Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How well do you know what you're thinking?

I write books. I dream characters who really don't exist. I get inside their minds, or they in mine. I mold their mysteries like clay until the story's done. Then I look for a publisher, the books comes out, and I dream of readers who also don't exist.

Even unread, those characters remain quite real to me, as if I really know their worlds, their struggles and pains and rewards. Which kind of begs the question, do I know real people as well as I know them? And how well does anyone know anyone else? Or themself?

Mindwise by Nicholas Epley suggests we all have a sixth sense which we employ in predicting other people's thoughts and behavior. It's an interesting book, though I don't always agree with the experimental results - I found myself coming up with other reasons for behavior, rather than the one being postulated. But that's just me. All the same, it's  full of fascinating, often amusing experiments, and some seriously disturbing statistics. Enjoy with some seriously dark five-star coffee.

In contrast, 99 Creative Wows Words of Wisdom for Business by Randi Brill offers soundbite suggestions on how to read and speak to our own mindset and other people's. It's beautifully presented in single page graphics, well-organized and color-coded. It's also filled with some remarkable apt aphorisms - perfect encouragement for an author in search of readers perhaps. Pleasingly readable, enjoy this with a pleasingly drinkable, lively two-star coffee.

Two Dogs and a Parrot by Joan Chittister uses the author's experience with dogs to illustrate how we can learn what we and others are thinking through relationships with our pets. Learning how wounded pets break through without becoming broken might be a powerful way to see how wounded we ourselves (and our friends) are. Meanwhile... well, there are dogs! Enjoy this balanced blend of animal stories, quiet theology, and intriguing psychology with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

David Bouchier's An Unexpected Life isn't trying to teach readers anything. It's a fascinating memoir that invites readers into the author's mind. The story's told in chapters that read like well-wrought essays, each leading clearly into the next, yet each with its own distinct timeline, location and theme. The author's English, now living in the States. He's older than I, and he doesn't have kids. All the same, I feel like I've sat drinking French wine with him and listening to his tale. We might have swapped memories of Cambridge. He might have encouraged me to find listeners since I'm failing at finding readers. His voice and his sense of humor held me in thrall, so enjoy this one with a seriously smooth, well-balanced three-star coffee.

Then there's The Grandma Syndrome by Judy Greene: a novel with a cleverly disguised lesson, a curious parable perhaps, and an overtly Christian tale that succeeds in conveying points of view without aggressively trying to convert. An eleven-year-old girl needs a grandma to look after her, but gets her high-flying, super-successful, hyper-healthy, slim and aggressively powerful aunt instead. The parable intriguingly invites readers to see how we see each other and how others see us. Points of view are radically changed. And faith--well that's a major part of it, but not the punchline--after all, there might be touches of magic too! Enjoy this intriguing tale with an elegantly complex four-star coffee.

So... to see ourselves as others see us; to see others; to see, or not to see. They were all good books, very different from each other. Enjoy!




Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Why France? Why Austen? And why be a stranger?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Evy Journey to my blog as she tours the internet with her novel, Welcome Reluctant Stranger. I trust she won't feel like a reluctant stranger visiting here. Welcome, Evy. Please find a drink and pull up a chair, and guests, please join our conversation.

First of all, Evy, I know you've visited France several times and would like to live there. Why do you like France?

·         Because it has Paris which has or does many of my favorite things. It’s a vibrant city where la joie de vivre is often evident in so many ways; and
·         You needn’t go beyond your block (or two) to find a boulangerie where you can get a warm crusty baguette in late afternoon, great macarons or tasty tarts—fresh, everyday. And cheap, compared to pastries you buy in fancy bakeries in the US.
·         France is a veritable tableau where a gathering of people in a park reminds you of a Manet or Monet painting; and
·         An ode to light and colors celebrated in artistic revolutions that gave birth to gothic churches and modern art, starting with Impressionism.
·         Cultivating food and wine is considered part of the patrimoine  (French national heritage), and French chefs “invented” mayonnaise and many other dishes and sauces to make eating a pleasure and a heartwarming experience.

Ooh, you have me wishing I could go back there now! But I know you like Jane Austen too, so that's my second question. Why do you like Jane Austen
A biography of Jane Austen made it clear to me why I love her: Far from being a shy, retiring country gentlewoman, she had an exquisite feel for satire; was intelligent, independent-minded, self-confident and self-aware.  She was driven more by her art than a quest for fame or money. She was also a realist.
I admire how Ms. Austen can seamlessly weave a gentle satire on manners into a love story. One of my favorite quotes from a letter she wrote:
“I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up, and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.”
Okay, I think you've hit on most of the reasons why I love Jane Austen too. So now, knowing that you're an artist, I have to ask what attracts you to art?
I paint—with oils, acrylics, pastels, and for the last few years, digital medium as well. Art-making is as necessary to me as writing. After months working on a book, I need a break. I’ve played with haiku, but usually, I have fun with one of my art apps or I mess around with charcoal or pastels on a sketchbook. Art-making breaks the tension and stress, the monotony and boredom that come with writing intensely for long periods.
I especially enjoy sketching or painting figures. Maybe, that’s like fleshing out characters with words.
I've done that sometimes too. I'm not sure I'm ready to release the results on the world though. Words are my more "natural" medium, and they seem to be a medium you're very comfortable with too. So my final question... Why do you love writing?
I believe we keep defining ourselves around some central question. For me, the perennial question is what being female means in this society and at this time. It’s a question I’ve turned over in my head and answered in different ways. Some of those ways become subjects of my paintings and my writing—a broad, empty canvas on which I could show or say what I wanted.

My goal—if you want to call it that—in writing novels is to nuance what it means to love, mostly from the woman’s point of view. But loving is not something you can take outside the context of a how a particular life is lived. So, ultimately, the story also becomes one about life, about real issues women and men face.
Indeed it does. I wish you every success with this and your other books, Evy. And readers, please continue to enjoy an excerpt from Welcome Reluctant Stranger below. 




Evy Journey, SPR (Self Publishing Review) Independent Woman Author awardee, is a writer, a wannabe artist, and a flâneuse. Her pretensions to being a flâneuse means she wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. She’s lived in Paris few times as a transient.
She's a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her even though such preoccupations have gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen and spinning tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue and sets in various locales.
In a previous life, armed with a Ph.D. and fascinated by the psyche, she researched and shepherded  the development of mental health programs. And wrote like an academic. Not a good thing if you want to sound like a normal person. So, she began to write fiction (mostly happy fiction) as an antidote.
Her latest book is Welcome Reluctant Stranger.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

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Title: WELCOME RELUCTANT STRANGER
Author: Evy Journey
Publisher: Sojourner Books
Pages: 314
Genre: Multicultural Women’s Fiction

What happens when a brokenhearted computer nerd and culinary whiz gets rescued by a relationship phobic psychologist with a past that haunts her? For Leilani and Justin, it’s an attraction they can’t deny but which each is reluctant to pursue. More so for Leilani whose family had to flee their troubled country when she was only nine.

Leilani is focused on leaving the past behind, moving forward. But when she learns the truth behind her family’s flight—the shocking, shameful secret about her father’s role in a deadly political web—she is devastated.

Is her father a hero or a villain?  Can she deal with the truth?

But the past is impossible to run away from. Together with Justin, she must get her father out of her former home. Can she forgive her father, accept him for what he is? And can she reconnect with her roots and be at peace with who she is?




Prologue: Roots
If you could see heat, you would see it that day rising from the concrete paving in the schoolyard, colliding with rays plummeting from the sun. The light was blinding, the heat oppressive.
The schoolyard was unlike most others on this tiny island on the Pacific. A concrete wall, eight-feet high and topped with countless pieces of broken glass embedded into the concrete, surrounded both the school and the perimeter of the 30,000 square foot yard. A young woman fully covered—except for her face and hands—in the white habit of a Catholic novice, circled the yard, watching pupils play.
About a hundred girls, ages six to eleven, clad in dark blue skirts and white shirts with peter pan collars loosely tied with wide, dark blue bows, formed groups around three or four games. Despite the buzz of activity, no one shouted, shrieked, or raised a ruckus.
The girls ignored the heat as they played in the few minutes they had for recess. All, except one girl. She sat in the shade, smiling, content with observing everyone else, and enjoying the light breeze that blew now and then.
Younger girls hovered around rectangular hopscotch courses drawn with chalk on the cemented yard. Some older pupils ran games of tag but the majority, along with a few younger ones, waited in a long line to take their turn at jumping rope.
From a slatted wooden bench, Leilani watched the game with cool interest until her best friend, Myrna, ran into the arc of the spinning rope to join another girl from her class. Leilani leaned forward.
Two girls, each holding one end of the rope, swung vigorously down, sideways, up, and around over and over. The rope whirled so fast that all Leilani saw was an elliptical form pinched at its ends, like a sausage bulging in the middle. Inside, the girls jumped, as fast and as high as they could to evade the whirling rope. If they got their feet caught, they lost and had to get out. The player who lasted longest won.
Myrna was good at it, maybe the best. She skipped like a fawn and could outlast everyone else Leilani had seen. Before long, the other girl gave up and yielded her place to another. Leilani clapped hard for her friend, a wide smile wiping away the pout on her lips.
“Why aren’t you with the other girls, Leilani?”
Leilani turned as Sister Young sat on the bench next to her. Sister Young was the newest novice who alternated with another novice, Sister Mariano, in watching the children in the schoolyard. Leilani liked Sister Mariano better. She had a nicer smile and she spoke in a soft, sweet voice. Sister Young, tall, thin, light-skinned, and sharp-featured, looked like she disapproved of everyone. And she was too nosy.
Leilani shrugged, her pout returning, as she turned her attention back to the girls skipping rope.
“Is anything wrong, Leilani?”
“No. It’s too hot to play.”
“Your classmates don’t seem to think so. Myrna looks like she’s having fun.”
“Myrna likes to jump rope better than school.”
Sister Young chuckled. “I can understand that. When I was your age, I preferred running around with my brothers than playing with my dolls or reading. But what about you? What do you like to do best?”
“Watch people.”
“Is there much fun in that?” Sister Young sounded as if she believed the opposite.
Leilani shrugged again. The novice said nothing more for a few minutes.
Myrna jumped out of the spinning rope, yielding her place to a girl who had just joined her in it. Standing outside the arc of the rope, she swiped her arm across her face and wiped it on her shirt. She ambled to the side and dropped her butt down next to one of the girls swinging the rope.
“She must be tired,” Leilani mumbled to herself, sitting back on the bench and sticking her lower lip out farther.
Sister Young said, “What did you say?”
“Nothing.”
“How’s your family doing, Leilani?”
“Fine.”
“Sister Mariano told me your father is a doctor who’s part of the team that takes care of the president. You must be very proud of him.”
“He’s no better than other doctors.”
“But he must be pretty good to be on the team. Do you see him much? I know doctors can’t keep regular working hours like others do.”
“I see him enough.”
“What about your mother?”
“Mamá is Mamá.”
“Does she work?”
Leilani scowled. “She paints her nails different colors every day and fills lots of vases with flowers.” She knew no one who worked, among the mothers of her classmates. She added, “We have maids who do the housework.”
“Like all the families of the other children here, I’m sure.”
Leilani turned toward Sister Young. “Didn’t you have maids when you lived at home?”
“No. I learned to clean and cook by the time I was your age.”
Leilani stared at the young novice. She wanted to say something nice to her, but what? Cooking and cleaning at her age—nine years old—seemed like punishment. How did a child tell someone older and able to order them around that she was sorry? She reached her hand out to touch Sister Young, but remembered that school rules did not allow touching between teachers and pupils. So, she regarded her in sympathy and the novice acknowledged it with gratitude in her eyes.
The bell rang, announcing the end of recess. Leilani jumped up from the bench. Although she felt close to Sister Young for a few moments, she was relieved to be free of her. She joined Myrna in the line for girls from her class.
“Oh, Myrna, you’re sweating into your white shirt. Your uniform has stains on it.”
“Yes, lucky our skirt is dark. I’m sure it’s dirtier than my white shirt.”
“Is that why you stopped skipping rope?”
“Yeah, but it’s too hot, anyway.”
“The stains—will your Mamá be angry with you?”
Myrna shrugged. “She doesn’t care. But Nana will give me a scolding. You’re lucky your parents didn’t get you a Nana.”
Leilani crinkled her nose. She had once asked her father for one. “No. Mamá thinks she and no else should take care of us. I’ll bet she’s stricter than your Nana.”
“Keep it down, girls,” Sister Young said as she led the line of girls back into the school.
Everyone stopped talking as they entered the classroom where Sister Lourdes, their math teacher, waited. A middle-aged nun with a thin face, whose smiling eyes had etched upward creases on the corners, she was kind but she inspired awe. Her pupils knew quite well what that set to her jaw meant: She was determined to make them as proficient, if not better, in math as boys. She followed up on her mission by rigorous training, starting each day with written exercises on lessons and homework of the previous day.
Leilani calculated that she spent more time studying math than other subjects, although literature was her favorite. She wanted to please Sister Lourdes.
A quarter of an hour later, only the scratching of pencils on paper and the swishing of the nun’s habit, as she paced between desks, could be heard in the room. The class was absorbed doing the written arithmetic exercise of the day. Every second pupil or so, Sister Lourdes peered discreetly down the girl’s back to gauge her progress.
Leilani sensed the nun’s presence behind her. She bent lower over her work. She had solved two-thirds of the problems halfway through the allotted time but she did not want her teacher to see her progress until she finished. A soft knock on the door saved her from the sister’s watchful eyes. The nun hurried to the front of the classroom. Leilani sighed in relief.
A low but excited buzz of voices broke the relative quiet of the room as Leilani and many other girls raised their heads from their work. Before Sister Lourdes reached the door, it swung open and the principal entered. Behind her, a visitor walked in, partly hidden by the principal’s layers of black and white habit.
The principal once said she was anxious not to disrupt lessons, so she rarely came to their classrooms. She had meant to reassure them of her unwavering interest in growing their minds. Instead, she aroused curiosity and anxiety when she did come—reactions that grew more acute when she brought a visitor along.
A visitor meant some pupil was going to be singled out, taken out of the classroom for some shameful or unhappy reason in her family. If she had a problem having to do with school, she usually had to go to the principal’s office. That was the rarest event of all, and it caused greater shame.
“Mamá,” Leilani muttered, when the visitor came out in full view from behind the principal. Her mother picked her and her sister, Carmen, up when school was over, but she never entered the school grounds. She waited in her car.
She was staring at her now, her lips pressed into a line, as if she was holding back an urge to cry or to shout. Deep creases on her brow cast shadows on her eyes. Something disturbed her. Something terribly wrong.
Leilani turned toward the huddled heads of the principal and Sister Lourdes who had been talking in hushed voices. She thought, they’re talking too long, as she put the stubby end of her pencil in her mouth, and bit on it so hard that the eraser broke off.
She spat the broken piece in her hand and looked around at her classmates, their faces animated with malicious delight. They were relishing the little drama unfolding before them, squirming with anticipation for what was to follow.
She knew what it was like, watching and waiting for trouble to fall on another. But the visitor was her mother and she looked much too worried.
Before long, the principal stepped back and Sister Lourdes faced the class. Leilani knew what was coming. She held her breath. Today was her turn—the unfortunate girl drawn into a familiar scenario, the butt of the week’s jokes for her often bored classmates. She had known it would come, and though she was sure it was impossible, she wished she could will it away.
Later that afternoon, they would gossip. Taunt arrogant, aloof Leilani, finally pulled down from her pedestal by the disgrace of being taken out of the class by her nervous mother.
Her teacher said, “Leilani, please gather all your things and give me your work. I’ll grade whatever you finish. You must go with your mother at once.”
To Leilani’s relief, instead of the whispered guessing and curious stares she had anticipated, her classmates hushed up. Maybe, like her, they sensed something terrible. Their teacher spoke in a tone they had never heard before, a tone so solemn that her usual calm demeanor seemed as troubled as her mother’s.
Leilani seized pencils, books, and notebooks off her desk and hastily stuffed them in her bag. Her arms were trembling and she could not zip up her bag. She picked it up, hugging it close to her chest.
Myrna, who sat behind her, leaned over and said, “Call me tonight.”
Leilani nodded without turning toward her friend. She marched, head straight and gaze forward, toward the waiting adults.
Sister Lourdes lightly tapped the top of her head. “Don’t worry. I’ll take the number of right answers you gave against the total number you finished. That’s fair, don’t you think?”
Leilani nodded.
“Thank you, Sister Lourdes,” her mother said. “Let’s hope she can come back to school tomorrow. She doesn’t like to miss any of her classes.”
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Torres. And don’t worry about Leilani’s progress. She catches up very quickly. I’ll give her extra exercises, but I don’t think she’ll need them. I hope things turn out all right for your family.”
Leilani felt her mother’s hand pushing her toward the door. She was impatient to be out of there.
*****
In the car, her older sister Carmen waited in the front passenger seat. They bobbed their heads in greeting.
Leilani threw her schoolbag on the back seat and climbed in. She was dying to know what was going on, but she knew better than to ask. They hardly ever talked in the car. Their mother insisted on silence while she was driving.
She and Carmen needed only one incident to learn that their mother meant what she said. One day, they continued their banter after she told them to stop. Without warning, she slammed on the brakes and Carmen, who always took the front seat, hit her head on the dashboard. Leilani fell on the floor. Carmen sported a bump on her head for days after that.
Leilani was impatient to be home, certain that her sister knew what was going on. Unlike her, Carmen could coax things out of their mother. She would not hold anything back, eager to show Leilani that their mother trusted her and liked her better. Leilani refused to believe her sister, but conceded that because Carmen was thirteen—nearly a young woman—their mother told her grown-up things.
For now, Leilani would play her waiting game.  She tried to calm down, but her resolve lasted only until her mother turned at a street. She could not hold her tongue then.
“This isn’t the way home. Where are we going?”
Neither her sister nor her mother answered and all she could do was wait to see where her mother was taking them. She scooted close to the window and watched all the buildings they were passing by.
A while later, she heard the drone of planes flying low above them and recognized the streets they were on. She knew it. They were off to a place away from home. She was not about to be dragged away, without knowing why.
“We’re near the airport. What’s going on? Are we going somewhere?”
Her sister said, “Just shut up, will you? You’re getting on my nerves.”
Carmen was quick to notice and use their mother’s expressions. “Getting on my nerves” was their mother’s way of telling her children to go away. Leilani heard it often enough that she could tell from the way she glared and parted her lips that her mother was about to say it. Leilani learned to walk away before she could utter those words.
But, trapped for the moment, she could only comply.
At the airport, Mrs. Torres parked the car in a ten-minute zone and said, “Get all your things. Don’t leave anything in the car and keep quiet until we’re out of here.”
She went to the back of the car and took two suitcases out, one large and the other small. She banged the trunk close but did not bother to lock the car, as she usually did.
“What about Papá and Rudy?” Leilani cried. Were they escaping? But where to and why? And from what?
Again, neither her mother nor her sister answered. Her mother handed Carmen the small suitcase. Carmen handed Leilani her schoolbag.
As she rushed alongside her mother and sister inside the airport building, she began to imagine stories about escaping and became excited at the idea of it. Her heart raced and her whole body tingled. They were off on an adventure. Any adventure was welcome. She had so little of it in school, and less at home.
Walking briskly, carrying two schoolbags heavy with books, she sweated profusely. Her arms ached and her legs groaned. The air conditioning helped, but that was over too soon. They passed through the building before she could cool down.
Out in the sun, their mother ran in front of them, toward a small plane waiting on the tarmac. She looked back at them and shouted, “Run, you two. You move like turtles.”
Her mother was actually laughing, as if she shared and enjoyed her fantasy that they were about to embark on a great adventure.
Leilani was bewildered. The fear in her mother’s eyes and her mouth had been palpable not only when she stared at her inside the classroom, but also when she drove towards the airport, gripping the steering wheel so tight that, from the back passenger seat, Leilani could see the muscles in her arms twitching.
Leilani and Carmen ran faster, laughing, infected by their mother’s mirth. Leilani felt light and carefree. Everything was going to be all right. But the feeling lasted only a few short minutes.
Before they reached the plane, she saw a man she remembered seeing with her father once. He was a big man with alert, suspicious eyes that Leilani found menacing. He waited for them at the foot of the steps to the plane.
He took the suitcase from her mother’s hand and said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Torres, I couldn’t get him out. Rudy is waiting for you inside the plane. He’s in the front row.”
The laughter died from her mother’s face and deep worry crept back on her brow. The man was clearly talking about her father. Something awful was going on and no one was telling them anything about it. She had to find out what it was.
Inside the plane, she spotted her brother sitting on an aisle seat. He stood to let her and Carmen pass to the seats next to him. As was Carmen’s habit on a bus, a train, or a plane, she claimed the window seat and Leilani had to content herself with the place wedged between her and Rudy. At least her brother, the oldest among them, liked her better than Carmen. He would tell her what was going on.
Her mother took the aisle seat across from Rudy. He helped her place the small luggage Carmen carried in the compartment above her.
Before she sat down, she reached out silently, reassuring each of them with a tender pat on their hands. But Leilani caught the sadness in her eyes.
Rudy sat down again and buckled himself in place.
Leilani said in a soft subdued voice, “Where’s Papá?”
“He couldn’t come. But he should follow us soon.”
“What’s going on, Rudy? Where are we going?”
“I don’t know any more than you do. The guy you saw by the steps? I know him. He picked me up at school, said he had a letter from Papá to me. But I wasn’t supposed to open it until after we get to where we’re going. It’s in my jacket pocket. Then, he brought me here without telling me anything more.”
“Are we escaping? Is Papá in trouble?”
“Why do you say that?”
Leilani pouted and scowled. “Because … Why doesn’t anyone say anything and why is everything so mysterious? Can’t you open the letter now?”
Rudy shook his head. “No! You’ll have to wait, like me.”
“Does Mamá know what’s going on?”
“She must, but you know Mamá. She thinks her main role is to protect Papá, at all costs.”
“But why does Papá need protecting? Did he do something wrong?”
“I’m as clueless as you about this,” Rudy said, scowling and getting irritated.
“What about my clothes? My dolls? I promised to call Myrna.”
“I think Mamá might have brought a few clothes in that big suitcase.”
“But where’s that suitcase?”
“The stewardess put it away on a luggage rack. Now, Lani, will you shut up until we get to wherever we’re headed?”
Leilani pouted again, leaned back against the seat, and closed her eyes. She was going to sleep if nobody wanted to talk to her. Still, she did not give up that easily. She would find out somehow.
Not long after, she felt her brother’s hand on her arm. He whispered in her ear.
“I’ll tell you this, though you won’t like it. Be prepared. For anything.”
“Why?” She tried to whisper but her shrill voice rose above the whirr of the plane.
“Shhh! I don’t know much, but I’ve seen and heard enough. We’re not going back home. Ever. No more Myrna. And you’ll have to make do with the few clothes Mamá packed for you until Papá comes.”




http://www.pumpupyourbook.com

 


Monday, March 26, 2018

Outlines? I Don't Got to Show You No Steenking Outlines!

Today I'm delighted to welcome Harley Masuk, author of Last Puffs to my blog as he tours the internet with Pump Up Your Book. He's offered to tell us something about his writing style, and to offer some invaluable writing advice for me and any other authors reading this page. Thank you Harley, and over to you!


Outlines? I Don't Got to Show You No Steenking Outlines!

Or

Writing by the Seat of the Pants
By Harley Mazuk

Last Puffs, my latest novel, is a product of “seat of the pants” writing. I had no plan when I sat down to write, no outline, no clear idea of where the story was going, or even what the story would be. I did have my series private eye, Frank Swiver, and I had an idea for a scene I wanted to write. That may not seem like much to go on. But having an idea for a scene in my head gave me one of the key elements of fiction—setting, a description of the surroundings for my story.

In the case of Last Puffs, the scene was in an old-fashioned cigar factory, the kind where workers roll cigars by hand while a lector reads to them. I wanted to put a beautiful dark-haired, dark-eyed woman in the scene. She was one of the cigar rollers.

As I mentioned, I also had p.i. Frank Swiver, my main character. I generally work in the first person in a Frank Swiver story, so I had another element there—point of view.

I also have my beautiful dark cigar worker. Let’s call her Amanda. Now I had two characters. Surely, even if I didn’t have an outline, even if I didn’t know where I was going, a setting, two characters, and a point of view should be enough to start writing. But what to write?

Well, the fact that Frank is a series protagonist gives me an advantage. When I wrote Last Puffs, Frank and I had already worked together a few times. As I chose the words that described the setting, and brought Frank into the scene, another element of fiction began to take shape—plot. Plot began to develop because I knew Frank; I knew what he would do. It’s helpful and comforting to have characters you can trust and let them run with it. I don’t know what I’d do without Frank.

I took it a word at a time. To borrow an idea from Frank Conroy in The Writers Workshop, my job was to provide meaning, sense and clarity—words that described the setting with clarity, made sense for the characters, and gave meaning to the plot. That’s how the seat of the pants writing process works, from the first words to the end of the first draft.

When the first draft was finished, I put it aside for about two to four weeks so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. Then I read it. I read my first drafts at one setting if they’re a short story, or as quickly as I can (maybe three or four days) if they’re a novel. It’s in reading the first draft that I’m able to come to grips with what my story is about. I begin to analyze it, and begin to be able to articulate the theme.

Note, I now have all my primary components of fiction:
·         Setting
·         Character
·         Point of view
·         Plot, and
·         Theme

And now, knowing what the story is about, I can delete unnecessary prose, develop and strengthen parts that need pumping up, and refine and polish the story. You could argue that my first draft is my de facto outline, and you may be right about that. But I’d argue, I’m still writing by the seat of the pants. It’s seat-of-the-pants revision.

Thank you so much Harley. Meaning, sense and clarity - I shall keep those in mind as I work on editing my next novel. I wish I could invite you to speak at our writers' group!








Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the last year that the Indians won the World Series. He majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay, India. Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S. Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.

Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released in 2017, and his newest, Last Puffs, just came out in January 2018.

Harley’s other passions are his wife Anastasia, their two children, reading, running, Italian cars, California wine and peace.

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About the book: Title: LAST PUFFS
Author: Harley Mazuk
Publisher: New Pulp Press
Pages: 293
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Private Eye

Frank Swiver and his college pal, Max Rabinowitz, both fall in love with Amanda Zingaro, courageous Republican guerilla, in the Spanish civil war. But the local fascists murder her and her father.

Eleven years later in San Francisco in 1949, Frank, traumatized by the violence in Spain, has become a pacifist and makes a marginal living as a private eye. Max who lost an eye in Spain but owes his life to Frank, has pledged Frank eternal loyalty. He’s a loyal communist party member and successful criminal attorney.

Frank takes on a case for Joan Spring, half-Chinese wife of a wealthy banker. Joan seduces Frank to ensure his loyalty. But Frank busts up a prostitution/white slavery ring at the Lotus House a brothel in Chinatown, where Joan was keeping refugees from Nanking prisoners.

Then Max sees a woman working in a Fresno cigar factory, who is a dead ringer for Amanda, and brings in Frank, who learns it is Amanda. She has tracked the fascists who killed her father and left her for dead from her village in Spain to California. Amanda wants Frank to help her take revenge. And by the way, she says the ten-year-old boy with her is Frank’s son.

Joan Spring turns out to be a Red Chinese secret agent, and she’s drawn a line through Max’s name with a pencil. Can Frank save Max again? Can he help Amanda avenge her father when he’s sworn off violence? Can he protect her from her target’s daughter, the sadistic Veronica Rios-Ortega? Join Frank Swiver in the swift-moving story, Last Puffs.

And look at this book review!

.5 out of 5 stars Wonderful Read – Easy and Fun
February 10, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition| Verified Purchase
Frank Swiver is a detective. Murder investigations are his specialty. He likes wine, loose women and fast cars. Not necessarily in that order. Swiver inhabits an earlier world that is archaic and, without doubt, politically incorrect by today’s standards. Harley Mazuk recreates in Swiver a character from another era whose story is fun and entertaining. Mazuk has an impressive knowledge of wines and cars which permeate his narrative. As to his knowledge of women, I am not competent to judge. I do know that the geography and time period portrayed is well researched. There are many twists and turns to the plot as well as an injection of espionage that keeps the reader guessing. Fans of old fashion detective novels will enjoy this book. I know, I did.
— Amazon Reviewer

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https://www.amazon.com/Mistress-Suffragette-Diana-Forbes-ebook/dp/B06XG3G2TF


Aragón, Spain, March 1938
There’d been a dusting of fresh snow in the high ground during the night, and the captain wanted our squad, which was nine men, to relieve an outpost on the crest of a hill, just up above the tree line. Max Rabinowitz took point, and I followed, climbing steadily. It was a cold, quiet morning, and we talked between ourselves about the ’38 baseball season, and whether we’d be back in the States to see any games.
“I would like to see Hank Greenberg and the Tigers play DiMaggio and the Yanks,” said Max. Max was dark-haired and rangy, and I always thought he looked a bit like Cary Grant, though now after a year in the field, there was nothing suave nor dapper in his appearance.
“How about Ted Williams?” I said. “We’ve already seen DiMaggio play in San Francisco with the Seals.”
“We saw Williams play with the Padres. Besides, he isn’t in the big leagues yet,” said Max.
“Yeah, but the Red Sox signed him.” I walked along just off Max’s shoulder. I was about the same height as Max, six feet, six-one, a little thinner, and looked at least as scruffy that morning. I wore a burgundy scarf around my head and ears, under a dirty and battered grey fedora. I scanned the virgin snow ahead of us with heavy-lidded eyes. The wind was faint, just enough to pick up a feathery wisp of snow in spots and spin it around. 
“He’s only about 19. I think they’ll keep him down on the farm for ’38.”
“I would like to see Bob Feller pitch to your boy Greenberg,” I told Max.
Smitty came up between us. “Feller throws 100 miles an hour, and he strikes out more than one per inning.”
“They say,” said Max, “he walks almost one an inning,”
“Keeps ‘em loose up there,” said Smitty, who was from Cleveland. “Hundred mile an hour heat and nobody knows where it’s going.”
As the three of us stepped out of the cover of the tree line, Smitty kind of hopped up on one leg and threw his arms out. I wondered what sort of a weird little dance that was; then I heard the automatic weapons fire coming down at us off the hill. It was a mechanical chatter, rather than gunpowder explosions, and the wind had blown the sound around the hills so that the bullets cut Smitty down before it had reached us. Branches near us started to snap off and tumble earthwards. Max hit the snow on his belly and rolled downhill to his right to get to cover behind a rock. I motioned for the others to get back into the trees, and dove into a low spot in the ground.
When we could look up, we saw that the fascists had overrun the outpost we’d been climbing up to the ridge to relieve, and the firing was coming from there. We returned fire. I heard cries in Spanish from behind me, a curse in a low voice, then a high-pitched prayer.
A potato-masher grenade came flipping end-over-end down the hill toward me. It seemed like slow motion. It hit a rock and bounced up. I could say a Hail Mary in about four seconds flat in those days, and I said one then. The grenade sailed over my head; I heard it explode, and felt a shower of dirt on my back. In front of me, Max was popping up and firing one round with his Springfield, then dropping behind the rock. I popped up and fired when he dropped down. I thought we were doing pretty well taking turns, but grenades kept arcing over our heads and bullets pinged into Max’s rock and raked the dirt beside me. Max tried lobbing one of his grenades towards the machine gun, but his throw was uphill, and he didn’t have an arm like DiMaggio.
After a few minutes of this, I tried to aim and squeeze the trigger instead of popping off quick shots. Then I didn’t hear anyone behind us firing anymore. I looked around and saw Rocco and Pete sprawled in the grass. I called to a couple of the others.
“Comrades…anyone…sound off.” Nada.
“Frank, this is bad,” Max yelled to me.
“I’d rather be facing Feller’s fastballs,” I told him. “Maybe it’s time for us to dust.” Then we heard an airplane motor. It grew louder, and the first plane, a Heinkel, zoomed over the ridge seconds later. Max had risen to his feet and was scrambling down the slope. He looked back over his shoulder at the plane just as a cannon shot from the aircraft hit the rock he’d been behind. The explosion flipped Max in mid-air and tossed him towards me. The ground under him ripped up and clods of dirt flew towards us.
The scene faded to black, but for how long, I don’t know. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky but I smelled the forest floor, earth and leaves. Truffles, perhaps? Max was on top of me, limp, and it was quiet. No planes, no shooting. “Max,” I said, “we gotta get up. Get off me.” I felt my voice in my head, but couldn’t hear it in my ears. Max didn’t get up. I rolled him over next to me, and saw that his hat was gone.  The top of his head and the right side of his face were a collage of blood and dirt. I shook him, and he gasped for breath, earth falling out of his nostrils. He was still alive.
“Frank, Frank. I can’t see. I can’t see.” It didn’t sound like Max, but there was no one else there.
“Easy, Max.” I tried to rinse some of the dirt, debris and blood off Max’s head with my canteen, then I ripped open a compress from my pack and put it over his forehead and eyes. I wrapped more dressing around his head to keep the bandage in place “Hold this on your face, man. Don’t try to open your eyes.” I was afraid his right eyeball was going to fall out. “Hold it tight.” Using the slope, I maneuvered him across my shoulder, head down in front of me, and struggled to my feet. I took off at a trot along the tree line.
Our lines were behind us to the east but it looked like the whole damned fascist army was charging down from the outpost, headed that way, so I ran south. It was downhill and my momentum carried us. The going was easy, but I felt panic building in my gut so I tried to slow down. I slid on the snow, fell on my butt, and slammed into a tree and dropped Max.
“Frank, where are you? Am I dyin’?”
“I got you, Max. You caught some shrapnel in the head from that plane. Say an act of contrition or something.”
“I’m a Jew, you idiot.”
“Say it anyway.” I lifted the gauze off his forehead and looked under it. His wound didn’t appear to be deep, but the right eye was very bad, all blood and pulp, and the bone around it may have been shattered. “Press on this, Max.” I pressed the bandage back against his face and put his hand on it. 
I hoisted him over my shoulder again, and stepped off, forcing myself to keep my pace steady and not too fast. We went on till the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t fall again, but my ankles were burning, and my toes were pinched in my boots from going downhill. I stopped twice, and opened our bota. I washed my mouth out with the wine, a rustic red from Calatayud, then I cradled Max’s head and opened his mouth. I squirted the wine in, squeezing the leather skin, the way I’d squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Max coughed. He seemed only half-conscious.
I carried Max down the hill and to the south, parallel to our lines, until we were deep in some woods. I was scared and it wasn’t easy, but I would have done anything for Max. We had been roommates and run around together at Berkeley. We fell out of touch when he went to law school, and I started drinking, trying to forget Cicilia. When Max re-connected with me in ’36, he tried to help me sober up and get back on my feet. I’d come around for a while, but always, I’d slip back into the abyss.
Max was a red, even back in our student days. I hadn’t been serious about my politics then. One evening to keep me from drowning my demons, Max took me to a meeting about the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Before the night was over, we’d signed up to fight in Spain. Max didn’t have to. I think he did it to save me. Now I was going to save him.
When the sun dropped behind the hills, the woods quickly grew dark. There was a smell of pines, and the footing was better—no snow or ice on the ground, which was hard and covered with dry pine needles. Under the background din of war, the roar of artillery and airplanes, I heard water down to my left. I turned towards it and a few minutes later, came to a stream, probably flowing south to the Ebro. It wasn’t night yet, but it was so dark under the tall trees, I would have walked into the stream without seeing it if not for the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. I put Max down on his back, head and shoulders downhill toward the stream. The blood had dried; the gauze was stuck to his head. I scooped up water with my hat and poured it on his face. The icy cold shocked him into consciousness—and panic and pain.
“Morphine, Frank,” he moaned. “Gimme the morphine.” But I had used our morphine one night weeks ago on guard duty on a cold hillside. We did have a flask of Cardenal Mendoza Spanish Brandy, and I gave him some, then I drank. I rinsed his wound good and put a new bandage on it using Max’s kit this time. My legs felt weak and started to shake with cold or exhaustion. I don’t know if I could have stood up then if the Generalissimo had come down the hill waving his pistoles. We were down low, and there were some bare shrubs and young trees sheltering us on the uphill slope. I fought my exhaustion and tried to keep watch as long as I could. I had another swallow of brandy and pulled close to Max. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep.



 

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