Why I Write

By Catherine Bell
Rush of Shadows

As I write, I cycle through different stages of motivation and reward. It’s never easy, but as long as I keep going, I’m happy, which is why I call myself a writer.

Catherine BellA memory inspires me, or an event or anecdote. It’s just an idea, or feeling, but if it has emotional resonance and promises human complications, I’m in. At this stage I write notes everywhere: at work, around the house, the car. I wake up at night and put things down. Eventually I sit at the computer and transcribe the notes, adding to them as I go along, listening with my mind’s ear, letting whatever there is pour out. The story so far is intriguing, barely seen. It’s as if I’m swimming in the ocean and my foot brushes something. Soft? Hard? Alive? How big? Do I dare bring it up and look? Is it nothing after all? A beautiful stone? The key to all the world?

I will have a lot to learn to imagine the story properly. Outer research with Wikipedia and history books. Inner research putting characters in situations, asking them questions. Research is easier than writing, and I never know enough, so it’s tempting to go on forever, but at some point I have to stop. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a source that shines such a bright, authentic light on my story that I know I can write the truth. With Rush of Shadows, it was Robert F. Heizer’s The Destruction of California Indians: 19th century letters and newspaper accounts full of unmediated attitude, compiled with the grave indignation of the editor. The light went on.

In my notes are dialogue scraps, fragmentary places, splinters of time. I have so much. I have nothing.   No real scenes. No order. No plot until I know what the characters will do. No characters until events define them. So, jump in anywhere, riding the feeling of being seized, fascinated, absorbed. The piece will outgrow its first dozen conceptions anyway and be structured and restructured many times.   After years of work on Rush of Shadows, exploring the different ways people saw a situation, I decided it couldn’t be told in one voice. This meant so much more work! I remember the exact, traumatic, thrilling spot on a hiking trail in Nova Scotia where I realized we had to hear Sam’s voice directly, and Law’s voice.

The hands-off stage is always more important than I think. Sanity means recognizing when I’ve worked so long and hard that I can’t see what I’m doing any more. Bitter as it is, I put the story aside and let the unconscious mind take over. Patience is part of craft. When I pick the story up again with fresh eyes, the reward is seeing that it’s still imperfect, embarrassing even, but still worth working on, with one or two new ideas just coming to mind. In this way, I write many drafts, laying down revisions like layers of paint, until, I hope, you don’t see the shabby places, sketchy characters, ramshackle methods and half-baked ideas I started with.

I share my work with a writers’ group, less for praise or advice than for information. How did you take it? Did this work for you? Was that a problem? A community of mutually vulnerable and exacting writers is beyond price. If they like something, I’m energized, and if they don’t, even more so. I’ve got something to mull over that may make the story better. Reader reactions are often surprising. I once sent out a story I’d struggled with for years and finally brought to perfection, only to hear from an editor that he liked it but it didn’t come together at the end. Wounded and fed up, I quit bothering. Later I saw what he meant, a version of what I’d worried about myself, and revised yet again. I’ve lived long enough now to see that story published, a prize-winner. That’s motivation for you.

Finishing is dicey, because the work is never perfect, never done. Toward the end, as if prose were poetry, I read it aloud. The pleasure of the right sound is better than money. It’s like work in a darkroom – precise and technical but emotional and meaningful as well. Your negative’s pristine, your focus sharp, you’ve checked the temperature of the developer solution and calibrated the exposure time to the second. Now you stand back and watch the image rise up in the pan, never less than miraculous. Sometimes I think, Did I write this? I wouldn’t have thought I could, if I didn’t know I had. Something bigger than me has been at work, and I’ve had the good luck to be part of it.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

10592671_10152641166685610_1741626350457062035_nTwo of my favorite books in the world are A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Both Márquez and Hosseini are writers who tear out our hearts and blow our minds, and in the process of piecing ourselves back together we know we will never look at the world the same way again. I love these writers, but I also resent them. It’s not enough that they are phenomenal talents, but they are also doctors! It doesn’t seem fair that any one person should have so much talent and skill in his or her two hands. Not fair at all. Yes, I wanted to be a doctor for a brief time back in my early college years, but that was only because I was afraid to do what I really wanted to do, write. So after one semester of flunking biology and barely passing kinesiology (the limbs we got to examine did inspire several short stories), I realized that medical school was not in my future. Besides, it’s so much easier to look things up on the Internet and offer my opinion on medical diagnoses than it is to actually be a doctor, or play one on TV.

Another person added to my “I resent” list is Dr. Maria Maldonado. There are few whom I admire more. She is a phenomenal doctor and teacher, and she believes that doctors should use their hearts as well as their heads when dealing with patients. She’s also a fabulous writer. She approaches her writing as she approaches her patients, with an open heart and mind. She is also fearless. This is what every writer needs to be if she or he hopes to write an essay, a story, a book, a poem, or even a sentence that will change the world, or at the very least, impact a life.

If I didn’t admire and benefit so much from reading Dr. Maldonado’s words, she would really piss me off.

But I do, so I thank you Maria for inviting me to take part in this inspiring blog tour. I’m honored to be in the company of so many brilliant writers including you.

If you really want to have both your head and heart stimulated, read Maria Maldonado’s work.

She is a clinical associate professor of medicine in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and the program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Stamford Hospital. Her work has been published in the Washington Post, the “Narrative Matters” section of Health Affairs, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.  She blogs on medical education, health equity, and other matters pertaining to medicine at http://mmaldonadomd.tumblr.com/

Here are my answers to the following four questions about my writing process:

1.) What are you working on?
I’m working on keeping nerves calm and the obnoxious voice in my head silent. I just finished my second young adult novel. My agent has it now and I’m waiting for her feedback. It’s always a challenge for me to stay positive when I’ve just handed my work to someone to read and I’m waiting for a response. This novel is a little different from my last novel. My last novel takes place during the Arab Spring in Egypt. This novel takes place in an undefined time and space. It’s a dystopian fantasy. It’s the first in a series. Yes, there will be a revolution of sorts in book two. In book one, The Other Side of What, the events are set up for the revolution in book two. Besides my working with the theme of struggle and change, as I did in Rebels By Accident, this new book also has a strong female protagonist, a grandmother, who is a central character and role model of sorts.

2.) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Well, Rebels by Accident, is a book about an American teenager who is sent to Egypt after she gets arrested at her first high school party. Her parents think she will be better off spending the next semester in Cairo and living with her grandmother. Just days into her time there, the revolution starts. I wanted to write the journey of an Egyptian-Muslim-American teen who, in our post 9-11 world, is very disconnected from her culture, and how she finally figures out what it means to be Egyptian and American. I wanted to write a book about self-discovery and change. In a sense, a book about revolution, and not just the ones that happen on the outside, but the ones that happen on the inside. I’ve been told what makes this book different from many of the books that have been written about Muslim youth is that Mariam is an American born Muslim and she’s not saved by the “West.” She saves herself with the help of her Egyptian grandmother and her best friend.

It’s much easier for me to discuss how my current work is similar rather than dissimilar to others of its genre. Like most dystopian literature I read, it is a commentary of sorts about the society we live in and how humans, because of their own flaws and unwillingness, or let’s call it hubris, are destroying the world we live in.

I think what makes this book a little different from a lot of dystopian lit is that it’s not about the future, but it’s an unnamed world with no ups or downs, but rather just many sides. The fantasy aspect allows me to really let my imagine run, sometimes that means running from evil Attack Cats who are cloned to maim and kill, a door with a million knobs, with each turn bringing you deeper into the darker sides of your psyche. My main characters, B and Begonia, are Readers who can look into a person’s eyes and read her/his story, see her/his truth.

The book is about many things but mostly it’s about how we face or run from our fears while we try and decipher between reality and illusion. I guess this book is like my other work where there is hope in the end for the characters and the world. Figuring out who we can trust and how to believe in ourselves is what gives my characters hope.

I also write nonfiction essays about a lot of different things but mostly, not unlike my fiction, they are stories that reflect my version of the world—how I see the people around me and how I think they see me. Yes, delusional at times, heartfelt at other times, ramblings at best. Yes, it’s all about me. I’m grateful for the short form when it comes to writing personal essays. Limiting myself to a maximum of a thousand words forces me to get to the point and spare the reader from getting lost in the land of the Tangential Queen.

3.) Why do you write what you do?
Rebels by Accident wasn’t a choice. Not at first anyway. I was taking a writers class and this voice just came out. I was told that it sounded like I was channeling the character of Mariam. I must have been because I would never have chosen to write from the POV of a teenager. They’re too tough an audience. But every time I tried to write from the adult’s point of view, Mariam kept sticking her ten cents in. She wouldn’t shut up. Much like my teenage son can do, she wore me down. So, I wrote her story.

I joke around and say that this current book, The Other Side of What, is my sell-out novel. Yes, I wanted to write something that I could make the big bucks with. Dystopian-fantasy, at the time, seemed the way to go. Then, about two or three sentences into the book, the story started to matter. I immediately cared about my protagonists and their stories. Damn it! I just wanted to get in and out fast, write the book and be done with it. Three years compared to the seven it took to finish Rebels By Accident, I suppose is somewhat fast, but it’s still not over. I probably have more revisions on the horizon. I just hope not four more years worth.

Again, there wasn’t a choice about who would tell the story. The voices of the protagonists came through and I had to follow their leads. There is more than one narrator; the story is told from three points of view.

4.) How does your writing process work?
It depends on the month, the year, the time of day. I used to wish that I were the type of writer who got up every morning at 5 am and wrote for hours before breakfast, but I’m not. The only writer I know personally who is able to do that grew up on a farm. So depending on what I’m writing and what stage of the project I’m in, my process changes all the time. Also, if I have a deadline, I work very differently than when I don’t. I need deadlines to get things done, even if they are self-imposed.

When I’m generating new work, what works for me is to take one day a week when I have nothing else planned, no obligations, and I just stay in bed and write. When I’m revising I need to get out of the house. I go to my Starbucks or Cosi, somewhere where there are no home distractions and the management doesn’t care if I work for hours after I’ve finished my coffee or eaten my lunch. If I stay at home, I start cleaning behind the refrigerator.

Another big part of my process is managing to understand who I am, and recognizing when that ugly and vulnerable insecure writer pops into my head, and I’m second and third guessing everything and I have written, I need to help to shut her up. This is when I turn to my support group of writers and listen when they say, “Pat you don’t suck!” Then I move on and push through.

And finally, an important part of my process, is doing everything I can to not think when I’m working on first drafts. Prompts and time writing exercises help me with this. I know if I can get through a rough first draft, or as Anne Lamont would say, “A shitty first draft,” all the answers to my questions about character, plot, the whole story, I’ll also realize that most of the answers, if not all, to my story, are right there in the work. If I really shut off my conscious brain and let my subconscious take over and I write through the end of a first draft, all of the answers to what my revision needs is already in the book. Sometimes it’s a line or an image but usually the answer as to where to go next or what has to change in the plot or character development is already there. It just needs to have the spotlight shined it.

riding a camelIn short, my writing process is a bit like it was to ride a camel for two and half hours in the Sahara. I had to trust my Bedouin guide to take me where I needed to go. Without the trust in the process, instead of feeling safe, I could feel freaked out and not have any fun at all. Yes, my writing process, when it’s working, is about having faith and letting go so that my characters can guide me from one sand dune to the next.

Maria, thank you again for inviting me to be part of this wonderful blog tour.

I am thrilled to be able to introduce our next three writers. Check out their posts next Thursday, August 21, 2014, and find out who grew up on a farm and gets up every morning at 5 AM to write.

Alexandra Soiseth will be posting next week, on August 21, 2014, at: http://alexandrasoiseth.com.

AlexAlexandra is the Associate Director of the MFA Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College where she also teaches. She has her BA from the University of Saskatchewan, her BAA from Ryerson University and her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.  She has taught writing to a variety of students including undergraduate and graduate students, as well as high school students, seniors, and men and women in prison. She is the recipient of a Canada Arts Council grant, an Ontario Arts Council grant, and is the former managing editor of and communications director for Global City Review, a New York City based literary magazine. Her work has appeared on babycenter.com, literarymama.com, and in McGill Street Magazine, CrossBRONX: A Showcase and Resource for Bronx Writers, and on the radio program LifeRattle, among others. Her memoir, Choosing You, was published in 2008 by Seal Press.

Alia Yunis will be posting, on August 21, 2014, at www.aliayunis.com.

Alia_YunisGermanyBorn in Chicago, Alia Yunis is an award winning journalist, author and filmmaker who grew up in the Midwest, Lebanon and Greece but spent the longest time calling Los Angeles home. A Pen Emerging Voices fellow, her debut novel, The Night Counter (Crown/Random House 2010) has been critically acclaimed by the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and several other publications.

It was also chosen as a top summer read by the Chicago Tribune and Boston Phoenix. In 2012, she produced Dreams in the Eyes, a short documentary filmed in Lebanon that won several awards at international film festivals. She is in post-production on a half hour documentary, The Return, and in production on a feature length documentary, The Golden Harvest, about how olive oil changed the Mediterranean. Her writing has appeared in several journals and anthologies. Her journalism includes articles for The Los Angeles Times, Saveur, SportsTravel Magazine, and Aramco World. Alia currently teaches film at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, and has just completed a middle grade novel, Making Miracles in Minnesota.

Gregory A. McVey-Russell, or less ostentatiously gar, will be posting, on August 21, 2014 at http://www.thegarspot.com/about/.

garGar was born in 1965 in White Memorial Hospital, meaning he truly was born in East LA. He was then raised in South Central LA. And yes, he continues to call it South Central. He bumbled around at UCLA for a few years then ended up in the Oakland where he’s lived since 1989. He is married and he plays tabla.

Why I Write by George Kimeldorf

From Seeker to FinderWhy do I write? I’m not a writer. Now in my seventies, I have only written one book, a non-fiction book, and don’t plan to write another. I wrote the book (with a lot of help) because I had something worthwhile to say. I never learned how to write well, but I did learn how to be happy. I actually took a formal course in happiness and have taught what I’ve learned to others. So, what I say in the book is that happiness is an ordinary skill, like writing or playing the piano, which you can learn.

My book describes what I’ve learned and how I learned it. It also tells of many mistakes I and others have made in our search for happiness. For example, I found self-help books, positive thinking, and affirmations to be counterproductive.

Do you want to be a successful writer? That’s a great goal, but success won’t make you happy. Successful writers, like successful athletes and successful actors, are not happier than other people. Be in the present and enjoy the process of writing. Just don’t expect to be happier in the future when you attain your goal. Will you be happy when your work is accepted for publication? Yes, but that happiness will be short-lived. In fact, academic psychologists have studied lottery winners and found, after the initial euphoria wore off, that they were no happier than before they won the lottery. That’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It is very difficult to find happiness by modifying the external circumstances of your life.

You could probably teach me a bit about writing so that I would be a better writer, but it would take discipline and practice for me to become proficient. The same is true for happiness. My book will teach you a bit about happiness so that you will be a somewhat happier person, but it takes discipline and practice to experience peace of mind, joy, and satisfaction regardless of the circumstances in your life. My book can definitely point you in the right direction.

Why did I write my book? I didn’t write it to make money: The book is priced at under $7.00, so that royalties will never cover my cost of production and promotion. I didn’t write it to attain credibility to promote other activities like teaching: I am retired and have had only had a few students whom I’ve taught for free. I certainly didn’t write it expecting appreciation, admiration, or adulation.

I had four reasons for writing the book. First, I enjoyed doing it.

Second, the book was a labor of love: an expression of gratitude, love, and generosity for those who taught me this invaluable skill of happiness. It is my way to “pay it forward.”

Third, whenever I teach, I am my own best student. Writing the book reminded me of what I had learned and helped me sharpen my skills and avoid destructive ways of thinking.

My fourth motivation in writing the book was to make a minor contribution to the effort of making this world a better place for everyone. The book demonstrates clearly that learning to be happy is not mystical, mysterious, or magical. Happiness is an ordinary skill which anybody can learn. Suppose the art of happiness were taught in schools alongside arithmetic and reading. Imagine what the world might become if people practiced love, generosity, and forgiveness, forsaking greed and the quest for power. Could we have peace on earth in a few generations? What if drug users no longer needed chemicals to find joy and peace of mind?

You can help me make the world a better place by buying the book, reading it, and then giving it away. The book is From Seeker to Finder: Discovering Everyday Happiness by George Kimeldorf. You can find further information about the book at www.fromseekertofinder.com and buy the book at amazon.com.

The Reason Why I Hate Parties by Scott Bergstrom

Bergstrom Author PhotoThere’s a reason I hate parties. Right after meeting a fellow guest for the first time, they invariably ask me, “So, Scott, what do you so?” At this point I usually look away, take a deep swallow of whatever I’m drinking, and tell them I’m a writer. Eyebrows rise. Noses crinkle. “Really?” they ask. Then, invariably: “How did you get in that?”

It’s at this point that I lie. I tell stories about my love of the written word. The joy of creating new worlds. The nearly erotic pleasure of placing great characters in nasty situations. But none of these are true. The fact is, I write because I’m addicted to it.

You see, there’s a demon inside me that compels me to write stories. The addiction started early. In middle school, I wrote an epic fantasy novel that had grown to 400 pages before I abandoned it. It was terrible, of course; my two main literary influences at the time were Tolkien and the Die Hard movies. But I simply couldn’t stop myself from working on it. Like some junkie, I’d wake up early every morning, slink to a dim corner of my parents’ unfinished basement, and indulge the demon: plunking out ream after ream of awful prose on an ancient, rattling IBM Selectric II.

I managed to kick the addiction for a while. Or kind of. After college, I took a job as a copywriter at a large ad agency in Manhattan. But this was like an alcoholic taking a job in a bar. Temptation to be creative was all over the place, and it wasn’t long before I succumbed. I fell off the wagon in my mid-20s, and began another epic novel, this one about politics and intrigue in late-90s Russia. Like my first attempt, it was overlong and overwrought. The difference was that this time the early drafts garnered praise from writers I respected, real novelists who knew their stuff. I had found my enablers.

Over time, it became easier to hide the addiction. In my day job, I’d risen through the ranks and actually made something of myself. I became a respected creative director. Started a family. Got myself a mortgage. I was a responsible writer for a while, indulging only on the side. A few non-fiction books here. Some articles in magazines there. But the demon’s thirst could not be slaked, and no matter how well my career was going, the desire to write pulled at me. During meetings, I wrote bits of dialogue, pretending I was just taking notes. In my office late at night, I worked out plot twists on my white board as my colleagues looked on with admiration, thinking I was a dedicated corporate soldier burning the midnight oil.

These days I don’t bother trying to hide my addiction. Indulging it is what I do. It’s my fulltime job. “I really respect your dedication to your art,” some of the kinder people at the parties tell me. At this I just smile. It’s not dedication, I want to tell them. It’s louche indulgence, nothing more. The fact is, after all these years, it’s still hard to say it aloud: My name is Scott. And I’m a writer.

Scott Bergstrom is a writer and traveler fascinated by the darker, unloved corners of the world’s great cities. His books and articles on architecture and urbanism have been widely published both in the United States and Europe. The Cruelty is his first novel. You can see more at http://www.thecruelty.net.



peter-sacco-midnight-eclipse_picOften times, I am asked why do I like to write, or why did I get into writing? I can answer that it is not about the money (but the money is great!), rather for the passion that it stirs inside of me. I get to tap on my keyboard and literally (pun intended) “key” my expressions into literature and self-help books.

For starters, writing is not only enjoyable, but the best catharsis, rather make that an escape from the mundane rigors of the real world. It is my time to make the colors, sounds and actions that fill my mind, often times racing uncontrollably with unbridled energy, come to life on my computer screen. In fact, sometimes the characters in my stories tell me how things are going to be in terms of plotlines and endings, so I just sit back and listen to them hoping that I pay them the respect that they so deserve in my stories.

The very first thing I ever wrote was a screenplay…then another screenplay and then another. Friends of mine who were in film told me they were really, really good–they were amusing and entertaining! Then came the big question, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?”. “Hmmm, are you kidding me, me a novelist?” I would often times respond. The idea of writing a complete novel was daunting, if not nerve wracking. What the heck did I now about writing novels? After all, my education (Master’s Degree and Ph.D.) were in psychology. I sure as heck was no Hemingway! Upon further influencing, coaxing and prodding, I decided to try a short story, then another and many more before I finished my first book Fear Factors, a collection of short stories which were sci-fi, fantasy and horror-based. And then my writing of both fiction and non-fiction started full-swing!

TBGI write with the primary focus of creating a solid story from start to finish, developing characters that readers can relate to, and of course entertaining individuals that I am very blessed to have reading my books. I believe that art definitely imitates life and captures it in black and white pages. Even though I try to make characters and colors as vivid as possible, I leave it up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the proverbial dots. As an author, I like to think of my work as a “paint by number” fun activity–I create the picture, connect the dots, color-code each piece on the canvas, and you get to fill in the strokes. In the end, we are both artists to this process in that what I have written you get to read and interpret based on your own perception. Interestingly, my novel Touched By Grace is about an artist who not only uses a canvas and paints to touch the lives of others, but he is also trying to paint a surprise ending to a life that has become so mundane and disheartening. It is amazing that when love shows up in a person’s life, how colorful and vivid life truly becomes!

Touched By Grace was something I experimented with about a decade ago and finally put into print recently. It is something altogether different from what I am accustomed to writing. It really pulled me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to express emotions–love, joy, disappointment, rejection and acceptance at the deepest levels of humanity. As an author, I like to stretch the proverbial boundaries and takes things beyond expected limits.

When I wrote The Lost Fountain, I wanted to reach a tween/YA audience that could put themselves in the boots of a modern-day Harry Potter meets Indiana Jones explorer. It was a very “touching” story because it hits upon real-life issues such as Progeria Diease (a premature aging disease which kills kids).  Then there was Midnight Eclipse, the second vampire novel I wrote. Being an avid Stephen King fan as a youngster, as well as a lover of Alfred Hitchcock film masterpieces, I decided to do some justice for vampire lovers–I explained where they came from. Some reviewers dubbed it “Horrific Historical Vampire Fiction” in a good way!

When people start to tell you that your writing “affects” them, it makes you want to write even more. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find catharsis in my own writing, as well as even entertaining myself. Yes, I do find that I enjoy writing because it allows me to tell myself stories–ones that I didn’t even know were in me! As a social psychologist and radio talk show host who deals with “self-help” issues, Matters of the Mind (my radio show), fiction writing provides me a place to spread my wings and create fantasy, comedy, drama, science-fiction and horror. Each day is a new day and you never know what life may bring your way, or what new ideas your mind whispers, “Hey, I have this really great idea for a new story…”.


Peter Andrew Sacco is a former psychologist, psychology professor and author of 25 books both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to 700 articles published in newspapers, magazines and journals, Sacco appears regularly on television and radio shows both in the United States and Canada, and is host of the weekly Toronto radio show Matters of the Mind, and host of the hit TV series Niagara’s Most Haunted. To learn more about him, visit him at petersacco.com or on Facebook.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Tsara Adelman

I wrote Wrong Place, Wrong Time because I loved the story and I wanted to read it.  When I realized no one else had written it, my imperative became clear.

tilia7I had been published before, mostly for nonfiction; but the grip that this story had on me was different.  It started as a daydream inspired by a movie about a kidnapping.  The victim is a young, beautiful woman (surprise!); the man who steals her away is hunky and devilishly insouciant.   It’s very light-hearted, and only the bad guys got hurt.

But what if this happened in real life? I thought.

How would the characters be different?  What would happen after the crime was solved?  In movies, the happy ending occurs when people stop responding to the story.  In real life, we carry our experiences around with us every day.  I would suggest that by the time any of us is about eight, we have enough life experiences under our belts to fuel at least one novel if not a whole series.

What if the kidnap victim were Jewish?  Not Hollywood Jewish, meaning either a Holocaust victim or New York neurotic with thick glasses.  What if this person were a smart, funny, tough Jewish woman who might conceivably live next door to me and carpool her kids to Hebrew school at our synagogue?

Soon my head was full of people I had never met but always known.  They were in a desperate situation none of them could have imagined (but I did).  I walked around with them all day.  I took them to bed with me at night.  We were constant companions.

Eventually, perhaps out of self-defense, I decided to let them out.  In other words, write their story.

The first step, of course, was creating character bios so that when the action started I wouldn’t have to wonder how my people would respond.

Meet my cast.

Tilia-VBTTsara Adelman. Tsara is the kind of person who writes “overeducated housewife” on forms that require a job description.  She is devoted to her husband and their two kids, Josh and Abbie, who are five and three respectively.  The fact that Tsara is a good mother is in many ways the backbone of her personality, and it was a conscious choice on my part because generally speaking, Jewish mothers in popular culture are a contemptible ethnic joke.  The ones I know in real life do not overfeed their children and smother them with inappropriate love, thereby damning them to a lifetime of therapy.  Like Tsara, they are reasonably sane people attempting to raise strong and loving children.

Tsara’s happiness is adumbrated by a decades-old family tragedy that makes her all the more grateful for her current serenity.

…You just know it’s not going to last, don’t you?

Mike Westbrook.  Mike is a former Marine with a criminal record, a battered soul who plays by his own rules. He has frequently run afoul of the police force in his small New Hampshire town, so when his only child is in peril he stops at nothing and no one to save the boy.  That includes the cops, the local bad guys—and, when she gets in his way, Tsara.

Erin Spaar and Victor Galen.  The two FBI agents who are called in to solve the case when Tsara goes missing posed an unexpected challenge for me:  when I first conceived of the story, they were minor characters whose main function was to unearth plot points.  As the story unfolded, however, and especially after I had the extraordinary privilege of interviewing two real FBI agents, Spaar and Galen took on lives of their own.  Which was a problem, because I hadn’t given them backstories and therefore didn’t know them well enough to script them properly.  In the end I went back and retrofitted biographies:  Spaar grew up the only child of an abusive marriage; in college, she fought off a would-be attacker and realized that she could defend herself.  This insight led her to a career in law enforcement.  Galen, I decided, was the oldest of ten kids in a Catholic family.  This gave him both a specific moral compass and a strong need to protect the vulnerable, especially children.  Once I figured all that out, Spaar and Galen began to work together beautifully as a team.

Thus was Wrong Place, Wrong Time released from my cranium; and this is what happens in the story:

When Tsara Adelman leaves her husband and two young children for a weekend to visit her estranged uncle, she little dreams he is holding several local children captive on his lavish estate.  Mike Westbrook, father of one of the boys, kidnaps her to trade her life for the children’s.  Soon Tsara and Mike are fleeing through New Hampshire’s mountain wilderness pursued by two rogue cops with murder on their minds.

I hope you enjoy it.

Writer Tilia Klebenov Jacobs has mastered the art of keeping readers in suspense with her newest release, Wrong Place, Wrong Time (October 1, 2013, Linden Tree Press).

Jacobs was born in Washington D.C. and studied at Oberlin College in Ohio where she earned a bachelor of arts in religion and English with a concentration in creative writing. After spending time as a park naturalist with the Fairfax County Park Authority in picturesque Virginia, she returned to school and obtained a master of theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a secondary school teaching certification from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1997. She went on to teach middle school, high school and college. She is a world traveler, having lived in or visited Colombia, Norway, England, Venezuela, Bulgaria, Israel and Jordan, among many other countries.

Jacobs has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction work. Her writing has appeared in The Jewish Magazine and anthologies including Phoenix Rising: Collected Papers on Harry Potter (2008, Narrate Conferences Inc.) and The Chalk Circle (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2012), a collection of intercultural essays.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time was designated IndieReader Approved and the book won honorable mention for the 2010 Joanna Catherine Scott Novel Excerpt Prize.

Tilia’s book Wrong Place, Wrong Time is also a recipient of book awards from London Book Festival and New England Book Festival.

For the past 12 years, Jacobs has lived in near Boston, Mass. with her husband, two children and their two standard poodles. She is a judge in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition and a member of Grub Street, Boston’s premier writing center. In addition to teaching writing at several state prisons in Massachusetts, she has been a guest blogger for Jungle Red Writers, Femmes Fatales and author Terri Giuliano Long’s website.

New Year’s Resolutions by Marlena Maduro Baraf

Prompt: For the first time in the history of your character, the character is actually following through on her New Year’s resolution.

Photo Marlena Maduro Baraf Jan 2014Oh, so you want to hear about me?  It’s all about me, indeed, me, me, me.  And will she, will she come through with the New Year’s plan to stay with it?  But the prompt says she will.  Isn’t that wonderful.  So she will write every day every day every day.  At least for one hour, for one hour only.  An easy task?  Impossible task.  Let’s pretend.  It’s January 11 today, only eleven days into the New Year commitment.  And what has our girl done?  Let’s pretend. The girl – or is it an old lady now nearing the bewitching age where she can’t escape the appellation “old.”  Can one publish a first book when “old?”  SEVENTY old?  What a fright! Freddy Krueger frightful.  I saw that movie with my eyes closed, clutching the arms of my husband and my cousin Daniel (now dead, dead, DEAD).  But then, I digress.

Our main character me me me is fulfilling her eleven-day-old resolution, if this prompt lasts one hour. Well, hell yes for today. Does she need a “container,” a serene place in which to write free of distractions, a photo of a beloved, air and light and view? Well, hell yes.  She’s done that. Everything is set. Whisper softly, lady M.  Siri is counting.

Now to establish a habit a habit a habit…

Marlena Maduro de Baraf (as you would say it in Panama, “belonging to Baraf”) has just completed the last draft of her memoir, Days of Opera, about coping with a difficult mother, about a Jewish girlboth insider outsider – living in a Catholic country, about leaving a galaxy of relations in order to find her self in another landscape. 

Marlena has moved between the worlds of books, writing and design over the years–as a book editor at McGraw-Hill and Harper & Row, a principal with Just North LLC, Interior Design Studio, and writing.  Always writing.  A vignette from her memoir was published in The Westchester Review.

It’s Only a Numbers Game by Nan Mutnick

wacfs4JYeYyzq_iILDV3gIOqAn8VV9xdtrWLnUs5qzEEvery year on my birthday I reverse the numbers of my age, and depending on the digits, either imagine what it will be like to be the future age or remember what I was like when I was the younger age.

For example, 24 was 42, and 42 was 24. It’s fun. I wondered at certain age whether the “older me” would still be wearing jeans. At other ages I recalled my first kiss, first date, and first dog. Luckily, at 13 I wouldn’t have imagined my father’s death when I turned 31. At 25, I imagined being married to my husband at 52, and at 52 I still was. At 37, as I held my baby girl I wondered if at 73 If I would be holding a grandchild.

Last year I couldn’t play the game. At 55, the number was the number.

It’s karma I told myself. It’s the year that I have to be me, the year that my baby would go off to college, the year that my husband and I would return to just the two of us again. The year I would finish my novel and let my writing go public. I worked on stillness and patience and learned to be a yoga teacher. I cleaned out my closets and threw away the clothes that at 54 I remembered wearing at 45 and thought well maybe next year I’ll fit into them again.

I looked in the mirror at 55 and saw that the scar from my thyroid surgery was fading, that I had recovered from the cancer that invaded my body at 53 and would never have been on my radar at 35, when all I could think of was getting pregnant.

So at 56 I am enjoying the prospect of social security at 65 while doing downward dog.

Nan Mutnick is an essayist and struggling novelist. She is a perpetual student at the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute.   As a certified yoga instructor she says “while in Standing forward bend the ideas tumble out of my heard on to the mat waiting for me to collect them.”

She lives in Westchester with her husband, daughter and dog Lucky.

Why I Write by Bill Gourgey

gourgeyIn the spirit of Letterman (interesting wordplay, that, for a piece like this), here’s a countdown of the top ten reasons why I write:

10. The page doesn’t talk back.

Ba-dum-bum…  But sometimes it does have that chilling blank stare.

9. My pen (keyboard) actually does what I ask.

Ba-dum-bum…  Be careful what you ask for!

8. Along with a prominent Do Not Disturb sign (which is as essential to a writer as pen and paper), writing provides good cover for catching a few Z’s.

Ba-dum-bum…  But that’s not the way to make dreams come true.

7. I can make things up without being accused of making things up.

Ba-dum-bum…  As they say, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance…

6. Words are the best kind of friends, always ready to play.

Ba-dum-bum…  But too much of a good thing…

5. I’ve been told I can’t think on my feet, so I compensate by thinking on my butt.

Ba-dum-bum…  But sometimes I find it hard not to make an ass of myself.

4. Writing is the only profession with a respectable excuse for slacking off.

Ba-dum-bum…  Whoever heard of Accountant’s Block?

3. Since I can’t afford therapy, I write.

Ba-dum-bum…  But you’re sure to go insane if you ever try to calculate the opportunity cost buried in revision.

2. Since I’m a wimp, writing allows me to exact revenge on reviled relatives and frenemies without fear of reprisal.

Ba-dum-bum…  Don’t forget the “This is a work of fiction” disclaimer on that copyright page!

And the number one reason why I write (drum roll):

1.  Writing is the best soul food around.

Ba-dum-bum…  But eating your words is not recommended.

Perhaps this old Latin proverb captures best what motivates me most: verba volant, scripta manent. In other words, being mortal (and more painfully aware of it every year), it’s nice to think I might leave behind something that could stand the test of time. So, I write.

After spending two decades in the field of technology, Bill Gourgey put his expertise to work as a full-time writer, releasing the first book in his “Glide” trilogy in 2011.

Gourgey served as a managing partner at Accenture where he was awarded a patent for Software Service Architectures. Now, he spends time as a venture capital partner at Omni Capital and a technology advisor for startup companies. He is a member of the Alpha Sigma Mu and Tau Beta Pi engineering honor societies.

NuLogicVBTGourgey’s first science fiction novel, “Glide” (2011, Jacked Arts Press), has drawn more than 5 million reads on Wattpad.com, and the second book in the series, “Nu Logic,” received a highly coveted starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Gourgey has contributed to Wattpad, PatrickMcMullan.com, Wavecloud and Enterprise Systems Journal. He is also the author of the short story collection “Unfamiliar Fruit” (2012, Jacked Arts Press) and the book of poetry “Outside the Box” (2007-2008, Jacked Arts Press).