Story Lulling

May 11, 2017The 'Julius' Chronicles

A little over a month ago, literary agent Donald Maass in his monthly contribution on Writer Unboxed wrote about casting the spell on readers to get them immersed in a story that it’s similar to being lulled into a dreamlike state.

This spell casting consists of a narrative voice that charms you to follow it into a story that comes alive (or not, Maass adds). He writes, “Sadly, not every narrative voice quickly takes charge and assures us that it is okay to dream.  All should.  From the darkest horror to the frothiest comedy, novels can immediately put us under a spell but too often they don’t.  The voice relating the tale is far off, timid, or false; a huckster’s voice selling us a sideshow trick or the phony intimacy of a presumptuous stranger.

Towards the end of the article, he invited readers to share their opening so he could comment. I took the plunge and shared my opening prologue to Julius from Alvah’s perspective. Here it is, warts and all:

The Lower Eastside, November 2008

I am watching you. I have been for a long time. 

You sit in the redwood gazebo in the small, neighborhood park that preserves the memory of the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., glancing over your shoulder, you notice the two men in dark overcoats sitting at the plaza across the street. A sigh escapes from your lips as you contemplate your decision.

I am tempted to make my presence known. However, the time isn’t right to offer my counsel. Soon I will be there to guide you. To be your confidant. Your friend. 

We are kindred spirits—you and I—no matter how far we’ve been kept apart by decades, distance, and death.

We are fellow travelers—comrades.

You scan the horizon. It is a typical New York winter; the sky is flat, gray-white.

It looks like it might snow. 

And you remember.

A day so much like today—a cold Sunday with a flat, gray-white sky.

It’s 1980: Israel and Egypt established diplomatic relations. President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics. The US minimum wage was $3.10.

Yet none of this mattered because you were only ten-years-old.

What mattered was the story your grandfather told you that day and how one man’s name would change the course of your life.


Just an aside, this was fine-tuned many times, especially when I’m feeling stuck—as I often am with this story. This was Don’s response, “Great opening lines, but I must say I quickly lost interest. That’s a disappointment because your story idea and choice of guardian angel POV are so cool.

There’s a lot of information here but less sense that there is something that we urgently need to understand. I’d trade a lot of the intrigue for a little bit of what truly matters in this moment to this angel.”

Sigh. Was I disappointed? Not really. Why? Because it’s just one agent’s opinion, and there are plenty out there to query. Does it need more work or should I completely scrap it?  I’ll let you know when I’m done with this final do over.

So…the question is do you agree with Don or would you turn the page, allowing this narrative voice to lull you into the dream?

March 20, 2017Mental Health


Since December I’ve suffered through the winter blues, which consisted mostly of feeling anxious of having to walk the dogs through the snow and ice and not slip and break a leg or an arm.

But I’ve also experienced some mild anxiety where I’m convinced that I’m about to have a heart attack. I reckon I associate winter with heart disease because Greg died of a massive coronary in late November.

Shortly after he passed, I joined a Facebook grieving group and I was told that panic/anxiety attacks would be my new normal and to accept it. I was appalled to read that and I thought it was a sign of weakness. But as I’ve learned these past few months, panic or anxiety attacks can be triggered by many things. Mine are triggered by Greg and Donald Trump’s shared misogyny, bigotry and xenophobia.

It turns out that during the time I lived with Greg, I bottled up a lot of feelings. He was a difficult person and the times I needed to talk things out with him, he dismissed how I felt attributing them to “silly female worries”  Although he’s been gone for almost a year-and-one-half, much of the anger and frustration manifested itself into anxiety attacks. With the exception of one visit to the ER, I’ve weathered through the stress, but it has left its mark: my blood pressure is high, and the doctor prescribed 100 mg metoprolol to take daily. Apart from treating high blood pressure, metoprolol is also used to for anxiety. So I’m on a multipurpose medication. Yay me (written in a sarcastic tone).

I’ve been on the metoprolol for three weeks and I’ve noticed a significant change. I’m not as anxious. I don’t seem to ruminate as much as I did. However, I’ve also noticed a few things and that’s the obsessive need to research every ache and pain. I discovered that in spite of joking about my hypochondria, it’s in fact an anxiety disorder. One that I’ve had since dealing with my precancer bout.

So I made a pact with myself: I take my medicine, I meditate, I exercise, I acknowledge the anxiety when I experience it, but I don’t dwell on it. If I have some physical discomfort, I don’t go running to WebMD to look up the symptoms. That feeds the disorder, drives my blood pressure up, and  ruins the entire day.

My next step is to see a therapist for some talk therapy. I know I have to work through several issues—one is the anger with myself for staying in a relationship that physically and emotionally harmed me, and another is this newfound fear and uncertainty that seems to accompany me everywhere I go.

Although I tend to be patient with others, I’m not very patient with myself. But to accept and defeat this, I know I’ll have to tell the fear to get lost because there are books to be written, people to meet, places to travel and live a full and happy life.

Journaling and Brainstorming

March 13, 2017The 'Julius' Chronicles

For almost two years I’ve been consistent with keeping a daily journal where I jot down my great thoughts. They’ve mostly been ramblings concerning finances, health, work, and the usual things I tend to obsess about. But on the occasions I get bored with the same subject matter and veer away from it, I brainstorm story ideas for Julius.

In my last post I mentioned a scene I was debating to delete, but decided to keep. The question was why did I want to keep it, and what would it add to the story. I asked myself several questions and by the end of my internal interrogation, I discovered I had added another layer of complexity that relates to idealism but also its corruption. I didn’t expect to stumble into those prickly brambles of political ideology and have my main character question the beliefs of the men and women she admired, but now I’ve crossed that line and I’m waiting to see if she’ll accept those questionable acts or repudiate them.

As I approach year nine of working on this story, I’ve realized that it’s not as cut and dry as I wanted it to be when I first began to write it. In the past year, I’ve seen how the characters have further developed; they’re now more comfortable showing me their fears as well as their triumphs. I’ve also discovered that one character, whose behavior, at best, has been questionable, tried to redeem himself.

So after these major discoveries am I closer to typing “The End”? As much as I would like to say yes, I’ll leave it more as a maybe. There are still some more discoveries to be made…