The Challenge: In flight

Things are going okay with the Challenge. I’m taking a short break from the world of ‘The Unlikely Detective’ to write a bit about something I just stumbled onto while I was reading the latest news of the ‘Real World’. I put that in quotes because these days I’m feeling like I’ve stepped through the looking glass and am now living in a nightmarish alternate reality filled with ‘alternate facts’.

Anyway, regular readers of this blog may have picked up on my interest in words. Today I found a new one and though its existence didn’t surprise me, when I thought about it, I really hadn’t thought about it until today. The word is ‘Advertorial’. That’s right – Advertorial – and it’s in the online Merriam-Webster, listed in the bottom 20 percent in popularity. It’s formed (obviously?) from the birth of a conjoined advertisement and editorial fetus.

This is not good.

In this new Alternate Reality to which we’ve been transported  I don’t know if we have a Federal Trade Commission and Truth In Advertising laws. Chances are that we don’t. I’d like to get a legal opinion on whether advertorials, as a class of advertisements, are in violation of the Truth laws. The advertorial is a deliberate attempt to mislead the consumers into thinking that they’re reading a factual news article when it’s just another advertisement that might be true and correct.

Well, that’s all for now. Back to the Challenge and the story of Mabel, her cats, her friend Felicity who’s taking up a major role in the unfolding drama of ‘The Body In the Sauna.’ The characters are telling a story that’s a little bit different from the one I had imagined. I have to let them speak. It’s their story and they lived it. I’m only now hearing about it so I have to tell it to you the way they tell it to me.

It’s like I’m their ghost writer. Funny feeling, that.

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The Challenge: Week Three

Another intense week with a low word count but considerable progress.

Distractions came with the terrible news that America was getting a new President who likes books very much and even reads them. He even wrote one, well he had one ghost written for him, but that still counts, doesn’t it? The thing is that he announced his intention to take away support for the arts. That bothered me. Well, there’s more but I don’t want to talk about that, here.

The exigencies of financial survival demanded most of my time. Gotta earn a living and my earning activities took up the better part of the week, though I managed about a thousand words and much reading up on the nuts and bolts of selling books. My first book was written and kicked out of the nest with no preparation and no follow-up support.

“Fly my eagle,” I commanded.

It fell to the ground and lay there, breathing but unmoving. I’m not going to repeat that mistake.

I’m still determined to finish; a big effort over the next ten days must be enough.

In the meantime, here’s a song I wrote last night.

I was forced to write this in spite of my commitment to the Challenge. I justified it as clearing the mental and emotional workspace of irrelevant clutter.


Midnight comes too quickly
And stays too long
Moments of living and loving
Hidden in my song.

What remains is all I am
When there’s nothing left.

So blow wind blow
While I tell this winter’s tale
Of the sun’s sweet victory
We know how this one ends.

What remains is all I am
When there’s nothing left.

Sweet mother mine
Your fatal offspring
We poor unfortunates
Deny redemption

What remains is all I am
When there’s nothing left.

Sweet mother mine
No mercy no mercy

Now comes the silent spring. (Repeat  three times to fade)

It’s a song, set to original music; I’d play it for you but I don’t want to send you running for the hills.



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The Challenge: Week Two

Bad week – I managed to produce little more than two thousand words. And this is entirely owing to my situation and the demands of our homeschool and our business.

As the kids grow older educating them becomes more demanding, not because of anything inherent in education or in homeschooling but because of the hoops through which the system in New York demands they jump. We are reduced to the role of trainers, teaching our performing lions a repertoire of tricks, and education becomes a circus. There’s a word for that – ridiculous.

I’m not resentful of the time I spend with them. This morning Zizi (my eleven year old) wanted to know if there was a difference between ‘sardonic’ and ‘sarcastic’ and that prompted her siblings to jump in with their opinions on this question. We keep a library version of the New Oxford  Dictionary, Third Edition in their common room, on its own stand and I encourage them to use it often. My purpose here was to avoid reliance on the Internet as arbiter of truth.

Now that’s education and in this homeschool it’s always on. In this context hoop-jumping is a huge distraction.

Business is business and money is necessary. I can only hope and dream that I can work my way to the place where writing is my business.

I did manage to spend some time researching the collected wisdom (on the Internet) on marketing, with the result that I’ve posted the first chapter on Wattpad. It’s a test of the idea of the book and I’m hoping for feedback, either in comments on Wattpad; here on my WordPress blog; or in private email to I intend to design my own cover and have posted the first design choice along with the chapter on Wattpad. I intend to do at least two more, to give myself some choices and to allow people to help me decide on the final version of the cover. For convenience here it is.



I would be super grateful if readers of this blog would comment on my effort here.

On to next week then, and stepped-up production to make up for the setbacks. Thanks for the support and until next time, give it your all, and be well.

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Tiny Fish Brain GPS

I home school my three school-age kids and this blogger consistently publishes useful reading for the kids. Recommend a follow.

Gringa of the Barrio

(Originally posted 1/11/17 on Read With The Gringa)

The gringa recently read a report published by researchers who discovered that the larvae of cardinalfish, a favorite community aquarium fish, use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate in the wild. Considering that tiny little fish are not prone to use telescopes to navigate by the stars, this should really come as no surprise to these scientists.

Now, the gringa wants to know just how important this scientific discovery is. I mean, think about it. Consider how much money and time was invested. Will this knowledge do the world any darn good? Does it really matter, in the grand scheme of things, that these tiny little fish babies can find their way back home through a few miles of underwater coral reefs or brackish shallows? Will this somehow contribute to making the world a better place?

What’s the value of discovering…

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The Challenge: Week One

It’s Saturday, the last day of the first week of the Challenge, my private NaNoWriMo clone for January. It’s only coincidental that this is a new year; I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions and this wasn’t one.

Anyway, this is the seventh day of the first week and here, as promised, is my weekly report.

I got off to a pretty good start, writing 3,176 words on the first day. On Day 2, I came close to that with 2,505 words. Production declined after that as financial employment and family duties demanded more time. On the third day I wrote 1,305 words; on the fourth, I managed to push it back up a bit, to 2,447. The fifth day was a busy one and I barely passed the 1K mark with 1,149 words. Friday was almost as bad, with 1,225 words but today, with fewer demands on my time, I managed to write a whopping 2,841 words. My grand total for the first week – 14,648 words. I’m going to have to do better next week if I’m to get this done on schedule.

I took the first chapter to a review session with my old writer’s group and got some excellent suggestions. They thought that I had made a pretty good start. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m happy with the work so far. This book is the first in a series – The Unlikely Detective – about an ordinary young woman, an Indie writer of Romance novels who loves her cats and her psychiatrist husband, not necessarily in that order. When a trainer at her gym is found dead in the sauna, Mabel assumes the responsibility of solving the mystery surrounding the young woman’s sudden death. The working title is The Body in the Sauna.

I intend to do it all myself, again, but I could use a few good readers to help me spot mistakes. Free copies; a mention on my acknowledgements page; my gratitude and commitment to return the favor on demand, that’s what you get in return.


PS: Went back to the file and did a little rewriting that increased today’s word count to 3,109 words and the week’s total to 14,916. Just trying to keep the numbers straight.

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The ‘Not-Illegal’ President

I just have to do it. Tomorrow begins my writing marathon and I don’t imagine I’ll have the time or the energy to write about some of the other things that matter to me so though I’ve already posted a piece today, I need to get this off my chest.

I’m making a prediction about a particular phrase that we’re going to be hearing a lot in the future — many people are going to do things that the Press will report as not-illegal. Maybe the first instance of the usage will occur in descriptions of the new President’s financial dealings.

You see, given the fact that it’s illegal to trade with insider information it seems to me that Trump’s Twitter habit positions him to make a clever end run around the Stock Act.

Don’t underestimate the man; ignorant yes, dull as well. And brutish but he can understand how to carry out instructions. And he’s just smart enough to saddle up with some evil clever ones who can help him with the finer points of things that might be too complex for him to see clearly and manage on his own. So he has nominated Vincent Viola to be his Secretary of the Army. Viola is currently the Executive Chairman of Virtu Financial, the private corporation he founded and where he made most of his billions.

Virtu Financial is one of those new High Frequency Trading (HFT)companies that inhabit a zone between legality and illegality. HFT was made possible by modern computer systems and the laws need some serious updating to catch up with their methods. Legal authorities and scholars are trying to figure out which of the existing regulations – insider trading is one possibility – can be updated and amended to control HFT. Some say the real danger is the inherent propensity of this kind of trading to cause markets to crash. It’s irresponsible to trade that way they say. We all know what the new Pres will say to that –


And with Viola to help his dealings, he will be able to use his Twitter account to enrich himself and his new winner cronies in ways that are one or two steps ahead of the law and consequently untouchable. Think about it. He tweets some shit about say, Boeing. Now that’s public info that he could simultaneously share with his trading partner who then uses his HFT organization to make money off the effect of the Presidential Tweet on the market. That would be completely not-illegal. You can’t be charged with insider trading for information that’s been made public. But you can still make money on it. Trump is going to love it; makes sense, his insisting that he’s going to be  the Twitter President.

Finally he sees a way to become as rich as he already boasts! And it’s … you got it …


That phrase is going to become one of the catch phrases of the next four years … at least.

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The Challenge: Day Zero

It’s December 31st 2016, day zero of the Challenge, my personal, public commitment to write a novel of at least fifty thousand words in January. In this blog I intend to publish a weekly report  on my progress. It’s a little bit scary, but I’m determined to do this.

When it’s done, it will be only my second book but in this small experience I’ve come to appreciate the pleasures of writing. My first book (The Obeahman’s Dagger)was an intense personal experience. It changed me in ways that I’m still discovering and as I begin the second I’m already finding myself in a completely new and exciting world. Let me explain.

The working title for this novel is The Unlikely Detective: The Body in the Sauna and the Detective is a young woman who starts out with no interest in police work. She loves animals, especially cats, and is in the habit of talking with her two cats, Doris and Edward. Cats have, in the past, shared my life. They are interesting animals, full of personality. As are all animals, if you’re paying attention. My own cat story goes like this.

I was feeling pretty down about my life that day. Things had not been going well in my marriage and my finances and that morning I was puttering about the house trying to decide what to do next. My daughter’s cat, an animal that she had rescued and brought to me as a days-old kitten, was occupying the sofa, as was her lazy habit. My daughter was about nine or ten years old when she brought the cat to me that day, with tears in her eyes, begging for help with the rescue. We fed that cat with a dropper until it was old enough to lap milk from a saucer. In my depression I sat down heavily next to the cat on the sofa. I sighed, sad and confused. Then that cat did something that is still strongly impressed on my memory.

Without moving from its curled up situation on the sofa, the cat gently stretched a front paw to touch my leg. There was a conscious pressure in the act as she held her paw against my flesh and I had the distinct impression that she was offering comfort and strength and I was comforted. The cat gave me something then that I appreciated. I still cannot explain why I felt the way I did then and I guess that to most people it’ll sound bizarre. For me it remians something that I filed away as one of those things about life that you just know but cannot understand or explain. It just is, undeniably.

So as I begin to research for my character, Mabel the cat-woman, the Unlikely Detective of the story, I’m reading about cats and about the people who love the animals and who actually communicate with them. And I’m entering, again, a fascinating new world. I’ve already encountered a woman, Sonya Fitzpatrick, who claims to be a pet psychic. She has a book, Cat Talk: The Secrets of Communicating with Your Cat, that I’m just now reading.

I haven’t decided yet whether it’s a good book but so far, the writing is pretty good and the whole thing has an air of ‘truthiness’ about it. This is not a plug for the book; I know nothing about the self-described Pet Psychic at this time. But the topic is intriguing and the intrigue is the thing that I’m enjoying as I begin my research. Learning new things is what makes the job of writing a fun and exciting thing to do.

Tomorrow it begins, Day One of the Challenge. I don’t think that I’ll have time for regular blogging but I will post weekly reports on my progress. I’ll try to make those more than just word counts; writing is so much more than producing words. I will try to live up to the ‘confessions’ part of the blog’s stated intent.

Happy New Year to all. I hoping for a better world, for all of us, in 2017.

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Ironic Science

I’ve always been reluctant to sign up with the Department of Motor Vehicles, aka the DMV, as an organ donor. In one of those instances of being unable to make up my mind, I simply postponed a decision every time it came up. It’s a strategy I borrowed from a friend of mine, deciding by doing nothing. It’s a bit of self-delusion but it allowed me to live with other people’s embrace of the science of organ replacement. For myself, it’s a no go. I’ve told all my loved ones that I want a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in place for me. But what about other people? Do I think that everyone should go DNR?

The short answer is no. As you read this, I’ve a very good friend who’s waiting for an organ to become available. A team of surgeons is on standby to perform a sixteen hour surgical procedure to open his body, remove the defective organ and replace it with a healthy one that, in all probability, will come from the body of a traffic fatality. That’s the first bite of irony, that my friend’s happy ending  depends on someone’s tragic death. But there’s more.

In another great leap forward our wonderful scientists have come up with driverless cars. One of the eagerly anticipated benefits of this advance is a reduction in the rate of fatalities on the nation’s well traveled roads. And there it is. The second ironic bit, that the reduction in the occurrence of traffic accident fatalities reduces the chances of people like my friend getting the happy ending they’ve been anticipating for so long.

I’m not against science and the development of understanding of ourselves and our world. I’m for caution in turning every new discovery into profit. The rush to monetize new science is what I’m against. We need to appreciate the magnificent complexity of our Universe and restrain the hubris that we feel every time we make some little advance in our observations. Ability should not compel action. Look at the Atomic Bomb. Look at what we’ve done.

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Moody Monday: Post-Christmas Blues

I love my family, my friends, my colleagues, my people. A friend who knows how I feel about celebrating Christmas made me a present anyway — a beautiful coat rack made entirely from salvage. I was touched but it’s still a difficult season for me. We must appreciate each other and I’m grateful for the good fortune with which I’m blessed but my joy is watery, diluted with tears.  You my friends are the bringers of joy inside those tears.

This morning I heard the voice of NPR busily engaged in the normalizing project, talking about Trump and his people as if all was well with the world and we could go about our business as usual.

We may not. It’s imperative that we recognize and hold in our consciousness the fact that we’re on the edge of the precipice and slipping. We must resist, even if that’s all there is for us to do. Even if it’s a only a gesture. Let’s do it together.

Now I wish that Miss Peggy Lee were here to sing this version. Wish I could sing it for you today.

When I was twenty-one
the People marched for Peace
while that year in Viet-Nam
it rained fire from the sky.

When I was fifty-one
as another war
Rained shock and awe
marching feet marched on.

And when all was still
I said to myself

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is 
To Democracy?

I remember a movement
ninety-nine percent of a nation
demanding a voice
a place at the table.

Then they went away
and I said to myself

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is 
To the People?

I remember being outraged
by the nasty ignorance
the unapologetic racism
the brutish misogynism
of the man
who would be President

And then he ran
and then he won
And when it was over
I said to myself

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is 
To our Outrage?
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The Challenge

The Challenge begins with a need. My need — for money. I’m an anti-capitalist, in my personal philosophy, but as John Updike once pointed out, we live in a capitalist economy and in it we must survive and thrive. For better or worse, I’m a writer; it’s what I’ve always been, in spite of having no professional publications to my name. It was just a couple of years ago that I decided to own that profession and to describe myself that way in public. When people asked me what I did I would answer that I was a Writer. Just so. A year ago I self-published my first novel.

Get it here.

That was an education, let me tell you. I graduated from Brooklyn College without any Creative Writing credits, though the Professor who taught the English 101 course did tell me that I was a Writer; I hardly noticed his comment then but with hindsight, I understand what he was telling me so cryptically. Professor, I understand.

The Challenge is to write a trilogy at the rate of one novel a month. With each one a minimum of 50k words. (That’s the NaNoWriMo length and lots of people have done that. So it’s eminently doable. )

And I’m talking about good words. I want a best seller and that’s what I intend to write.

Now it’s your turn. Is there anyone out there who’s willing to take up The Challenge with me? Let’s hear from you and get this thing going from January 1, 2017.

In the meantime I’ve collected some inspiration from across the web that I’ve posted on the wall over my workdesk.

Writers who’ve done it.

Muriel Spark wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in under a month.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days.

John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in less than three days.

Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road in less than three weeks.

Many writers complete the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Matt Forbeck wrote Death Match in two weeks.


Writing Rules for Me

Focus on characters.

Remember that you’re trying to make a living as a storyteller

Forget all your literary stuff; it’s boring.

Listen to yourself; read your writing out loud before you click save.

Save often.

Read lots of books from as wide a variety of writers as you can assemble. Don’t include anyone just because they’re supposed to be ‘Great Writers’. Don’t exclude anyone who’s not on the ‘A’ list.

Write carefully constructed sentences, that surprise, delight, and satisfy your reader.

You’re a Genius. Your stories are among the best ever told and you can write as well as anyone, better than most.

Be open to your characters as you write; it’s their story after all.


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