September 11, 2015

On 9-11-2015 SPEAK!

9-11-2015: After the moment of silence today at at 8:46 AM (Eastern Daylight Time),
the time the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck the North Tower of the
World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, SPEAK!
On 9/11/01, while in my flimsy white cotton nightgown watching NBC news with  Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, the plane hit the tower, live, real, dead-on—and I was struck dumb.

I taught creative writing at George Washington University in D.C., so close to the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania, and, yes, New York City.
I wondered:  "How do I ask my students to write?"
I answered the question with a question: Isn't the gift of language, the foundation of our humanity?
So here I am fourteen years later again trying to put words around the unexplainable, acknowledging my inability to understand.
Paul Celan
Paul Celan, the poet, came home one day to find that Nazis had taken his parents during an overnight raid in Czernowitz in 1942. At the time he was 22
and was away for the night. The door, when he returned, was sealed and never again did he see his parents, speak to them. Celan was left, I have to believe, trying to explain the unexplainable.
I went to his words the day after 9/11 to find something to read in my classroom about writing fiction and memoir and I found the right words for me within the midst of the long talk Celan gave in 1961, translated from the German by John Felstiner. Celan spoke on the problem of making art, of writing poetry, of speaking the words he spoke when he received the Georg Büchner Prize, the major German literary award.
Like his poetry, his words are full of loss, but still he offered words. I read them to my writing students—and goodness only knows what they thought—from the speech Celan gave entitled "The Meridian":
Ladies and gentlemen, I find something that comforts me a little at having taken, in your presence, this impossible path, this path of the impossible.
I find something that binds and leads to encounter, like a poem.
I find something—like language—immaterial yet earthly, terrestrial, something circular, returning upon itself by way of both poles and thereby—happily—even crossing the tropics (and tropes): I find ... a meridian. [ellipsis, his]
A meridian, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is "the great circle that passes through the celestial poles."
If we had any doubts before 9/11 about the connectedness of humankind on this globe, for good or for ill, we could have none after that day. So I say, yes, let's have moments of silence on this the fourteen-year anniversary of such a great world-changing tragedy—but then SPEAK.
"Modern Book Printing", fourth sculpture (from six) of the Berliner Walk of Ideas

Know that I use the term speak metaphorically: Make something on 9/11.
If you're a bricklayer, place a brick in its right place in a building on 9/11; if you're an accountant, place the sum as the right answer on 9/11; if you're a bartender, make the perfect cocktail, set it down with your hand in front of your customer—and connect on 9/11.
Hold your children, hold each other, take the hand of another, believe that goodness lies within your reach.
I say here today, fourteen years later, that no matter how or when we are cast into the abyss of existence, speak. I say, in whatever ways we live in the world, make something.
Connect the meridian that encircles us all. Affirm our shared humanity.
And I ask you this question: Why even talk, let alone write poems or stories, build bridges or buildings if nothing is nothing is nothing?
Photo: Paul Celan, b. 11/23/1920 d. 4/20/1970)
Narrator of YouTube video "Take a Day to Remember the Day That Changed Us Forever": Robert DeNiro
Photo: Walk of Ideas, Berlin-Mitte by Lienhard Schulz
"Modern Book Printing", fourth sculpture (from six) of the Berliner Walk of Ideas on the occasion of 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. Unveiling: 21 April 2006 at Bebelplatz, square near the Unter den Linden in front of Humboldt University. It is to commemorate to Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of Modern Book Printing around 1450 in Mainz.

August 09, 2015

Fun things about Wattpad

Note here that all the @ links take you to It’s a free site that if you are a literary snob—stop reading right now. 

Otherwise, keep reading. For the links, you do need to join. But all that’s needed is: a moniker (anything you like), a password and an e-mail address. No spam ever comes from the site and only folks you follow will be able to send you alerts. It’s safe and it’s full of discoveries.

 Click  ➾➾ Why I am on Wattpad for more information about the site and why, I—a literary fiction and memoir writer—decided to join.

I was lucky to be included in the Wattpad Block Party-Summer Edition. My entry was entitled click  ➾➾ Mary Interviews Herself --See below.

For all of you who entered the Wattpad Block Party-Summer Edition Giveaway: The Giveaways have been randomly chosen (Rafflecopter did it for us.). And the winner of the version of my novel Who by Fire is the lovely @SmeraGoel who lives in India. She now has the novel, narrated by me. She will received from me a written note and my signature postcard.

designed by ZAARA

The biggest fan winner of the party is cheer_tyme01  I will write her and send her a post card for her use.

See what she wrote and the lovely words of two runners up: Tusli107  and AprilDanfields 

Why Wattpad? More on this question

Wattpad is a glimpse into the digital future. Sure you’ll find vampires and fan fiction. You’ll find chick lit and rants. But here’s the thing, if you want to read me for free, you may here—including the opening of the new novel that I’m now writing offline--now close to finished. The novel’s title is Dangerous Love.

Here’s the bigger thing: You will find gems that you can read for free and that you’d never have expected.

Here are just a few examples: 

@barry205 is a Brit who now lives in Qatar and spent many years in the military, Iraq and Afghanistan: He writes about his experiences as a male nurse, soldier and leader of his medical team in Afghanistan. His poetry soars, his prose bleeds on the page. Unforgettable writing.

I posted this comment on When You’re Wounded and Left on Afghanistan’s Plains: “The backstory here about your move up the ranks, your work as a nurse and your sense of being a parent to those younger than you when you at 35 reach this point in Afghanistan sets the stage here for what comes. Then you with no sentimentality you chronicle what you see. This, sir, is the art of writing. Voted big time.”

Yes, you get to vote on Wattpad and comment and engage with the writer. If you find a writer like me, you’ll find someone who responds to every single comment and you’ll make a connection that might change that writer’s life or yours. I’ve been in conversation with all my readers and my life has indeed been changed by this experience.

On Wattpad, I met Thomas Bonnick. He’s @5ifthproject on Wattpad, Thomas lives in Canada, was born in Jamaica and came up with the generous idea he entitled, click on 5Qi to see and read after you join Wattpad. Thomas asked writers of all ilk, the fantasy writers, the vampire worshippers, poets and others to tell why they write.

First: Here’s what Thomas says about himself—and yes, you will be charmed: “My journey started many years ago, far away from Canada where I now call home. Four and a half hours in the sky, over the open sea. Somewhere warm, friendly and colorful. A place where the change of seasons doesn't require a change of wardrobe, a place where flowers bloom and robins sing all year round. A place where our motto is: ‘Out of many, one people.’ I'm from the beautiful Island of Jamaica.”

He presented to me and many others FIVE interview questions (of course, 5ifth project is his moniker!) and each of us could add a sixth, bonus q.

I mentioned these other writers: discoveries you wouldn’t expect because Wattpad is just that: Not What You Expect. These were my high fives to writers who have inspired me with the risks they take on the page and for the fact that they shoot for the moon:

@AlanSkinner raises the Young Adult novel to a level of literary writing, intrigue, and gives us his love of a female heroine. Don’t miss his articulate essays. They soar with savvy commentary on actors, the arts and more. Alan now writes a column for Click  ➾➾  Facts and ArtsHe’s so worth reading.

@grapher writes stunning poetry that feels as if she’s drawing with words.

@tamoja may be the most generous reader I’ve encountered here: When she loves you, she reads you straight through. Check out her Snippets: a gift in itself.

@Lisaner we've lost to illness, but she rocks with Rock Poetry that will knock your socks off and she’s a generous and dear woman.

I want you to consider this:

Why a literary writer should be on Wattpad: 

The future is here and it’s digital. Think about the way you discover music today, songs you find on the Internet first and then buy the album. Of course I want readers to buy my published three books, hold them in their hands, an yes I want folks to discover the new novel Passing Through that I’m writing live on Wattpad. I do. But here’s the thing: I’ve been in the literary world for the biggest and best part of my life, published stories in literary journals, won literary contests. On Wattpad I’m flourishing in a way I don't think possible anywhere else. I have readers, writers, community, feedback—it’s constant, encouraging and often brilliantly insightful –and all this from folks I would never otherwise know.

I see potential on Wattpad for both literacy and writing, serious writing that matters. Let’s talk for a minute about literacy and art: Think of a child paints a painting and you love it and hang it above your piano as I have. A child writes a poem and you save it and read it at their bat mitzvah or confirmation as I did. Literacy and art hold hands like children in a circle. They dance together. To think that Wattpad is not literate enough because young people are trying out writing, risking is to not understand the relationship of art to life from the get-go. From birth to death. Art emerges on Wattpad. Writers on Wattpad of all ages and languages and countries all across the world are taking risks here, bleeding on the page.

Invention comes only when the writer is willing to risk. When you find that on the page here on Wattpad, you know it. You see it. I can’t help but comment if you are already reading and studying literature. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll find a mentor/teacher who will tell you when you “hit” it but who won’t throw the invention out with the bath water. When I see that glimmer of invention in work here, I want more than anything to comment, to say so—to say, I see it, go for it!

Here’s my self interview (in full :))

Q: Why would anyone want to do a self-interview? Isn’t that the height of naval gazing?

I got the idea from a cool site entitled The Nervous Breakdown. I think most writers—and I’m no exception—think they’re on the verge of one. So here goes.

Q. But you didn’t answer the question about naval gazing? Do you think you’re self-absorbed?

Writers are regularly accused of being selfish because they openly admit to being interested in their own thoughts—as if no one else has that so-called problem. The real self-absorption would be concern about others being interested in what I have to say. Why should you be interested in me or my writing? If I’m continually asking myself that question, that would count as self-absorption. I never ask myself that question.

Q. Okay, how about this one: Do you think self-revelation is part of the process of writing?

Any writer who denies it, lies. I agree with David Shields who argues in Reality Hunger and he actually says this one—in case you don’t know that book and you should, he quotes mercilessly without formal attribution: “So: no more master, no more masterpieces. What I want (instead of God the novelist) is self-portrait in a convex mirror.”

Q. Did you achieve that in your novel Who by Fire, the one you’ve NOT posted on Wattpad?

Hard to say. Achievement is a big word. But I would say this: The writer needs to be fearless to be worth reading. That means all subterfuge about who you are must come off when you write either fiction or memoir. What’s in this book is closer to the emotional truth of my own process of self-discovery than anything I could tell you in this interview.

Q. Give me an example.

I was in Whiting, Iowa, when the fire occurred, a controlled burn. It was a long, long time ago and when I saw it I knew I would write about it some day. I didn’t know why. So now I had the burn.

And then I found an article in the newspaper about a baby that had been found in an attic in a house on Veazey Street in DC and I saved it.

Now that I’ve read the novel aloud—I’m the narrator for the version that is my giveaway for the block party—I could see it anew by hearing myself read. It was as if I heard the novel for the first time. Here’s one of the things that happened:

I see my sister who lost a baby, a baby that died after 23 hours, bubbling up in the book. I didn’t know I was hitting that memory when I was writing the book. I was 16 when this happened and I saw the baby with her flash of black hair in the nursery. My face was pressed against the glass. How could that not have something to do with me? It did. It still does.

Q. So isn’t that navel gazing?

One of my biggest worries in the novel is that it’s highly interior. I’m inside the narrator Robert’s head all through the book. He tells the story.

Because I was so worried about his self-reflection, his navel gazing, I worked hard on the plot to move the book forward and get the reader in real time as soon as I could manage. That means two married couples, a partner in each couple cheating on the other. The narrator Robert discovers after Lena his wife dies that she’s cheated on him. Robert discovers how all that happened through memory and through what he finds out after his wife’s death.

But truly, only the reader can answer this question: Is this navel gazing? And was it worth the read and the ride?

Q: Are you obsessed with heroes? Your narrator certainly is.

I want to understand what the word hero means. One could argue that we have few if any modern books in literature that folks would identify with a hero, the kind we find more in film than in books, unless we go to the romance novel or supernatural stuff. I think that’s one of the reasons Wattpadders are driven to the supernatural.

I actually think Wattpadders obsessed with vampires and other supernatural heroes are raising the philosophical and literary question: Is heroism possible in reality-based writing? Are heroes in real life possible?

I explore that last question all the way through the book.

Q: You kill your main character on page one of this novel. If you’re in the book in some way, doesn’t that mean you plotted your own death?

Golly, I hope I didn’t plot my own death. But of course I did think about it. In a sense, if I’m in any way Robert’s wife, I do kill Lena on page one, arguably in the first sentence. So I guess you could argue that’s what I’m doing. But at the time of the writing of the book, I was losing my husband—see (Re)Making Love right here on Wattpad.

I now realize that Who by Fire is a love letter to him, that I wrote it in the hope that I would get him back.

I wrote in Robert’s voice, a man’s voice, because I was trying to understand the man who left me, the man I loved.

More key, though, is this: I don’t think anyone who is thoughtfully alive and human can avoid considering his own death.

Q.: Why would anyone want to read about that?

Because the book is about love, not death. You know that love is the answer.

Q: But what, pray tell, is the question?

Now that’s what Who by Fire is really about: Love is the answer. Now, what was the question? Read it to see if I ask and answer. Then let me know.

Other links, other folks—no, not all literary—so if you’re a snob, don’t read on. If you want a glimpse, do and join Wattpad and skulk around—you may be surprised. After all I found Alan Skinner and Barry205 there!

My PS with help from the poet William Carlos Williams:

Wattpad is rich with the undiscovered, the voice that waits to be heard.

Here’s why: As William Carlos Williams said in his poem "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower", with word poem here think of invention, of art.

                        It is difficult

to get the news from poems

            yet men die miserably every day

                        for lack

of what is found there. 

May 26, 2015

Update on Radio Interviews

Radio interviews with the fascinating. My radio show via Rare Bird Blogtalk Radio now has logged in twenty-three shows. I keep saying that I'm retiring it for now as I work hard on the novel Passing Through. 

But you never know. 

Here's what happened: Because I love film, because I write about it on  and interview directors, I had the chance to talk about The Actors Studio with James Wilder: 

James Wilder

When James appeared in my artistic life while I've been moving to Chicago, and even though I'm writing the novel Passing Through live on Wattpad, we chatted about art, acting and the famed Actors Studio on air. See the link below--and who knows what great actor or director will be next? 

But back to Wattpad for a moment: Wattpad is the brainchild of Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen and is a writing and social media site based in Toronto, Canada with some 37 million users, 75 million stories, 9 billion minutes spent by those writers and readers on Wattpad every month. So if you haven’t heard of Wattpad, I suspect you will be hearing more and more about it.

Read more about Wattpad by clicking → Why I Am on Wattpad

On Wattpad, I wrote the first 14,000 words of Passing Throughalmost as if struck by lightening. I'm finishing it offline but will keep you updated on that and my not-so-by-the-way move to Hyde Park, Chicago, home of the University of Chicago. I know it's cold there. But we'll have a fireplace and can watch the lake freeze...

Now for those Twenty-Three radio interviews that have been an unparalleled delight:

One caveat: When you click on a link below, a short pause and an ad (about 10-20 seconds) may first appear, not of my making, so do forgive, but then you'll hear the show as it ran live. Each show is thirty minutes. Listen at your leisure to all or part of any of the shows.

Click on the name and you'll be taken to the radio show:

James Wilder, lifetime member of The Actors Studio

Dana Gioia, poet, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts and author most recently of Pity the Beautiful, poems

Molly Peacock, poet, memoir writer and author of The Paper Garden: An Artist {Begins Her Life's Work} at 72

Henry Jaglom, distinguished independent filmmaker, director, screenwriter

Margaret Brown, publisher of the digital magazine Shelf Unbound: What to read next in independent publishing

Alan Cheuse, author and NPR book reviewer

Richard Kramer, producer, writer of thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and a new HBO series

Sarah C. Harwell, poet, author of Sit Down Traveler

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, painter, poet and Big Sur presence

Colm Herron, of Derry, Ireland, author of The Wake (and what Jeremiah did next)

Marc Schuster: book reviewer, author of The Grievers

Jaki Scarcello, author of Fifty and Fabulous: The best years of a woman's life

Douglas Rogers, author of The Last Resort: a memoir of mischief and mayhem on a family farm in Africa

Ravi Shankar, poet, author of Deepening Groove

Anne Marie Ruff, journalist, author of Through These Veins, plant biotechnology, AIDs, art

Peter Cox, British literary agent

Robert G. Pielke, author of Rock Music in American Culture

Jacquie Kubin, former managing and senior editor of The Communities at The Washington Times

Maureen Stanton, author of Killer Stuff and Tons of Money

Derek Haines, self-published author of more than 14 books, novels and essays

The Third Man and Déjà Vu: A Love StoryConversation with journalist Harvey Black about the Graham Greene screenplay and movie starring Orson Welles and the Henry Jaglom film (See the interview link above.)

Eduardo Santiago, Cuban author of Tomorrow They Will Kiss

Michael Johnson, journalist who lives in Bordeaux France and writes for The International Herald Tribune, Open Letters, Facts and Arts, The Columnists--and more.

Enjoy and do let me know what you think. Comments always welcome.

February 24, 2015

Get This: (Re)Making Love: a memoir wins the Watty

Now what did she say? You’ve watched the Oscars. You know what an Oscar is. What, pray tell, is a Watty?

First things first: The amazing Wattpad is the brainchild of Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, who had an inventive idea that people love to read, love human expression and that that is the real news. 

Here they are:

Ivan Yuen and Allen Lau

Every year Wattpad headquarters, that's some 96 folks who work in Toronto, have their version of the Oscars and they call it: The Wattys!

Get this: (Re)Making Love: a memoir won! This version of the memoir includes the whole tale of the good, the bad and the foolish with photos on every single chapter and YouTube videos of romantic comedies, songs and more.

Click ☞Why I’m on Wattpad for how I discovered this marvelous, innovative site. 

And I am not alone: 

35 million users 

spend 9 billions minutes

on Wattpad every month

With all the “news” that bombards us daily, Wattpad understands that poetry and memoir and fiction and the desire to invent lie at the center of the human heart.

Here is William Carlos Williams on the subject:

My heart rouses
               thinking to bring you news
                              of something
that concerns you
                 and concerns many men. Look at
                                  what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
                despised poems.
                               It is difficult
to get the news from poems
                 yet men die miserably every day
                                 for lack
of what is found there.

—William Carlos Williams, from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”

With love to Wattpad,