience in living ours.

Lessons I Learned From My Mother will contain the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of daughters and sons and provide real-life observations from first-hand accounts that are uniquely inspiring.

Contributors are encouraged to write about any subject. Our chapters include such topics as: VALUES, HONESTY, LOVE, KINDNESS, LEADERSHIP, DISCIPLINE, FAMILY, MORALITY, STRENGTH, HUMOUR, PRACTICALITY, COURAGE, PARENTING, SEX.
All contributions are strictly voluntary. Your work will be fully credited (byline) and listed in the Acknowledgements. Additionally, each contributor will receive an author’s copy of the book.
Our sincerest thanks,
Marion Witz and Carol Krenz


1. Submit one or two stories, vignettes or essays (about 800 words each to max. 1500) – you may suggest longer works, subject to editorial review.

2. Manuscripts may be double-spaced in Word format, or pasted into the body of your email, with your name, home address, phone number and email address on the upper left corner. Your age is not mandatory, although we’d welcome it.
This call for submissions is open to everyone over the age of 18.
DEADLINE is December 1, 2010

3. If your work is accepted, we will forward a Permissions slip for signature.

4. ** Send electronic submissions and documents to:

Carol Krenz –

** Please write SUBMISSIONS in your email subject header.

Monday, October 11, 2010

But Seriously...Who Are You?

To be honest, I often ask myself this question, as I am sure we all do. Sometimes, it's crystal clear -- other times, it's all too vague. That's when I only know what I am not. 

One minute I'm a terrific person, a great lover, a fabulous gourmande, a loving, generous and compassionate human being who wouldn't dream of harming a gnat.

Then, the Evil Twin emerges and all bets are off. And why?

Because I am a writer.

I began my formal career (i.e. money exchanged hands) in the 1980s, the culmination of thought, deed, desire and imagination that sprang from a childhood love of reading. The only things that piqued my longings even more than running a chubby finger over the vaunted names on book spines like Doubleday, Grossett & Dunlap, Simon & Schuster, Random House, G.P. Putnam's Sons, and Puffin Books etc. were Romanian Turkish Delight strudel, Cadbury Milk chocolate, Peek Frean Playbox Biscuits, and rounds of Laura Secord fudge.

In combination, I reached Nirvana. I decided I wanted to continue to indulge my sweet tooth and grasp for the "sweet spot" that only comes when you write the perfect words in one perfect sentence.

This insatiable quest to arrive on a page with the same music in one's brain is so terribly elusive, it can make you crazy and if you don't believe me, go ahead and try it. Or talk to other writers for confirmation. I'll be listing their blogs soon.

Today, Evil Twin is in the kitchen basting a Thanksgiving turkey. It's the Canadian version of how to stuff both yourself and a bird silly, savour the flavours of orange, red and yellow pumpkins, squashes, sweet potatoes and wine. Canucks are sneaky. We realize that by having such festive feasts so soon into the "eating" season, we can run off our weight, or store our excess fat in plenty of time to avoid food aversion, thereby lunging greedily again at all the goodies of the Christmas, Channukah and Festin de Noël groaning boards.

"Not true," says Evil Twin as I write this. "You know damn well, that in this house we also celebrate American Thanksgiving in November."
She's right. I'm a glutton.
But, she's also cooking and letting me sit here to introduce my neuroses to the world at large.

So--who am I?

A writer with three projects on the go -- more about one of them in my next post, because I want you to be part of it -- who has decided to make her latest journey-times-three public.

Stick with me, please. As Bette Davis once said, "It's going to be a bumpy ride."

But not without its charms. Of course, I say this over high-pitched cackling coming from the kitchen....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why I'm Not Nietzsche

Philosophy as a formal study is not something I have ever tried to do. Probably because I cannot even spell Schopenhauer or Kierkegaard without help, and then, too, pronunciation of the latter's name leaves my tongue feeling extremely pretentious. Same is true for Nietzsche. He was friends -- on and off -- with Schopenhauer and Kapellmeister Hans Von Bulow and all kinds of fascinating people. Imagine having the whole lot over for dinner. If there were a mass suicide after port and cigars, you'd know at the very least, your cooking hadn't provoked it. I take small comforts where I can.

I have often wondered why Nietzsche is so popular. Probably because much of his life and philosophies are easily misunderstood and so cleverly applied out of context.

Whenever I want to understand metaphysics and existentialism and other pompous-sounding nods to bleak abstracts, hopelessness and the anguish of the human condition, I go to my main point man, Woody Allen.
Woody knows how to cut to the chase. Woody is a genius, just like Nietzsche. In Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody, who is wallowing in a search for the meaning of life, contemplates the infinite. He observes that Nietzsche's Theory of Eternal Recurrence means we are doomed to repeat our lives over and over: "Oh, God," he laments, "I'll have to sit through the Ice Capades again." Woody makes it so easy to absorb. Woody makes me laugh.
I 'll bet Friedrich Nietzsche never laughed, poor man. That's why I am not him at all. I admire his immense kopf, I am in awe of his intellect -- and I am pleased to know he severed all former relations with friends, publishers -- anyone -- who had succumbed to the dark lure of antisemitism. Nietzsche ended up a lone wolf, a voice of truth and rebellion in a "godless" world defined most narrowly by the strictest codes of moral turpitude.

I gotta hand it to him. He was brave and I'd like to be brave. He wrote relentlessly and I need to write relentlessly. He spoke the truth as he saw it. I try to do likewise. So, there is a kinship between us. For one thing, we both come at the world like outside observers; for another, we spell our names with a Z. Try as I might to have loosened up the old guy just a little, I would have been smacked down for being petty bourgeois and not one of the "exemplary" people whom he believed should live outside the "moral code" -- just like Jean Brody!

Most of all -- and I think this is important -- Nietzsche and I greatly differ in that he had a very unruly and unattractive moustache. I try to keep mine under control.