Sunday, December 30, 2012

When one door closes, another one opens

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us". Helen Keller

  Have you ever experienced a situation in which you get stuck and let your eyes wander for too long on the closed door in front of you? Or have you wasted time on it when you know that you are not the owner of the key to that locked door? 
   Turn your head, look around. You may be missing out other opportunities. Or you may be forgetting to focus your energy on the right door. If your mind is too muddled to even find that open door, take your time and relax. The light is coming from somewhere; enjoy it. Seize the best of it, dive into your dreams. Work on them with fascination. Let your intuition sparkle inside you. Follow it.  Cherish every opportunity and seek new ones, be content with every step you take.
    Life is about change, pain brings growth, and transformation happens when you allow yourself to be flexible, when you let the waters of imagination flow freely. You don't know where the next door will lead to,  and this uncertainty makes the deal even more fascinating. No matter what you are going through now,  it will pass.
   You are where you are supposed to be. Sit back and relax.
   Now focus on the open doors, the ones that will lead to new ideas, thoughts and experiences. There are no guarantees, but the truth is that life is too short to waste your time staring at a closed door...
  Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Reading to preschoolers

  "Mama, I want to finish this book before I go to school today," my three-year old daughter said to me a few days ago. Why not? Let's finish this book together!

   I started reading to her since she was a baby and now we both share the same fascination for books. Based on my own personal experience, I can say that the time spent reading together has created a special bond, a mosaic of happy memories. It is a time of connection, an opportunity to share thoughts and discussions about the world around us.
   Kids see everything with new eyes, so it is a refreshing experience to be close to them as their discoveries unfold. Books spark their imagination, bring new questions to the table and foster an everlasting love of learning. They can help to create the seeds of compassion, understanding and open minds. These are moments of laughter, giggles, and even the occasional tear.
  Today I will dedicate this post to my lovely daughter and I will share with you some of the books that we both found inspiring. (Most of these books are also for kids in kindergarten and even for the ones in the first years of elementary).
                                  Your mommy was just like you by Kelly Bennett. This book is about a grandmother telling her granddaughter about her mother when she was a little girl, and how she took care of her. My daughter was fascinated to learn that I had been a little girl too in the past, and that her granny looked after me and nurtured me just as I take care of her now. She even asked me, " And I was a big woman then?". ( I had to explain to her that she had not been born when I was a child!).

I'm Like You, You're Like Me by Cindy Gainer. This book shows familiar situations and settings all kids can relate to. Through its lovely descriptions and words kids are encouraged to be kind and respectful to others.

All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon. This masterpiece with majestic illustrations and poetical writing enchants the kids. It celebrates life by bringing people of all ages and different backgrounds together. My daughter loves its musicality and has read it several times by herself. The themes are timeless and universal.

The Curious Garden is a book about a boy, Liam, who spots some flowering plants on an old elevated  railway track while exploring the bleak city neighborhood. Liam will do whatever it takes to make that tiny garden thrive and bloom amid the gray dull city. With love and care, he will make the gardens spread throughout the city. This book is about persistence and creativity. It is about  how  motivated people can have a positive impact on the world around them.

  Did I inspire you?

I hope I did. Enjoy your time with the kids around you. Doing so is a gift to the world.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Your Christmas decorations

  Who made your cheap Christmas decorations? Thousands of kids in other countries are exploited and forced to work 19 hours per day in dingy basements to make cheap Christmas decorations. They lack food and proper care. They are slaves. They are victims of human trafficking. 
   Make sure you don't buy these goods, or you will be supporting this dirty business. Why? Because these goods cross borders and oceans and end up close to your home. Being a  responsible consumer means not buying these items. 
Here is the video that explains this situation.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The benefits of hand-writing

    If you think that in this technological era hand-writing is absurd, let me enlighten you. Studies have shown that when you hand-write more areas of your brain are activated than when you type.
    French neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay and Anne Mangen, an associate professor in the Reading Center at the University of Stavanger in Norway wrote a research paper published in "Advances in Haptics" on the differences between learning letters by hand-writing and doing it by using a keyboard. Based on a study done on  a group of adult volunteers, they concluded that the process was more efficient in the group who learned by hand-writing. This efficiency correlated with more activated areas of brain activity.
     Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, found that kids in grades  3, 4 and 6 who wrote their essays by hand expressed more ideas and used more words than those who used the keyboard for the same purpose. There are other studies that showed similar findings.
    Now I understand why I need to hand-write all my short stories and essays before working on the keyboard.
   Go ahead! Grab a pen, get that old note-pad from your drawer and let your thoughts run on paper. You may end up making interesting discoveries...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    I don't write erotic fiction. However, if I believe that a unique touch of eroticism will  add to the characters and  will enhance the emotional tension of a story, I don't avoid it. This is what I did with "A New Beginning", a short story that was accepted for publication by Skive magazine for the December issue.

    Skive magazine is turning nine years old in December and the issue will be "Erotica". The stories will be available for free online, on PDF.

     If I were to draw a parallel between my short story "A New Beginning" and previously published stories, I would have to mention the anthology "The Literary Lover". Most of these stories have an erotic touch that was related to the development of the characters and the plot. My favorite stories from this anthology are by Joyce Carol Oates ("Morning"), Laurie Colwin ("Frank and Billy"), Edna O'Brien ("The Love Object"), Richard Bausch ("Letter to the lady of the house") and Mary Gaitskill ("A Romantic Weekend"). I loved many of these stories because they felt real and the characters were complex and interesting. However, I read "The Literary Lover" long after I wrote "A New Beginning," so I believe the inspiration to write this short story came  after reading Maile Meloy's collection "Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It".

  How about you? Do you avoid eroticism at all costs? Or do you use it when it serves a purpose?

   Let me clarify something: "A New Beginning" is NOT a memoir. I need to state this clearly because a few days before this story was accepted by the editor of Skive Magazine, Matthew Ward, the editor of a different magazine wrote to me suggesting that I should submit it again to be published as a memoir. (If you are interested in stories based on true life experiences you should read "A Hospital in Latin America" and "Freedom is a Fragile Word").

  Happy birthday Skive magazine! Enjoy the read.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An American expat in Argentina

   Battling cancer is a challenge difficult to endure, but dealing with cancer and poverty at the same time is an experience that nobody would like to imagine. Rick Powell is an American writer and an expat living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is living on the edge right now, trying to make ends meet while he fights his cancer. His friend Vivi Rathbon sent me this link to explain his situation.

  If you are willing to make a donation, you can visit this link. No amount is too little. You can also help by buying from amazon from his own website.
  My heart goes out to Rick at this difficult time. I hope he will get the emotional and financial support he needs to move forward and battle his cancer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saints and Sinners

   Edna O'Brien's writing is bold and straightforward. Her sentences are charged with layers of meaning, but she does not keep us guessing. She does not mind telling us information and, at the same time, she crafts each story like an artist, selecting the precise words for each sentence as if they were the brushstrokes of a painting that depicts vivid landscapes and characters in realistic situations, with endings that satisfy my expectations. By the time I finish reading them, I feel content. Through the eleven stories of this collection, Edna carries us to both rural and urban Ireland, London, and New York.
    "Two Mothers", an autobiographical story, reveals the ambiguity of the relationship between the narrator and her mother, showing two opposing aspects of it. Edna O' Brien starts out with the image of a dream in which her mother's hand is on a razor, and she sees her face "swimming" towards the narrator "to mete out its punishment". When they lived together, mother and daughter were close but not intimately connected. Her mother did not understand her daughter's compulsion to write; she was even horrified at the thought of her daughter becoming a writer:
    "She insisted that literature was a precursor to sin and damnation, whereas I believed it was the only alchemy that there was." Edna dives into her childhood and makes her mother jump out of the page: "She had beautiful hair, brown with bronzed glimmers in it, and blue-blue eyes that held within them an infinite capacity for stricture. To chastise one she did not have to speak -- her eyes did it with a piercing gaze. But when she approved of something, everything seemed to soften and the gaze, intensely blue, was like seeing a stained-glass window melt."
    There comes a time when the narrator vanishes from her mother, or perhaps from her lack of acceptance. Then her mother starts a copious correspondence. "She who professed disgust at the written word wrote daily, bulletins that ranged from the pleading to the poetic, the philosophic and the common place." The narrator postponed the opening of these letters for many years. This is a story that made me cry, for I was able to empathize deeply with both characters. When she finally opens her mother's letters, there is a hint of intimate connection, and secrets are revealed.
   "Sinners" is about the lonely life of a woman, Delia, who uses her house as a bed and breakfast place during the summer months. Edna transports us to her solitary existence, providing details about the workings of Delia's mind. Confined to her routine, Delia has forgotten the little pleasures of life and becomes a person who sees a sin behind any act that does not look conventional.
   "Shovel Kings" is the story of an exile who migrated from Ireland to England. A transitory return to Ireland makes him come to the realization that he no longer belongs to Ireland...nor to England.
   "Manhattan Medley" is an imaginary letter a woman writes to her lover. Her musings bring to my mind the poem by Neruda that says that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long". This woman, however, did not forget her lover and there are witty reflections that I savored and enjoyed reading more than once. The nostalgia she infuses into this story is powerful. "Even if I lingered here, there, or anywhere it would still run its course, in letters, in longings, and the whet of absence."
  "Send My Roots Rain" is also about love and longing. A woman is waiting for a poet at a coffee shop and, while waiting for him, she reminisces about  past  relationships.
  "Old Wounds" is about family relationships and conflicts between relatives.
  "Plunder" is the story of a conventional family living in a rural setting who is attacked by soldiers.
  "Black Flower" is about the relationship between a prisoner and a woman who volunteers to give art classes at the prison.
   Edna O'Brien is not afraid of revealing the pain, the misery, the longing and the love of the characters, and, at the heart of her stories, she unveils the frailty of human nature, its naked vulnerability and isolation.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A chemistry of thoughts...

  I've never met this woman, but I know I could spend hours talking about life with her.
  Let me explain myself. Have you ever felt connected to a writer who happens to enjoy the same writers that you enjoy? Soon after I finished reading Joyce's book, I wanted to read a writer I had encountered in a couple of short stories from two different anthologies. When I read her short stories I experienced some kind of kinship of spirits, a chemistry of thoughts. For this reason, I felt compelled to explore more of her work. I went to the local library and, after browsing her books, I borrowed her short story collection Saints and Sinners.
  Before I started her stories I flipped through the pages and found an interview to her; the first sentence I read from it was, " I would love to have met Joyce, preferably in the evening hours when bottles were opened ". The first book she bought was about James Joyce. I am talking about Edna O'Brien. Yes, she raved about Joyce, and then explained he had a rival in her affections: Anton Chekhov. About Chekhov, she said, "Like Shakespeare, Chekhov knew everything there is to know about the heart's vagaries and he rendered the passion and conflict of men and women flawlessly."
  I cannot agree more with her when she said, "I would be much lonelier on this earth without literature, and I might even have gone mad." She ended up the interview by saying that literature is the big bonanza, and writing is getting down on one's knees each day and searching for the exact words.
  I am engrossed in her story collection "Saints and Sinners" now, and I will be writing an essay about it once I am done. Here is another fabulous interview to Edna O'Brien, done by The Paris Review, about the art of fiction.
 By the way, this is my view from the kitchen window, a wonderful sight I cherish every morning while having breakfast...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

You, Me & a Bit of We

  My short story "A Hospital in Latin America" was accepted by Chuffed Buff Books for the "You, Me & a Bit of We" anthology, a celebration of writing in first and second person.
 This anthology includes a unique, broadly themed combination of short stories and will hopefully be published in December or January. (There is no specific date yet).
 I look forward to this release and to reading all the other stories that make up this intriguing anthology.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

James Joyce's Portrait

 James Joyce had his autobiographical novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" rejected over twenty times. I recently finished reading it and I felt an intimate connection to the story and to the main character. The first unpublished version of the story, "Stephen Hero", was thrust into the fireplace by Joyce in a fit of rage. His sister rescued it before it got swallowed by the flames. He later spent many years working on it.
  In “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” Stephen Dedalus is  the main character.  (In Greek mythology Dedalus was a character who created wings to fly away from his prison, so the name chosen by Joyce may have been an allegory of his own situation, as Joyce felt imprisoned in his own culture).
 As we enter Stephen Dedalus’s childhood we follow the flow of his thoughts - his internal monologue - without riding on preconceptions or judgments. Yet nothing feels forced into us; one is not just a witness, one feels like Stephen Dedalus, for it is easy to identify with his stream of consciousness.
  Stephen simply reports and shows situations that shaped Joyce’s past. With a sense of wonder and curiosity, he examines the events and people around him from a child’s perspective, leading us to see every situation anew. This novel, rich in literary and religious references, is composed of different periods of his childhood and youth, revealing political arguments and family disputes that may have influenced Joyce later in life by stimulating his mind and encouraging him to develop his own ideas. It also helps to portray the Irish society and its nationalistic fanaticism in the early 1900s.
  James Joyce felt like an alien in his own land, daring to think and to feel different from his peers. Assuming this role was an endeavor that had a risk attached: the risk of being shunned by the people of his own country. It involved accepting and embracing the loneliness that was part of the freedom to express himself.
  “To merge his life in the common tide of other lives was harder for him than any fasting or prayer, and it was his constant failure to do this to his own satisfaction which caused in his soul at last a sensation of spiritual dryness together with a growth of doubts and scruples”.
  There is a tone of nostalgia and melancholy in his writing. The musicality of his voice and the beauty of his style captivated me from the beginning.
  Anybody who is willing to learn more about Catholic religion will find Joyce’s novel enlightening. Another interesting aspect of this story is that Joyce slips into his narrative the idea of "social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes". It may have been for this reason that the feminist and activist editor of The Egoist, Harriet Shaw Weaver, agreed to publish his novel at a time when every publisher rejected it. Not only did she publish his novel, but she also provided him with the financial support he needed to give up teaching and devote himself to his literary career full-time. As from 1916, Harriet Shaw Weaver and James Joyce corresponded almost daily. She proofread his work, gave him literary feedback and encouraged him to pursue his aspirations. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, published by The Egoist Press in 1916, was praised by some critics but was also attacked by the mainstream press.
  This novel is about the path that convinced James Joyce to search for freedom in his self-imposed exile. The powerful conversation with his friend Cranly makes this clear when Stephen says, “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile and cunning.”
 In 1904 James Joyce left Ireland with his lifelong partner, Nora Barnacle, to develop his literary career and to escape from the fetters of religious and nationalistic fanaticism.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Helen Keller's life. A movie and her book

Helen Adams Keller was a healthy child until a fever robbed her of her sight and hearing when she was nineteen months old. Her parents were desperate and puzzled, and did not know what to do with her. Yet this woman eventually learned to read, write and speak. She even graduated with honors from Radcliffe College in Massachusetts in 1904.  The fact that she was raised in a far off town in Alabama in the late 1800s made her journey even more challenging.
 I watched the black-and-white movie "A Miracle Worker" which focuses on Helen Keller's childhood. It touched me deeply. The greatest accomplishment of the movie was to kindle my curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the cave of darkness and silence she lived in, and how she was able to finally make sense of the world. Right after seeing this movie I came across her autobiography, "The Story of My Life".
 Her path to understand that signs with hands were associated with real objects and words was not an easy one, but her ultimate discovery is a unique experience that can bring hope to the saddest soul.
  If you are longing to see a movie that will uplift you and make you feel hopeful, this is a good one to pick. Helen Keller's parents did their best for her, but Helen was like a violent animal who did not respect civilized rules until Anne Sullivan, her teacher, came to her life three days before she turned seven years old. Anne Sullivan had been blind herself and so she was able to help her from a unique position. It was not an easy endeavor and the movie portrays it with details that will test your patience.
  Helen described how her life changed after she met Anne Sullivan:
 "Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding line, and you waited with a beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before any education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbor was. I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed to my mother. Someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and, more than all things else, to love me."
  In my opinion,the only weakness of the movie is the distorted way of portraying Helen's parents' love for her, as  if this had been a contributing factor to her misery during the first childhood years, before they met their teacher. On the contrary, their love played an important role even though they did not know how to set boundaries. Her father also had some misconceptions that were not in her best interest, but Anne Sullivan made the big difference here. Anyway, my point is that it was not their love that caused the initial failure but their lack of guidance and insight on how to raise her.
  Helen's Autobiography has many interesting insights and reflections about different subjects. One of them is her college experience. Reading her book also helped me to understand that disabilities are compensated for by other "abilities" and sensitivities.
 "The touch of some hands is an impertinence. I have met people so empty of joy, that when I clasped their frosty finger tips it seemed as if I were shaking hands with a northeast storm. Others there are whose hands have sunbeams in them, so that their grasp warms my heart. It may be only the clinging touch of a child's hand, but there is much potential sunshine in it for me as there is a loving glance for others. A hearty handshake or a friendly letter gives me a genuine pleasure."
 Much of Helen's adult life was spent bettering the conditions of blind and deaf people. Her lectures and writings brought hope and encouragement to blind people throughout the world. I can say without hesitation that she is an inspiration to all of us.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"A confrontation with the unconscious"

 Carl Jung never had the confidence to publish The Red Book during his life, so he kept it hidden. Liber Novus (The Red Book) did not see the light of publication until 2009.
 The Red Book is an exploration of the unconscious of a man who dared to expose the intimate fabric of his thoughts, emotions and fantasies. As a result of this journey through the unconscious, Carl Gustav Jung  created unconventional characters, beautiful scenes and dialogues that reflect on different subjects.Aside from profound reflections, an important feat of this book is the potential to open your mind and fuel your imagination. You may find that some parts are incomprehensible, but the wisdom and the inspiring musings compensate for that lack of clarity.
  The book also includes illustrations-mandalas- made by Carl Jung (1875-1961). These mandalas are circular drawings  that, according to Jung, expressed his inner situation and allowed him to observe his psychic transformations. The symmetry of the figures that he created may have been related to his search for inner peace amid his emotional turmoil. .
 This is a book that delves into universal subjects: the balance between solitude and being in good social terms; the desire and the quest to develop our own inner life; the social forces that are in conflict with our own motivations; dreams and their significance. Jung opens up a vast universe of thoughts and ideas. The beauty of the images, and the richness of the metaphors and symbols contribute to a delightful read of exquisite literary value. You need to read it with an open mind, albeit some of the reflections will be welcomed by a pragmatic one as well.
 Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book is that much of its content has relevance today, almost one hundred years after it was written, a sign that human nature continues to struggle with the same dilemmas.
 I believe that this book is a testimony of Carl Jung's open minded approach to psychology. This openness  allowed him to create new paths and ideas in the development of psychoanalysis. Jung was a pioneer in the analysis and interpretation of dreams as a way to reveal the unconscious mind. He also developed the idea of the collective unconscious, archetypes and synchronicity.
 To finish this post I will share this link that has some of his inspiring, thought-provoking quotes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A different kind of magazine

 Streetwise is a magazine that empowers the homeless and the unemployed by giving them the opportunity to become a vendor, and by granting them a space to express themselves. Streetwise is, in my opinion, like a big family. A family allows its members to thrive. And so does Streetwise.
  I came across this magazine when I was in line to enter the Art Institute of Chicago. A vendor explained the purpose of selling the magazine and I bought it. (It costs two dollars). In addition to play reviews, Chicago calendar events and interesting social articles, I found a very inspiring read about one of the vendors: Jeff Berg.
 Jeff was a maintenance technician for a company that packaged machinery, but he was laid off in 2009. After not being able to pay the monthly payments for his house, he became homeless. He lost his home; he lost his car. He had to file for bankruptcy and lost almost everything, except for his persistence and his dignity.
 After going from shelter to shelter he found one that would take him. His case manager introduced him to Streetwise and he became a Streetwise vendor in April 2011. Jeff said, " I have to be proactive. I can't expect someone to come hand me money. I have to be out there everyday doing what I can to support myself. I have to be a part of society".
  As I write this, the words of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling come to my mind:

 "If you can watch the things you gave your life to broken
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools.
If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them 'Hold on'".

Another article I enjoyed reading was about some homeless people who were able to complete college thanks to a renewable $2,000 scholarship awarded to them by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH).
   These people undergo all kinds of struggles, and they never give up. They are an inspiration to all of us. Check more about them yourself . You'll be surprised:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chicago shots and a story

 I hope you will enjoy these photos. I visited Chicago last weekend, right when I read a short story that takes place in Chicago. It is not this coincidence that compels me to write this blog entry, but the story itself . The murderer is a rich cocaine dealer who had jumped a ten million dollar bail in the past. An innocent man, the victim's boyfriend, goes to jail because he is blamed for the murder. Paradoxically, he has a hard time finding a lawyer who is willing to represent him because he is hard up.
 The shocking situation has a happy ending thanks to a Golden Retriever that belonged to the woman who was killed. However, the story brings some disturbing questions to the table: can the system be so tyrannical that it risks releasing a guilty millionaire  at the expense of imprisoning an innocent one who is broke? Does money rule the outcome or is it justice? As a writer, this story made me reflect on the power of a simple story. The story is called "Three-Dot Po" and was written by Sara Paretsky. I would like to read more of her work now.

Lake Michigan, Chicago

By the planetarium
Zenobia, by Harriet Hosmer

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A writer in Italy

Kimberly Sullivan, a talented writer of women's fiction and a great critique partner, tagged me for this Blog Hop hosted by Page after Page. Thank you Kimberly!

According to the rules I should answer a few questions about a novel I am writing. At this time, however, I am writing short stories, essays and book reviews, so I will write, instead, about Kimberly's novel, "In the Shadow of the Appennines".
  Kimberly's story takes place in Italy, in the region of Abruzzo, where she loves to spend time skiing, hiking and exploring medieval towns. Her love for the region inspired her to write a story that takes place in these majestic landscapes.
 Her main character, Samantha, moves to a mountain home in Abruzzo, hoping to start a new life after the break-up of her marriage and a failed university career. Her attempts to become part of the new community are destroyed when the residents discover a blog she wrote about them. Shunned and increasingly isolated in her mountain cottage, Samantha seeks solace in some letters and diaries that had been written by a past tenant in her home - a survivor of the devastating Pescina earthquake.
 Despite the centuries that separate the two women, Samantha feels connected to Elena's life, and discovers startling parallels that allow her to understand herself better. This is a book for readers who enjoy discovering how women can be connected through their hopes and dreams across oceans, economic divides and centuries. I also think that anyody who feels attracted to the italian culture will find this story interesting and fascinating.
 Now I am tagging other writers who are supposed to write about one of their books (published or unpublished) and what inspired them to write them. I can't wait to read you!

Elizabeth Varadan, author of The Fourth Wish . She is a very versatile writer; she writes for adults and kids and is devoted to fantasy, mystery, historical and the literary genre. I'd like to learn what inspired her to write The Fourth Wish and I'd love to read it.

Liz Grace Davis, author of Tangi's Teardrops, a fantasy romance that will carry you away to another world. She recently published Chocolate Aftertaste.

Rick Watson a writer who is also devoted to music and photography. He has a very inspiring blog. He is the author of  a non-fiction book "Remembering Big". I would love to know what his book is about and what motivated him to write it.

J.L Campbell a prolific writer of women's fiction. The author of  "Distraction" and "Don't Get Mad, Get Even". She also has a very useful blog for those who are interested in publishing and promoting their books.

Laurie Elmquist, a writer of memoirs, short stories and poems. She is now working on a new novel. I'd love to learn more about her work.

Richard Hughes, author of "Only The Lonely" and "Battles and other stories". (I have to read Only The Lonely, I enjoyed his short stories from the latter).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Life update and ramblings

 Due to reasons beyond our control, my family and I are relocating to a city in Western Wisconsin, almost five hours away from where we now live. Last week we were busy home hunting and getting to know the area where we intend to settle down.
 I was appalled to witness the consequences of a two-month drought in Western Wisconsin, where temperatures went up to the hundreds. (Mind you, this is not normal for the region). The grass is like straw, crunchy and yellow. Thousands of fish have died in the marshes. Needless to say, the corn harvest is going to be affected by this drought. As we got around the area, I came across a quote by Aldo Leopold, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." Feel free to change the word land for "planet earth". After all, what we do to it has  consequences that go beyond borders.Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was an American writer, scientist and environmentalist - I think he was also a visionary.
 Home hunting is a good experience to a writer. Aside from the practical aspects of it, I had the opportunity to imagine the lives of the people who lived in those houses. How can I not acknowledge the secrets harbored in those places? Family memories, broken dreams, conflicts. It's all good stuff to a writer. So my mind is imbibed with all these images and I am now eager to resume the short story I started writing last week. I have so much to catch up with in my writing world...
 What are your writing? What are you working on these days?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The charm of book reviews

 Each book has a life of its own in each reader. Writing a review means sharing that unique view with the world to invite a collective dialogue.
 When we write a review because a book has touched our inner self, we set in motion a set of thoughts, ideas and interpretations. We are inspired to share something that awakened after the read.
  Books can be sources of new ideas; they can ignite our imagination in unpredictable ways and enrich our views on different matters. Reviews allow us to share our unique perspectives. They can  conjure up disagreements and elicit thought-provoking questions. They can become the roots of interesting discussions.They can also help us to fathom that despite our differences we can also have something in common.
  If nobody wrote or read book reviews, we wouldn't have the possibility of sharing our fascination and the enrichment of our minds after the reading experience.
 Writing, reading and discussing book reviews is about celebrating our diversity.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The wonder of beginnings

  In today's fast-paced world our stories compete with a huge variety of entertainments. Hence, our beginnings have an important role in hooking the reader. The words of a first paragraph may determine whether you captivate a certain reader; they may increase your chances of reaching a wider audience or convince an editor to get to the gist of your story. (On the other hand, a first paragraph that is not captivating is not an indicator that the story is not worth reading).
   Powerful beginnings are those that set an emotion or make an interesting statement that kindles our curiosity. They may set a specific situation or a conflict that intrigues the reader. They may throw us into a vivid setting that we want to explore further.
  In my case, writing a compelling first paragraph can become the force that pushes me to write the whole story. It can be the key to unblock the rest of it.
  Let's examine the beginnings of some short stories by well-known writers.

"Thomas withdrew to the side of the window and with his head between the wall and the curtain he looked down on the driveway where the car had stopped. His mother and the little slut were getting out of it. His mother emerged slowly, stolid and awkward, and then the little slut's long slightly bowed legs slid out, the dress pulled above the knees. With a shriek of laughter she ran to meet the dog, who bounded, overjoyed, shaking with pleasure, to welcome her. Rage gathered throughout Thomas's large frame with a silent ominous intensity, like a mob assembling."
Wow. This is a very strong beginning.We see a clear scene and there is conflict. Thomas does not like the woman getting out of the car with his mother. The narrator calls her a "slut" and the tension is intense right from the start because he is very upset, but the slut does not seem to care. What's going on here? We are compelled to read on. This is the first paragraph of the short story  "The Comforts of Home" by Flannery O'Connor.

"My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn't right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly."

Brief and funny. A woman received a broom as a Christmas gift and, not surprisingly, is offended. We all wonder why her husband did that to her. What was behind his action? Would you keep reading? This is the first paragraph of the short story "An Interest in Life" by Grace Paley

"Miss Adela Strangeworth came daintily along Main Street on her way to the grocery. The sun was shining, the air was fresh and clear after the night's heavy rain, and everything in Miss Strangeworth's little town looked washed and bright. Miss Strangeworth took deep breaths and thought that there was nothing in the world like a fragrant summer day."
 I like this first paragraph because it describes a vivid scene with simple words (sun shining, fresh air, little town, fragrant summer) and it transmits a strong emotion about the character. This is the first paragraph of the short story "The Possibility of Evil" by Shirley Jackson. It won the Edgar Allan Poe Award and was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1965.

"There must be some approach to this, a method, a technique, that's the word I want, it kills germs. Some technique then, a way of thinking about it that would be bloodless and therefore painless; devotion recollected in tranquility. I try to conjure up an image of myself at that time, also one of you, but it's like conjuring the dead. How do I know I'm not inventing both of us, and if I'm not inventing then it really is like conjuring the dead, a dangerous game. Why should I disturb those sleepers, sleepwalkers as they make their automaton rounds through the streets where we once lived, fading from year to year, their voices thinning to the sound of a thumb drawn across a wet window: an insect squeak, transparent as glass, no words. You can never tell with the dead whether it is they who wish to return or the living who want them to. The usual explanation is that they have something to tells us. I'm not sure I believe it; in this case, it's more likely that I have something to tell them."
This beginning enthralls me.The narrator wonders something about those who have died. Do they need to tell us something? The narrator is evoking a memory, an image of herself set in the past. I feel intrigued because I  would like to know how  this matter about those who died connects to her recollection. Her voice is strong too and compels me to read on. This is the first paragraph of the short story "Hair Jewellery" by Margaret Atwood.

What do you think about these beginnings? Let me know about your experience when you write the first paragraphs of your stories.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Down and Out in Paris and London

 Writing about being homeless and poor is not easy for somebody who has never been in that situation. George Orwell, however, wrote about these subjects from his own personal experience. He had to suffer the consequences of starvation and social ostracism when he was homeless in the early thirties, during the aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street crash. Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris delves into this theme with honesty and interesting facts. I wrote about this book here:
Down and Out in Paris and London

Not surprisingly, Orwell died of tuberculosis when he was only 46 years old. (It's his 109th birthday in June, so reviewing some of his books is a good way of remembering him).

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Humor in creative writing

  I believe any story can benefit from a touch of humor and I have a tendency to add it, regardless of the type of story I am crafting. Humor is so much a part of my life that I incorporate it in my writing without planning it. This is because I have a penchant for finding the funny side of every situation. Therefore, when I sit to write something based on a real life story, the funny parts erupt easily. This does not mean that everybody will find them funny. Humor can be subjective.
   Three months ago, I had to take a plane, and , on passing through the security check, the alarms started ringing. The alarms would ring every time I tried to proceed, and this unexpected situation led to a chain of hilarious scenes. My husband was very annoyed but I found the experience amusing and it gave me enough material to write a short story.
   I checked some books about the craft of writing seeking advice on this, but I didn't find anything new. If you need some ideas on how to add humor to your story think about the amusing side of every situation you want to create. Dialogues give you the chance to let the funny spark shine even if you are writing drama. For example, having two characters whose interests are at odds can be a nice trigger for a humorous situation.
   Images and metaphors can serve a funny purpose. Exaggeration and overstatement make people laugh and you can play with the details. Characters with contradictions can become a source of irony and you can play with them to great comic effect.
  Do you like to have a touch of humor in your stories? Come and share your ideas and experiences.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Points of view in creative writing

There is a general modern trend to believe that writers cannot change the point of view in one single story when it is written from one character's perspective. I have read this in online forums and critiques of other peoples' stories. There may be editors out there who express this idea but this should be considered a personal opinion, and an opinion is not a rule.
 I am reading The House of Mirth and found that the author of this book tells the story in second person from the main character's perspective (Lily Bart). However, whenever Lily has a conversation with another character the writer ventures to get inside the other characters' minds. We learn something about the feelings and emotions of the characters interacting with Lily by getting inside their minds even though the story is told from Lily's perspective; in other words, the writer becomes omniscient at times.
   Have you ever tried this? Do you feel uncomfortable when a writer does it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New tenants over our door

We have new tenants: a family of robins built a nest over our door. I took a picture of their beautiful nest without disturbing them.

 Robins are very cute. The American robin's chest is orange. Its eggs are light blue. Robins hop along the ground after rainstorms, or in freshly overturned soil, looking for worms and insects. As harbingers of spring Robins presage new beginnings.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Corporal expression and creativity

 During the five weeks I spent in Argentina I had the opportunity to attend a few classes of corporal expression. Corporal expression is an art in which the body is the medium to express emotions and the interaction between the inner self and the environment. It can be done with or without music.
 At the beginning I was stifled by inhibitions but, after a while, I was able to connect with the language that my body needed to express.
 This art affords us the opportunity to explore our emotions and materialize them through creative body movements. It is an artistic way of communicating with the world, just like music, dance, painting, literature.
   In addition to all the benefits that any form of exercise can provide, we enjoy the precious creative aspect of it. The impact on my  mood was very positive. All that fresh supply of blood to my brain was a precious gift to my writing habit.
When I came back to Wisconsin I decided to google "corporal expression" but most of what I found were websites about corporal expression in preschoolers and it left me wondering if adults are so much inhibited that we end up losing touch with this kind of art that allows us to connect our minds and bodies in meaningful ways.
   In Buenos Aires there is a a university career where you can get a degree in corporal expression. It takes five to six years to complete it.
   I wish I could find a place to do it once a week. It's something that both my mind and my body will be grateful for. If you are willing to learn more about corporal expression read this.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An uplifting post

A few days ago I enjoyed  the Anthony Petullo's collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The artists whose work is shown here are an inspiration to all of us. Their life experience sets the example of what passion and persistence can achieve when they go hand in hand.
-Many of these artists were self-taught.
-Many of them endured economic hardships and/or had mental disorders.
-Many of them started working on their art in their forties and even later.

 I would like to mention some of of my favorite artists from this collection:
Frederick James Lloyd: he grew up on a farm in Cheshire in England and had different jobs before he devoted himself to his art. He worked as a farm laborer, stoker, lamplighter, bus conductor and police officer. At the age of 42 he remarried and fathered nine children. You would not think that was the best time to work on his art, right? Wrong! He worked on something else to support his family during the day, but in the evenings he painted at his kitchen table with his kids running and playing around him. One of the paintings I am showing here (the one with the face) is Lloyd's work. 
Sylvia Levine is another self-taught artist who began painting at the age of 45. The landscape here is one of her many paintings.
Madge Gill is a woman who worked with ink and pencil. Here is a link to some of her interesting work:

 I cannot finish this post without telling you about Leo Navratil, a psychiatrist and author from Austria who encouraged his patients to draw and paint. While supporting his patients' creativity, he discovered that some of them were very talented. He sent some of the artwork to Jean Dubuffet and they created a group called The Gugging artists. Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) was an artist attracted to the art of children and the mentally ill. He did a lot to promote their work. He attacked "conformism" and mainstream culture which he described as "asphyxiating". Feel free to visit these links about Jean Dubuffet:

If you are close to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you may appreciate a visit to the Milwaukee Museum of Art to enjoy Anthony Petullo's collection.

On The Road

 I normally review books I fall in love with, but I didn't like Jack Kerouac's On The Road. I wrote a review about it. You can read it here:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Writing dialogue

  Dialogue should have one of these two functions:
1) Reveal character.
2) Move the story forward.
This is what Catherine Ann Jones states in her book "The Way of Story".
 When I edit my stories I keep those functions in my mind. I ask myself, " Do these words have a purpose?" I get rid of unnecessary chatter. I also read the dialogues aloud to know if they sound natural and realistic.

Dialogues can help us  show the reader something about the character. They can also contribute to shed light on the theme in subtle ways. Words sometimes lead to something that is not expressed but can be felt or intuited.
Catherine Ann Jones mentions that we can use dialogue to offer some back story about the characters. She sets Shakespeare as an example of this. Interestingly, I'd read some advice against using dialogue to reveal back story. I don't take this piece of advice seriously. The best lessons in writing are always learned by reading other writers' work.
  What are the challenges you face when you write or edit dialogues in your stories?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Water, a source of inspiration

Whenever I get stuck with an idea, or just for the fun of it, I like to be close to water. It works marvels when I need to roll my thoughts into stories. Sitting by a lake, contemplating the ocean, listening  to a stream or river flowing, walking by a pond, are all gifts to my creativity.
There is a pond close to my house and I like to peer out the window to rest my eyes on it and let my mind wander.
Here you are some interesting facts about water:

-Our bodies are made up of 60-70 %  water
- Coffee, tea and soft drinks contain caffeine - not just water. The diuretic effects of caffeine make your body lose water.
-Our brains need water. Why? Studies have shown that if you are only one percent dehydrated, you will likely have a 5 percent decrease in cognitive function. If your brain drops 2 percent in body water you may suffer from fuzzy short-term memory, experience problems with focusing, and have trouble with math calculations.
- Don't take water for granted. One billion people worldwide have no access to safe drinking water. 
-Half of the world's hospital beds are filled with people who suffer water related illnesses.
I was visiting the aquarium in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago when I thought about writing this blog entry. At that instant, a man approached me to ask for feedback on a website about the conservation of water. 
Here is the link to his website:
Now go and enjoy a nice sip of cool water.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thanking my enemies

 I don't like to have enemies. Who does? Yet I have to admit that they've had an impact on my writing life.
  Don't we need conflicts in our stories? Thinking about enemies from my past and what they have done to me has helped me to create realistic stories that captivated readers and made them empathize with the narrator.
  We need tension, don't we? Enemies have inspired me to write stories where tension builds up easily. They have led me to craft thought-provoking stories where I exposed the dark side of human nature.
 "There's good and bad in everyone" says Paul McCartny's song, so I was able to find something good about some of those enemies unless the character was a psychopath. Enemies have ignited rage, fustration, shame, strength and even wisdom and patience. I put everything to good use and explored those emotions to the best of my ability.
   Creative writing has allowed me to see my past under a different light. Don't be surprised if some of the toxic people out there help you create your next popular story.
  To a writer, each experience is a gem, a potential treasure of creative endeavors. I prefer to have friends, of course, but life is not always beautiful.
  Did negative experiences with people fuel your creativity?

Friday, February 3, 2012

The "Smart Cookie" award

 I want to thank Cindy from who gave me the "Smart Cookie" award a couple of weeks ago.
 Now I have to do a number of things as the recipient of this award:
1) Thank the award giver and add a link to their blog. (See above).
2) Share some interesting facts on anything.
3) Pass the award to other "Smart Cookies".
I am going to give this award to the following bloggers:

Elizabeth Varadan aka :

Liz Davis

Karen G

Rick Watson

J.L Campbell

Rebecca Kiel:

Now I will share some interesting facts. I have an interest in the mind and the human brain so I will say something about them.
1) Meditation has been shown to have beneficial effects on our brains. A study showed that after meditating for eight weeks the brains of those who meditated showed measurable changes in gray matter density in areas related to memory, empathy and learning. (MRIs were done to show the findings).
2) According to the same study, meditation also reduced gray matter density in the amygdala, an area of the brain connected to stress and anxiety
3) Exercise protects the brain as it ages. It has been shown to improve concentration and learning.
4) Studies suggest that  exercise helps to preserve mental functions and it may help to prevent Alzheimer's dementia.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The IMAX mind of a writer

Every time we write our stories we travel to another realm, we see the world from our characters' perspectives. We become like actors/actresses that play our characters' roles. We are going through the scenes as if we were watching a movie in an IMAX theater. 
This past weekend I went to an IMAX theater to watch The Mysteries of Egypt. It was a magic experience. While I was watching this fascinating movie I felt that I was traveling to Egypt. I had the chance to fly  over lakes and all kinds of different landscapes, to sail the rivers with the local people, to feel that I was right there. The vivid huge scenes made me  breathe in the dry air and feel the sun burning my skin and I could imagine myself touching the pyramids with my hands. I even felt the dizziness of going too fast in the air.
   While I watched this colorful movie, I came to the realization that the best stories I write are the ones into which I dive with my own body and mind. I sense everything, see, smell, hear and touch. Not because I bog down the story with descriptions, but because the scenes become so real in my mind that I become a different person embedded in the setting of my story.
   Don't you think it is fascinating?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Do strong opinions matter?

 A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a literary agent's blog who said that writers should not express strong opinions on their blogs because publishers don't like this. There were other recommendations but this one is the one that surprised me. There are readers out there who  disagreed with this agent's recommendation claiming that writers who do not express their opinions are not interesting and can be boring.

   I tend to write posts on which my personal views and opinions are made evident to the public. If I think that a subject is controversial I may take some time to process my ideas and thoughts before I dare write about it. In some cases I avoid writing about some topics altogether fearing that it may not be the right time in my career to do so.
  As writers we already take risks when we craft our own stories. Do we also take risks when we blog?
  Do you tend to gravitate towards blogs that are not opinionated? Or do you prefer blogs that express strong opinions? Do you prefer to sound neutral when you write a blog entry?
 What is your personal approach?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saying less is saying more

  I've had a fabulous learning experience this week. I had to submit a short story of around 700 words, so I decided to convert a specific story of 2000 words into a piece of flash fiction (700 words). Does it sound crazy? I had a precious opportunity that I did not want to waste, and I considered this was the right story to do that. (I am not going into details over this because it is not the purpose of this blog entry).
   I wasn't sure it would work out. It did. Tightening this short story was an enlightening experience. I was able to enhance the emotional intensity of the piece. I made it more powerful. In the ruthless process of trimming, I was able to see how by cutting down sentences and details I made relevant pieces of information stand out. I also came to the realization that there was some clutter that did not need to be there. I spotted pieces where I had been  over-telling.
  I read it aloud many times because I care about the musicality of what I craft. (Reading aloud is always part of my editing process).
 Have you ever tried converting a short story into a piece of flash fiction? If you haven't, try so. Just for the fun of it. You will learn a lot about the power of saying less and expressing more.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tips on how to prevent writer's block

 I've learned these tips from other seasoned writers and from my own experience:
1) Read, read, read. Read what inspires you and what interests you. Life is too short to waste it reading what you find boring.
2) Write on a regular basis.
3) Before beginning a story, create an outline and a number of characters. Make your characters come to life by thinking about their own interests, motivations, conflicts, emotions, situations, relationships, dreams.
4) If you ever encounter writer's block take a break and come back later. Do something else, like going for a walk, reading or anything you like.
5) Allow yourself to write   without censoring your thoughts. Let everything flow out without correcting anything, but keep in mind your outline and goals. They will help you  get somewhere. Editing will be done later.
6) Learn new words on a regular basis. Doing this will sharpen your mind and enrich your own writing. (In my case, it also fuels my imagination. Don't ask me why. It just happens).
7) Be patient.
8) Eat a  balanced diet. Exercise. Sleep the number of hours that you need to stay rested and alert.
9) Observe the people, events, conflicts around you. Everything and everyone can be a source of inspiration. Keep your imagination at work.
10) Be persistent with your goals.
11) Read, read, read. Pay attention to what you like about other writers' work. We are constantly learning something about the craft.
 12) Changing sceneries can help the brain to come up with new ideas.
  Feel free to share more tips if you have something else in mind.
 Here is a link that I found interesting:
   Happy writing!