SOUNDRISE: Available now!

I’m excited to report that my novel, SOUNDRISE, was just released! It is available at Amazon,, Books-a-Million,, Indigo, Book Depository and as an e-book on Apple and Kobo. It’s also available as a Kindle book on Amazon. It should be available at some bookstores, so check your local one. Indiebound lists local stores that will order my book.

I’m delighted the book is out now. It’s full of fun and adventure (see reviews) and is definitely my best book yet. Some reviews are on, so go over there to get some other insights into what readers thought. More reviews to come.

I’m very happy to share the first chapter with the world.

Pick up a copy!

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Writing together, sharing the bond

I love everything about writing, getting the ideas, wanting to jump out of bed at 3 am. when get a great character in a dream, writing my first draft on a clean sheet of legal paper (because writing moves organically from the brain the pen for reasons I don’t understand), and typing everything and revising as I go. However, there is one thing I hate—the loneliness of it all.

Writing is not something you can do with a group of friends or even with your family around. You need to be shut up in your office (or attic or wherever you can make space to write) and pound it out by yourself. Some people play music. I can’t even abide that.

But there is a wonderful thing that cures to loneliness of the paperback writer (or bestselling author) and that’s a writers group. Writers of various stripes and abilities find each other, usually through some kind of club or writers organization. They see if they like each other and get together as artists. Then they meet once a month or once a week, anytime to they agree to, and share manuscripts with each other. The result can be just transformative. And it certainly puts a little fun in your day.

I’ve been a member of the Off Campus Writers Workshop in Winnetka, IL, which is billed as the oldest continuously operating writers groupie the country. OCWW is a little different from the kind of writers group I just described. It meets weekly at 9:30 a.m. Thursdays and has a featured speakers. I found that I really don’t want, to get up early and drive far to hear speakers discuss topics that interest me little, so I only go to a few of those. The ones featuring Northwestern University Professor (a leader of a few off-campus groups I was in) Fred Shafer are a must, however, and they lead off the season every fall.

The important thing is that OCWW has split-off individual

writers groups and that’s what I wanted. We have a group of six writers from around the North suburbs of Chicago. We get together monthly and have a new chapter ready for critique in our ongoing manuscripts. One writer, Renee James, is constantly having to bring brand a new chapter to us, because she’s finished the last book already. One has already been published. The rest of us work slower.

We give feedback and revision, all delivered in non-judgmental ways. (That’s a must for a writer’s group to work.) I’ve been told that my characters believable and the dialogue believable, but at least on one ms., the group complained about too much technical language in a story about a computer hacker. Eventually, my publisher had the same complaint, so it’s back to the drawing board on that one. See what happens when you think you know more than everyone else? Better to keep an open mind.

Networking and talking about shared experiences (does your character talk to you?) keep the procedure bright and collegial.

OCWW was founded in 1946 when wives of Northwestern University professors gathered to socialize and write. Rita Turow, Scott Turow’s mother, was a founding member. Since then the group has attracted some 200 members from all writer levels. And the subjects of the books have changed quite a lot. James, is the author of “A Kind of Justice,’ which features the travails of a transsexual Chicago woman. She solves crimes on the way. Not exactly your grandmother’s kind of thriller. James is in my group, and let’s just say that we can’t wait to get to her submission each month.

Many of us are published writers, but all of us know that we can’t get everything right. And when you’re in a dank basement, clicking out words to a novel, if you are only letting your husband or boyfriend, plus a few best friends read the manuscript, you aren’t getting anywhere. And if all your readers are white, middle class, Protestant readers, that’s going nowhere too. Our group is admittedly white, but it’s male and female, Christian and Jewish, former reporters to a mayor’s wife. Right now we are all digging on Susan Van Dusen’s (real name) book on an Orthodox Jewish group that is searching for a lost yad, which is an instrument used to read the Torah. I have none of this experience, yet I find the ms. a must-read.

I could have been anywhere at this point in my writing experience, but I know I wouldn’t have been published if I hadn’t been in a (earlier, but just as good) writers group. Even when they would say they didn’t like something that I loved, I’d take it home, look at it after a couple days, and think, “If they didn’t like it, then some readers out there won’t get it either. Better change it.” If I were doing manuscripts all by myself, I’d never made that kind of jump.

If you are in the Chicago area, contact Off Campus Writers Workshop at If not, there are always many search programs on your computer.


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Are You the Character?


Creating characters happens in many ways. Some authors choose a friend or acquaintance at random and then embellish or exaggerate their attributes. Other writers imagine someone they’ve always wanted to know—or be in love with–and away they go with the character of their dreams.

In a book I recently read, a literary mystery by Randall Silvis named  Two Days Gone, the writer offers up a successful novelist and teacher, I can’t quote the entire section, but there are some fascinating bits in the professor’s words to his students about creating characters. First he tells them to watch people, listen to them, and watch fo rthe gestures that may hint at underlying character traits.

“Next”,’ he writes, “you must learn to translate this observational skill from real people to your characters. You have to come to know you character inside and out, know their history, her childhood, all the traumas and triumphs that made her who she is at the moment the story begins. Only the can you become that character as she takes those choices that will propel the story forward. You, the author, sitting there in your comfortable chair, typing away, must simultaneously be the character…Because only by becoming that character can you know with an authenticity how she will react to those situations. And only then will she be a credible, believable character. Only then will she be real.”

This character writing as a person telling us how to write a character is a weird thing to read, but it does have a lot of wisdom in it . Watching and internalizing quirks you see in people all around you is vital to get away from the same old suburbanite tooling along a nicely manicured suburban highway. Mimickng the way teenagers talk is the best way to put a character on the page who sounds like a true sixteen-year old. But getting inside the character’s head to the point that the character is you, or you are the character seems like bad advice to me. Because then you have a new problem; characters are all the same because they share your thoughts and traumas. Who wants that?

There also is the problem of multiple characters, especially if you have a manuscript where two (or more) characters share the spotlight. With the advice given by the “novelist and writing teacher,’ there would be not much difference between your characters. No conflict.That would lead to a dull read.

I know what Silva is trying to get at. Too many writers are far too lazy in their creations. They will often take a cardboard character, an Indian chief or a bejeweled socialite, toss them into the first draft, and then never try to deepen, or re-mold the character.  You simply have to avoid that. Each pass the writer takes with a draft should make the characters more like real people. But like you? No.

I have to admit that this is the first time I ever saw writing advice in the midst of a murder mystery, and Silva does a fine job with creating his novelist character—who might have murdered his entire family, or maybe is the sweet guy he seems to be who’s being framed.

I know there are lists they hand out to beginning writers that ask, what is the character’s favorite ice cream flavor, who is their idol, where could they live if they could chose anywhere. I never took these lists seriously, because all of my characters ended up liking carmel ice cream, loved Jesus, and wanted to live on a tropical island. It’s just boring trivia.

The best way to create  character is to create someone you meet by chance in your imagination, learn about them, and by the final draft they will have become your best friend. (And that somewhat includes the antagonist, who should be interesting enough to have reasons for his or her bizarre goals.)

But what could be more boring than reading a book about you?

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New Stonehenge-like structures found

Fans of histories of ancient England and neighboring lands will be thrilled to find that Stonehenge was not alone among great earthworks of ancient times.
Hundreds of old earthworks resembling those at Stonehenge were built in the Amazon rainforest, a whole continent away, scientists have discovered after flying drones over the area.
The findings prove for the first time that prehistoric settlers in Brazil cleared large wooded areas to create huge enclosure. The ss-composite-image-2017-2-6-17-54-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqqVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8.jpgrainforests at that time were supposed to be “pristine,” or untouched by human mechanics. Obviously, these forests were encroached upon, although not despoiled.
The enclosures, in the western Brazilian Amazon, have been concealed for centuries by trees, but modern deforestation has allowed 450 earthworks to emerge from the undergrowth. Scientists from the UK and Brazil flew drones over the site and officially spotted the hinges. The earthworks are also known by archaeologists as “geoglyphs” and date from around the year zero.
Jennifer Watling, a researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography in Sao Paulo, said the funcction of the sites represents Neolithic causeway enclosures, such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England “It is likely the geoglyphs were  used…for public gathering, rigtual sites,” Dr. Watling said. Although the English Stonehenge is 2,500 years older than the Brazilian geoglyphs, they probably represent a similar period in social development.
This discovery also reverses the assumption that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans.
“The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath more mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are ‘pristine ecosystems,’ “ said Dr. Watling.





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New Planets, New Fiction


(Picture from NASA)

Now that scientists have found seven new planets that might possibly harbor life orbiting a star, Trappist -1, that is “only” 40 light years (or 235 trillion miles) away, science fiction buffs are enthused about new worlds to write about. It doesn’t really take actual new worlds for fiction writers to create whole new societies and species—they’ve been doing that quite nicely with their own imaginations for years. But how nice it is to have actual planets that really exist on which to base speculative fiction. It gives the writing a ring of authority.

One of the nice things about the Trappist-1 discovery is that there isn’t just one planet to study, but a whole host of seven new worlds. One or more of these planets could revolve in just the right temperature range for oceans of water to exist, which most scientists think is essential for any kind of life like ours.

“I think we have made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” Amaury H. M. J. Triaud, and astronomer at the University of Cambridge, England, told the New York Times.

Right now, telescopes on the ground and at the Hubble Space Telescopes in orbit are able to find some of the molecules in the atmosphere of the seven new plants. Later, the James Webb Space Telescope (to be launched next year) will be able to judge infrared wavelengths of light.

All this study will help in the search for life. And even if the planets don’t have life, they will provide new clues about what keeps life from evolving on different worlds.

No matter what the scientists find, fiction writers will have all kinds of fun developing life and societies for the new planets. The worlds orbit  and ulltra-cool dwarf star, which is much different than our own. It has only one-twelfth the mass of the sun and a surface temperature of 4,150 Fahrenheit, much cooler than the 10,000 degrees of our own sun. How will that affect the type of aliens that could live there? Maybe they are furry and have blubber to retain heat. Or maybe they are just smaller, in context with the sun the live under.

Another interesting thing is that the planets are relatively close to each other and are pulled close to the star. Could this mean a civilization develops that is multi-planetary in nature, with denizens hopping from planet to planet with ease?

Writers will be watching the developments of Trappist-1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first Trappist-1 novels start appearing in the next few years.

I, who don’t write science-fiction but sometimes enjoy it, couldn’t be more excited about this discovery. It means a great deal for our general knowledge of the universe, and for literary art.

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The Long and the Short of Stories

I am asked constantly, “How does a writer get published?” Besides the obvious answer “Write well,” I often tell a tale of how the most determined writers get to their goal.

There are two important ways that writers can become published, and they seem almost diametrically opposed.
One way is to accrue a good-sized collection of short stories that the author has published in literary journals from around the country (and even abroad). The more published stories the author has, the better he or she looks to a literary agent or publisher looking at the material.

This is certainly the long road to getting published, because the rejection rate of literary magazines is phenomenal. In the old days, writers would wait anxiously for their Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) to see if it contained an acceptance or rejection. I remember going to the mailbox and pulling out those poor, thin little SASEs—thin because they almost always contained a terse rejection, written on a small piece of paper. Reason: “does not fit our needs at this time.” Now. submissions are be email, and the magazines don’t answer at all.

Rarely, an agent or agency staffer would ask for a re-write or for some other examples of the author’s work. This usually left the writer crying tears of joy, for someone actually read their story well enough to make a comment about it. Once in a great while the work would be accepted, and then the envelope would be thick and full of contracts that the writer had to sign. I only got one of those and it was so long ago that I forgot what journal accepted the story.

The idea here is that if you had enough stories published by such well-known journals as The Kenyon Review, Granta, and The New Yorker (!), and agent will take the writer on to produce novels, that, they both hope will sell well.

The other road to getting published is less touted by the schools offers Master of Fine Arts degrees, but it often produces faster results. The writer toils on a novel straight from the beginning, mainly because he or she doesn’t have much interest in short stories. The novel is tossed around writers groups, home reading groups and is sent out to minor publishers, gaining comments along the way. Almost always the novel is not accepted at any publishing house, but it can be read and remembered by members of the publishers and editors at various writing establishments, who often share material between them selves.
The author can self-publish, which doesn’t guarantee much money or readership, but can land the book in the right hands. This is the route I took. I wrote a couple more manuscripts and sent them out to higher-level agents, hoping they’d take a chance on me. None of them did.

But then a miracle happened. One of the publishers who had read my self-published novel remembered it and liked the style. We worked on a science-fiction book together where I was the ghost writer and he came up with the plot. It was never published, but our relationship was tight. When he decided to start his own publishing company, he wrote me and asked for a manuscript to publish. While I was trying to figure out if this was a joke or not, I finally took him at his word and The God’s Wife, an novel about ancient Egypt, was published by Fiction Studio Publishing (now the Story Plant). My publisher is and was the wonderful Lou Aronica.

I’m not saying this happens every day. But novelists who stick to novels instead of goofing around with short stories they really don’t like, often have what it takes to push through to success.

And so, now, I’ve taken a fresh new look at short stories and what they can offer (usually a jumping off point for new novel, for me). My second short story will appear in A Dozen Truths: 12 Works of Fiction. This is the March 14, 2017, Kindle edition and can be pre-ordered at Amazon at this link; A paperback book is also in the works.

So, it can go both ways: short story writers can become novelists and novelists can start writing short stories, The important thing is to write what you love the most. Sincerity just can’t be faked.

Categories: Climate change threatens NASA, the writer's craft | Leave a comment

Bringing the holidays to the page (or not)

Not very many fiction writers make Christmas (or Hanukkah) the center setting of their novels. There was only one Charles Dickens and his “A Christmas Carol.” Few writers have even tried to surpass it. The holidays as a theme is usually used for marketing purposes in series detective novels, romances, even those strange hybrids, the cat mysteries (cozy whodunits featuring cats that help solve crimes). Most writers creating literary fiction or even thrillers and pot-boilers stay far away from the cheer and festivity of Christmas.

Some people don’t bring up cold weather at all. I, definitely a summer person, don’t like writing about snow and wind chills, even when that’s what I have swirling around me.tumblr_nrunr1vW2K1u7wocpo1_500 Yet I did bring characters together to Chicago in January in Dateline: Atlantis, freezing up the California-bred characters nicely before sending everyone off to Florida and the Caribbean. Christmas was never mentioned. There was a family dinner in that novel that could have doubled for Thanksgiving, but I never mentioned the holiday. I wasn’t trying to get readers in cheery, cozy mood, because a murder happened while the characters dined.

As much as I hate cold and frostbite, some writers seem to revel in it. Many writers of crime fiction love to make their detectives wade through snowdrifts five feet high, suffer in stakeouts in sub-zero weather, and struggle to hold a gun while wearing two layers of gloves. Hats off  (and quickly on again) to Libby Hellman and Sara Paretsky for making Chicago look so bad, but a perfect place for criminal mayhem.

Writer Stuart Dybek, another Chicagoan, once write a short story called “Cordoba” about a man who hails a cab in a blinding snowstorm. The cabby has the name of woman that he’s in love with.  He hasn’t met only gotten her phone number, but he’s in heaven,  Somehow, Dybek makes the snowscape sexy as the cabby goes on about all the pleasures he’ll soon be experiencing in his new girlfriend’s apartment. That is is he has the guts to call her. Then just as things seem perfect for the cabby, he loses the woman’s phone number and blames his fare for stealing it.  The customer doesn’t have the number but knows murderous lust when he sees it and dives out of the car into the snow. The storm gets worse and the cab gets stuck. The patron makes a hasty exit. At the end of the story, which I heard Dybek read to a group of authors, the customer finds the phone number stuck to his scarf. On a whim, he calls the woman. It’s just a luscious piece of work, even if it makes Chicago look like a horrible place to live. (I’ll write about that another time, but Chicago in spring, summer and fall is quite cosmopolitan and offers great entertainment.)

But Christmas? Well, there are the aforementioned series fiction styles which have a Christmas theme once in a while. There’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas (a true classic) by the late Dr. Seuss, The Christmas Box  by Richard Paul Evans (which I have never read) and the wonderful children’s classic, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. But nothing earth-shattering comes to mind.

Christmas is a day to take part in and enjoy and not to write about.









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Mummy is a lot of “croc”

Mummies of animals have long been part of the deeply complex Egyptian religion. The still unearthed Labyrinth of Egypt was said to hold hundreds of crocodile mummies and hundreds more mummies of human beings.

But crocodile mummies aren’t that hard to find in the many tombs of the once-great culture. The crocodile was said the be the material incarnation of the god Sobek, much as Thoth was known as an stork-like bird and Horus was portrayed as a falcon. Egyptians didn’t worship crocodiles, but they considered large and ornate mummies of crocodiles as an offering to the great god, Sobek.egyptian-giant-crocodile-mummy-is-full-of-surprises1

Scientists had a look recently at a croc mummy that more unusual than most; it was extremely large, possibly containing a monster reptile. But when they did a 3-D CT scan of the mummy at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, they found not only two full-grown crocodiles, but dozens of individually wrapped baby crocodiles. There are only a few of this kind of multi-croc mummies to be found in the world.

The Egyptians used all sorts of stuffing (linen, wood, rope and plant stems) to make the mummy take on the shape of a huge crocodile.

Since November, visitors to the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities can do a virtual autopsy on the 3,000-year-old mummy, using an interactive visualization tool. They also can do a post-mortem exam of an Egyptian priest. They can examine the ancient remains layer by layer, learning about the age at death, physical features, and the mummification process.

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Hark! The Spirits of Literature call!

Around this time of year, authors sometimes start thinking of writing about angels. They are such enchanting creatures. They linger here as messengers from God and bringers of light.

I found myself reading “Faithful: A Novel,” by one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman, that is suddenly infused with angel imagery. It made me think back to the time in the late ’90s when there was an honest-to-goodness angel fad. You could hardly find a calendar that didn’t feature twelve months of angels. Or pick up a romance paperback that didn’t have an angel hovering over a couple fated for each other.


The angel Gabriel in Eastern Orthodox form.

I had had an idea for angel book long before the fad started, but I completed “Excited Light” (not on Story Plant books, but published independently) in 2006. That was right at the tail end of the angel binge period and I’m afraid not too many people were interested anymore. I still stand by my work.

However, in the world of fantasy literature, angels are not only popular, but they are almost unrecognizable. They command whole worlds and do battle with one another. They are huge and weild terrific powers. Nowhere is the little cherub playing a violin that was so popular in late ’90s art.

I’m not inclined to read about angels of this sort, but it does cheer my heart that someone is taking them seriously. In the books I’m working on for Story Plant publications have nothing to do with angels whatsoever. But now, I’m thinking of a way to put these sublime beings into the storyline. In no way am I thinking of doing a whole book about angels. The market won’t hold for that. But as additional characters, they can only do good.

I supposed it’s the season that’s making me think back to how wonderful it feels to write about angels. And no one can make fun of me because it’s Fantasy! I never imagined them to be dainty and meek, always powerful and aware. They’d be welcome additions to my word of fantastic and dream imagery.


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Coral makes a comeback in the Caribbean


For years now, coral has been dying off in the warm oceans. People are warned to touch it, lest they cause more coral death. But it’s coral that most people want to see when vacationing in areas with warm water. Not to mention that coral reefs are important refuges for myriad fish, who hunt for food in the reefs.

Some stunning news has come to light, now that scientists have discovered that the orbicella variant of coral has been able to adapt to its environment and come back to life.

One or two million years ago, most coral died off on earth due to climactic changes (much like what is happening today). However, orbicella managed to adapt and reassert itself in those ancient times. Scientists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)  Orbicella, will continue to adapt to future climate changes because of their high genetic diversity.

“We can look forward to using similar approaches to predict demographic models to better manage the climate change threatened Orbicella reefs of today,” said Monica Medina, research associate at STRI and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Scientists are going to closely research the orbicella genome and see how it can be applied to preserving other coral populations.


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