Open Wounds

On Writing

First Words, Last Words

I ended 2011 and began 2012 reading the sortabiography of George Carlin, Last Words, in my opinion one of the most ingenious wordsmiths ever. I admired his love of words, his use of them for comedic and political purposes and his ability to rant and curse like no one else. I knew this man only through his live appearances, his albums, and his books. His, as he calls it, sortabiography, is brilliant, funny, and filled with his gift of words.

If you’ve been reading my blog in 2011 you know how much I like and how important I think first sentences of a book are. Here’s the first sentence of Last Words.

Sliding headfirst down a vagina with no clothes on and landing in the freshly shaven crotch of a screaming woman did not seem to be part of God’s plan for me.

From this place we can all only go forward.

Patanjali and the Yoga of Writing

Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras some 3,000 years ago. Of course he wasn’t really the writer in the sense that he came up with them. He took what had been an oral tradition of verse, like the Vedas, India’s sacred texts, and put them down on paper. He codified the words so they could be remembered, forgotten, read and remembered again.

I’m using the Yoga Sutras in my yoga classes this month as a way to provide intention to the sequences and rhythms of the class. So much of yoga is about intention and focus. Without them it is just a physical exercise class. With them it teaches the great inward journey through the mind and down towards the soul of great cosmic “stuff”. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Every class opens the great doors of the mind and offers training for the journey in. Each reading of the Sutras I find new paths to follow and this text fascinates me.

I was thinking about the Sutras and writing and where I’m at now with my new work. The first sutra from the first book on Concentration, is as follows:

Sutra I:

Atha yoganushasanam.

NOW begins the teaching of yoga.

I know. I know. What is all this talk about yoga and what does it have to do with writing?

For me everything.

I don’t know where true writing comes from. I know it comes out from inside of me. Others writer have told me the same thing. There are times when they look at what they have written and either don’t remember writing it or can’t figure out where it came from.

I don’t believe it comes from a physical place. Creativity is something intangible. I believe it is innate to human beings – just look at any child (before school gets a hold of them and forces them to color within the lines), yet it cannot be touched or held, or examined under a microscope. It’s effects can be – a great novel or a painting or a beautiful song can be read, seen, or heard.

Yoga is about the yoking or bringing together of the individual and the cosmic. It is the journey inward to still the fluctuations of the mind, to rest in the self.

Writing brings me to such a place. It is an inward journey to the creative spark. It is a place that is hard to find as an adult, totally accessible as a child, and each time found just a little easier to return to the next time.

The first sutra says NOW begins the teaching of yoga. It has been, to me, a call to arms – only in this case no swords are necessary. The tools are the physical implements of writing (pencil, pen, paper, computer screen and keyboard), stillness, and a well-trained mind. Writing is all about training the mind to make this inward journey. It’s the same path the yogi takes.

NOW begins the teaching of yoga. Not after the dog has been taken out. Not after Facebook has been read. Not after tweets have been tweeted. Not after blog posts have posted.

And here’s the cool thing. You can learn about yoga and the inward journey from classes but if you really want to learn you have to make the inward journey yourself. Again and again and again. To get the most out of your practice you need to do it every day, even if it’s only for a short time. You journey by yourself and you learn from your experience. That’s why it’s called a yoga practice. No one said the path to even momentary enlightenment would be easy.

Now it’s time for writing practice.


Webley Revolvers and Rann Kutch

I’ve started the writing phase of my new book.

I’m six days in. I started writing snippets before this so I had a thousand words or so written during my planning phase. And in some ways I’m still planning. But I’ve put down the research and started in.

Here are three words I wrote today from different parts of my text:




My writing process is long. I’m writing early in the morning before my family wakes up (and before the dogs grab their leashes in their mouths and drag me to the front door.) – before the sun rises. I’m writing half an hour to 45 minutes at a shot. This is good for me as once my day starts at 6:30 it doesn’t stop until the evening when I’m too worn out to put fingers to key board.

I have a 2011 smile on my face.

This Kid Reviews Books

Open Wounds was reviewed today by a most unusual book blogger and his mom. This Kid Reviews Books is a book blog run by a young gentleman named Erik and his Mom (otherwise known as Erik’s Mom). Normally Erik reviews all the books but he’s 9 (just like my son) and Open Wounds has some mature themes (rated 15 and up) that would not be appropriate for him. Fortunately for me, Erik’s Mom loved my book and reviewed it for him in a tag-team project. Erik interviewed me on his blog along with her review. His interview questions are unique and original.

Stop by his blog to check out the review and interview and drop him and his mom a comment to let them know what you think and to enter the contest for a signed copy of my book.

Listening to Fran Drescher

Occupy Wall Street Pre-Police Raid

I’ve been doing family things this last week and I’m completely behind on my posts. I went to Boston what was already almost two weeks ago to read at the Cambridge Public Library (a story or two there but I’ll get to that later this week) and visit some bookstores and fencing salles. Then of course there was Thanksgiving. And my son finished his video of occupy wall street (to come later this week also).

And I’ve been reading, in the planning phase for my next book. I just finished Six Weeks, by John Lewis-Stemple and I reread A Storm in Flanders by Winston Groom (the man who wrote Forest Gump). I’m writing little pieces in Scrivener, creating the world bit by bit. A very different process for me than Open Wounds. But then, things change, writing process, life, many things. I’m in that kind of mood.

So I was listening to a lot of car radio, NPR to be exact. I love the talk shows when I drive. I heard Fran Drescher being interviewed last week and couldn’t help myself from frantically scribbling down what she said because I thought it so appropriate to writers.

“Turning pain into purpose is extremely healing.”

Now I should give this context. She was talking about her Cancer Schmancer movement. I heard it speak to me as a writer. Andrew Smith’s blog addressed this not too long ago and I thought what he said and the comments posted from that day to be very deeply felt and true. I think that so many of us write because it is healing and there is pain to heal. But does that mean you need to have had a crappy life filled with sorrow in order to find the right notes in your work? I don’t think so, but then on the other hand if you want to write deep work it helps to have been there. I think it depends on what you want to write. I remember some Frank Sinatra bio (hey… I like Fran Sinatra’s voice – he’s got a great voice – so cut me some slack) I saw on TV a long long time ago. I don’t remember the name of the film or the stars but I do remember one scene in the movie early on when he’s just starting to sing. He’s told by a nightclub owner that he has a great voice but that it has no feeling to it. The man says, go on out and live some and then come back when you can understand what the words mean. It made an impression on me.

As someone who has lived long enough to have had my share of loss (the longer you life the more you experience – that’s just the way it works) and probably a few extra thrown in just to make my life more interesting, I can say I didn’t write the hard stuff well, until life had happened. My understanding of my character’s pain deepened and my ability to write about it got better.

This has been my process.

Would I choose an easier one if I could?

You bet.

Guest Blogging Today!

Check out my guest post on fellow WestSide Books author Selene Castrovilla’s blog. A few words about tea…

Real Writer’s Write Right

Speed Dating Authors NYC DOE Library Services Conference

Authors who Dated at Speed

I took notes at the Library Services Conference in NYC on Tuesday.

One thing that really struck me (there were many things but this was the first) was a comment by Walter Dean Myers (yes, him again). He said he spends his time doing three writing tasks:

  1. Planning
  2. Writing
  3. Re-writing
It’s such a simple paradigm. When I heard it I thought it was brilliant. I like simple. Plus it resonated with me. I find the distinction between real writing (usually defined as the first draft) and all the rest of the writing process to be artificial. It’s just the way I see it. If I spend three months planning a project (researching, thinking, daydreaming, putting plot points together in my head in imaginary lines, maybe outlining, maybe taking notes, listening in on conversations my new characters have in my head, picturing them standing in front of me, listening to them breathe – what? doesn’t everyone do this?) that’s a very real and essential part of my writing process – and for me it’s writing. The putting down of the first draft is the most fun but it can’t happen for me unless I’ve spent the time before, planning. And then of course there’s re-writing or revising, over and over again. That can take even longer than the writing part depending on how the process goes. But no book is finished and ready for an editor’s eyes until it has been perfected in the revision process. Most writers don’t like the re-writing process, understandably. It’s the hardest part but for me too but it is also the most satisfying part because when it works and I find the right edits to make a manuscript whole, it feels wonderful. Searching for the edits sucks. It’s that simple. But finding them… ahhhhhhh.

1000 Pages a Year

Walter Dean Myers

I saw Walter Dean Myers today. Let me be clear. I didn’t meet him – though I wanted to – as he was swarmed by New York City Department of Education Librarians and I couldn’t get close. I went to a talk he was giving at a conference I had been invited to attend to do some author speed dating. I got there early to see him speak. He was speaking about his writing, the writing process, his family, the tapestry that is his writing life. He’s an amazing writer and an amazing man. I’ve only read three of his books so far and enjoyed each of them. He’s written, as of his own count, 102 (from picture books to YA novels to a memoir).

Don’t get depressed by this but here’s some figures about his writing life. If you are a writer look away as it may knock the wind out of you. He writes 5 pages a day, every day. He works on three projects at a time. He writes about 1000 pages a year and has contracts for books to be written through 2017 – as he says, “If I live that long.” Now granted he’s about 80 and has been writing full-time for a while. But this guy is not only prolific but damned good and prolific. Read his Vietnam war book Fallen Angels. It’s incredible.

So, if you are a writer, don’t despair. You’re not him and I’m not him. Obviously, yes, but still. Every writer has their own process, their own life, job, family, kids, dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, and coral snakes (coral snakes? don’t ask, don’t ask) to factor in.

I work full-time so I don’t get in writing every day on my book, but I do write every day – at least a page of something whether it’s blog, letter writing, or novel. I work on my novel all the time (and I mean all the time) in my head but on paper one or two days a week when I can get at least an hour to work with no interruptions. I can get a full draft of a novel length work done in  a year, six months if I push it and have no social life (social life?). I used to write much more but then my son was born and I try to make sure that he comes first – though I’m not always successful. I bring my computer everywhere with me in the hope of a few minutes to write. My son and my wife both complain that I’m staring at the computer screen and not them when we talk in our dining room. Sometimes I am. Well, my computer is in the same space and our dining room is very small and I am distracted easily by shiny objects. That plus I spend so much time in my own head it stops me from being the best listener. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

It’s my process. If you’re a writer you have your own process too. The more efficient it is (write when you can write, think when you can think, procrastinate rarely) the more productive you will be. Now it’s back to work.

I’ve got a day job to get to.

And if I let this go on any longer… I’ll be procrastinating.

Broads and Johnny D.

One of the first writers I read as a writer, and not just as a reader was John D. McDonald – and specifically his Travis McGee private eye series. I found his books in the Peace Corps library in Honduras. Now you have to picture the volunteer’s library as a large shelf of mostly paperbacks next to the nurses office where you get shot in the but with gamma globulin twice a year. Always some interesting sounds coming out of that place. The couches outside in the courtyard were where you waited for your turn to get shot. The bookcase was next to couch furthest away from the nurses door.

In Honduras I read a lot. I’ve always read a lot, but in Honduras, without TV and with lots of long car, bus, and walking trips to occupy my time with a good book, sometimes two was a must have in the backpack. I picked up The Scarlet Ruse first, then worked my way through the 20+ books in the series. A group of four of us traded them back and forth reading them together over two and a half years.

What I loved about McDonald’s series was the hard-boiled atmosphere, the floating houseboat called the Busted Flush, the alcohol consumed, the beautiful women who showed up as damsels in distress, the sidekick Meyers, and the violence, that could come out of nowhere and end as quickly as it began.

One book, though really made me stop and think about the whole writing process. I mean this was a genre book that followed the formula of a mystery. But this one book, A Deadly Shade Gold, turned the genre on its head. No book after it in the series played by the rules either.

About half way through the book the mystery is solved. I remember wondering what the rest of the book was going to be about if the mystery was already solved. But there was no need to worry. Travis McGee was such a fascinating character and I was so involved with what happened to him, mystery or no mystery, that I’d basically follow him anywhere. And for each of the books after that, I did. The story transcended its form.

Character, in this instance,was more important than plot. Character isn’t all, but if your character is good enough the reader will follow you far and wide, from jungle to desert and back again.

Nadi Blood and Captain Aldo

Why did you write a historical novel and why did you want to write about fencing? This is a question from Ms. Maddy Black’s 8th grade class last week.

The truth is I had no desire to write a historical novel. I had no idea I had one in me. As I realized my story was going to take place in the past I even fought against it. I knew I would not be able to rely on my contemporary point of view for the novel and since I’d never worked without that before I grew overwhelmed by the concept of a historical novel very quickly. How could I possibly speak with confidence about what it was like to live in 1936 or 1942? I wasn’t even alive back then. And the more research I did the more overwhelmed I became. It seemed in order to be an expert on the era, or to feel competence in my knowledge of the era I would have to read an incredible number of heavy, thick, dry-looking books and microfiche newspapers.

But at some point my curiosity and interest in the period overcame my anxiety and I began to write. I even became so involved in the research that I overdid it and had to cut about half of what I looked up, out. I even found I enjoyed the details of life from that time period. I found it fascinating.

Also, my protagonist, Cid Wymann, was 7 in 1936 so I either wrote about him in 1936 or wrote about a different character. I’ve written before about the vision I had of a 72-year-old Cid dueling with épées on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel so I won’t go into it here – but those were my constraints. I either wrote about him when he lived or I wrote about someone else. but no one else haunted me the way Cid did. That image wouldn’t go away.

Andrew Smith (author of Stick, The Marbury Lens, Ghost Medicine, and In the Path of Falling Objects) says his stories come through him, as if he was a medium for a story that had to be told. I see writing very much the same way. The characters gnaw at me. They worry me like a dog with a bone until I start to tell their story. Writing for me is then very much a journey to figure out who the protagonist is and what his story is that needs to be told.

And why fencing? I have been in love with swordplay since I was a kid, fenced since college, and taught stage combat to actors. I find I write about things that I do, that I feel a passion for. And so the man on the roof of the Chelsea hotel was fencing and his tale began when he was 7 – when Aldo Nadi, the greatest fencer of the 20th century, perhaps of all time, came to New York City and gave a fencing exhibition at The Plaza and on the same weekend that Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood premiered. I guess you could say I had not choice. Open Wounds would be a historical novel and there would be swordplay in it.

Ms. Maddy’s 8th Grade Class

PS/MS 161 Thank You's!

They wrote me letters.

My friend Leslie handed me a stuffed white envelope filled with them. They run from quarter page to full-page, are written in black pen and blue, with some in pencil. Some say Dear Joseph and some say Dear Joe, some Mr. Lunievicz and some Joseph Lunievicz. They all thank me for coming to their class so I’ll only share a few over the next couple of posts. I hope you find them as fascinating and wonderful as I do.

Dear Joseph,

I really like the first chapter you wrote and with more understanding of the reason why you wrote this book I can say that I understand the haunted feeling you went through. I’ve known what you meant by vision it’s day dreaming of the haunted feeling. I want to know how you finished your book. I’ve only wrote so short of my small moment but I’ve only been speaking English for six year. I’m an Arabian girl. I want to make sure that one day I can be as creative as you are. And write abou the war in the Arabian war. Thank you. I hope I get to read your book some day.

Thank you:- K.

I told them about my vision of a 72-year-old Cid Wymann (protagonist of Open Wounds) on the roof of the Chelsea hotel dueling with sharps with a man whose face I couldn’t see – the idea which consciously began the Cid Wymann story. I am always amazed at what people hear when I talk – what sticks with them as important. I love this letter.

Dear Joseph Lunievicz,

Thank you so much for coming to our school! I had a lot of fun with the read aloud and fun facts of fencing. I am a writer as well, and finally I know how to actually publish a book! I get compositions notebooks and write many stories. My friends G. and J. are me “editors” and they write stories in notebooks as well. Thank you, so much for coming to our school and I hope you come again.

Your Truly, R.

PS I suck at spelling too.

Okay. So I told them all how bad at spelling I am and at least one student heard that and took heart that she could be a writer in spite of being spelling-challenged. She’s even got an editorial pack already in place. I can’t wait to read one of her stories.

Dear Joseph,

I thank you for coming to 161 and telling us a little about your life and your book “Open Wounds”. I’m going to read that when I’m done reading my “Vampire Prince” so I thank you for coming and may god Bless you.

Sincerely, I.

Honestly, I was not hurt to hear that a vampire prince came first. I wouldn’t expect students to put down what they’re reading and start my novel. They should at least finish the chapter. But seriously, who said boys don’t read?
From now on whenever I get down about the publishing business or about the writing process I’m going to take out the letters from Ms. Maddy’s 8th grade class… and smile.

Of Egos and the Red Pen of Perfection

This is the final question from a CW Post student from my reading there last month.

How do you deal with a returned and edited manuscript? It’s perfect when I hand it in.

The woman who asked this question was terrific. She knew exactly what she was asking and knew the answer but wanted to know how to deal with the red pen of perfection. Most of us think our work is perfect or close to perfect when we hand it in. Otherwise, why would we hand it in? Then an editor gets ahold of it and either slants it with language they like, find ways to make it better, punctuates it in another style, or challenges us with new questions that we have to answer in order to make the piece complete.

I knew exactly what she meant. Man did I know what she meant. Even though by this time in my writing career I’m accustomed to revision after revision after revision I still hate to see an editor’s red marks on my manuscript. It hurts. There’s no way around it. Why do they want to change my words or punctuation or thought process as filtered through the words on my page?  Usually it’s because… it could be better.

I think every writer gets to the point when they’re working on a book that they just don’t want to see it again – ever. I love my books, but I also want them to be finished. I always get to the point that I don’t want to work on them anymore, even if a little part of me knows there’s more work to do. For me it’s usually a good time to let the manuscript sit like for a month or three or six. Even a week’s break after an intense period of time with a manuscript can give a whole new perspective on the piece – especially if it’s not working – and I realize it’s not working – even if I don’t want to admit it out loud.

But feedback is always difficult to take in if it’s negative and if it’s true. Either one. Now saying this – know that sometimes editors are wrong. The same goes for fellow writers in a critique group and your life partner (but my wife is always right about my work – she just is). You just have to follow your gut as to what needs to be added to your manuscript, what needs to be cut, and what needs to stay the same. Over time working with someone on different projects you learn to figure out what to ignore and what to listen to.  And as a writer I think each of us learns to shape our work and give it structure that is true to what we’re trying to say. Your sense of structure – of beginning-middle-end – tells you you’re on or off target with what you’ve written.

So how do I deal with a red-inked manuscript? I take a deep breath, read through the edits, accept what’s better, and cross out what’s not. It sounds simple but it’s really a lot harder than it sounds, because it will only work if my ego is in check and I can honestly tell what’s better and what’s not. And the ego, my ego, is a tricky writing partner. But the subject of ego is for another post and a brand new, rollerball, red ink pen of perfection.

Can I Revise That Question as an Answer?

Back to the fifth question from the CW Post LIU reading last month. I got a similar question last week from an 8th grade student at MS161 but I’ll tell you that one in another post because it’s more business oriented and I answered better.

I want to get published. How do I go about it?

She was a young woman with a big smile and she asked the question with an earnestness that broke my heart. “I’ve always known I want to be published,” she said. “Always.” She stood in front of me, nervous, smiling, smiling, smiling.

“That’s great,” I said, smiling back. We both stared at each other for a few moments.  It felt a lot longer to me so, uncomfortable I forged ahead. I’d just had a conversation with a young man before her who wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask me and I’d had to investigate by getting some clarity from him about his needs. “Do you want others to look at your work? Do you want to be published?” I asked these questions because I know not everyone who is a writer wants to be published and I want to be respectful of that. Anybody who writes in any context is flexing an important creative muscle and should be encouraged to continue. Some people write just for themselves. Some for their friends and family. I’d asked him because I wanted to find out what his writing needs were. This woman with the big smile knew what she wanted, very similarly to myself when I was her age. I wanted others to read my work. I wanted to be published.

But I needed more information to be able to answer and she seemed stuck. So I asked, “Do you have finished work – a novel, or short story, or poetry?”


We stared at each other a little longer. I took a breath and nodded. “Then… you should finish your book, or short story, or poem and… send it out. That’s kind of how it works.”

She nodded and her smile (I didn’t think this was possible) got even bigger.

Then I realized what an idiot I was being.

“Okay,” I said. “I mean try not to stress over how to get published until you have something ready to publish. That’s what I really mean. You know what I mean?’ Yes, I know I was getting more eloquent as I went on. Right about now I wanted someone to get a hook out and take me off stage with a yank. Or a brick and hit me over the head with it. But there was no hook or brick and I went on anyway. “And when you’re ready you can go to The Writer’s Market and search out markets to send to, unless you already have them in mind for your work depending on what you’ve written.  But, as my grandfather used to say to me, ‘How you going to get something published if you don’t send it out?’ So if you are the kind of writer who wants to see their name in print then sooner or later you’re going to have to do some marketing and The Writer’s Market is as good a place as any to start.”

“Thank you,” she said and she walked away.

Fortunately there was one more person behind her on line so I had one more chance to redeem myself. I’ll tell you her question tomorrow.

How Lawrence Block Saved My Ass

A writer friend of mine and I were talking recently about her present writing project and, being interested in her project and wanting to help her out, I offered to read a sample chapter for her. She said yes,with a big smile and we were off and running. Before I left though I turned to her and asked, “Okay. What do you want me to do?”

“What do you mean,” she said, still smiling but straining a little.

“You can ask me for what you need when I read it and I want to make sure I help you out so… what do you need me to do, in addition to reading it?”

She looked at me for a long moment, then , smile disappearing, said, “I don’t know. I mean…what do you mean? I never thought about that.”

“I can critique , look for strengths, look for weakness, line edit, read and give overall impressions, look at narrative structure or character, read and tell you I love it, read and tell you to send it out immediately – does that help? I want to help but I want to help you the way you need help.”

The smile appeared again. “I never thought about it that way. Let me think what I need and I”ll let you know when I send the manuscript to you.”

“Excellent. I’m excited to read it.”

This was not the first time I”ve come up against this. In a writer’s group I was in once we allowed each other to ask for what we wanted in a critique – since critique means different things to different people. One new writer auditioning for the group said to me, “But what good is it if you don’t get feedback that tells you what needs to be improved?”

I said, “Sometimes you need just to hear yourself read a piece out loud or get an audience reaction (facial, verbal, energy, laughter, snickers). It all comes back to what you need. Not everybody needs a knife taken to their work.” He didn’t like this and decided not to be a part of the group – probably for the best.

A couple of years later I was working on a memoir of my time working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis doing HIV/AIDS work and it was very painful stuff to put down on paper. At a writer’s retreat I decided to read some of it out loud to the other writers. I asked for what I wanted before I read. I was used to doing this by then so I did. I just wanted to hear what it sounded like. It was too personal to be critiqued yet and I said so. When I was finished reading, one writer raised her hand to comment and when I called on her she started to take it apart. I stopped her in the middle of her fourth or fifth sentence and said, “I don’t want a critique. I’ll take a question about the material – ” and she interrupted me. “But you need to hear -” and that’s when Lawrence Block saved me. He said (yes, he was one of the writer’s at the retreat – the Lawrence Block of Matthew Scudder, best seller, fame), “Didn’t you hear what Joe said? He said he just wanted to read it out loud.”

There was scattered applause, like softly popping incendiaries. Then I took my seat back in the group and another writer took the reader’s chair.

Thank you, Larry.

Ask for what you need. You’re allowed.

Of Black Shirts and Steve Jobs’ Sneakers

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

I’m a bit down today. Every time I turn on an electronic device Steve Jobs stares back at me from the Apple Website. His image is in black and white but his effect is one of bright color and explosive genius.

How can a man as talented and creative as he was be gone? It is such a simple question and answer – because he is.

I have been an Apple fan since the first Macintosh. I wrote my first book on it. The book wasn’t very good but the computer was amazing. I was using a Smith Corona electric typewriter just moments before and then all of  a sudden on that small black and white screen everything changed.

I have had an Apple ever since – over twenty years – though as my eyesight has gotten worse I really appreciate the much larger iMac screen that I write this on. I had the first Apple laptop. I bought an iPod. I bought an iPhone. I bought an iPad. Even if I didn’t buy the first iteration because I didn’t have the money I have always gotten my money’s worth and then some. My day job work is on a PC but my writing has for twenty plus years been on a Mac. I feel like there is a neurochemical link between the two of us.

I look at the picture of Steve Jobs and realize how important this man with the glasses and short hair and black shirt and sneakers has been to my creative writing life. One has grown with the other. This year my debut novel is published and Steve Jobs has died. I never met him but I live with his legacy. I will miss those talks he gave to introduce the next Apple big thing. I will miss thinking that something coming out of Apple would always be another big, life changing, thing.

Cue the Music and Coldplay

Check out my guest post on Lady Reader’s Bookstuff blog for Amy Della Rossa. It’s all about the music in the words and the music in my head… or in your head.

Here’s the link:  Lady Reader’s Bookstuff

Capabilities Wear a Cape

Here is the first of six questions I received at the CW Post LIU reading last week. It’s still strange to me why one year ago nobody would ask me these questions and now I seem to have grown in my knowledge of the publishing world so much that I now both be asked and feel like I can answer. As my wife and son would say, now I am a somebody. Somebody or nobody, here’s my answer to the first question.

Why didn’t I get an English degree? Why did I get a business degree?

I have asked myself this same question many times. I think I would have been happier in school if I had gotten an English degree or a degree in creative writing. It’s a strange thing to say but it’s the truth. I did not like getting a business degree. Two years of business school was more than enough. My honors electives and some good teachers helped me to make the best of my last two years.

I know I thought of getting a degree in English in high school but when I talked to my parents about it, my father, always practical, said, “If you get a degree in English the only thing you’ll be able to do is teach English and there are no jobs out there for English teachers. If you get a business degree you can do anything.”

So it ends up he was both right and wrong at the same time. He meant well and I was not strong enough to disagree.

When I got out of school I got a job in a small medical publisher doing customer service work. I worked next to a bunch of people like me only they had degrees in English and Philosophy and History – degrees they mostly enjoyed getting. I’ve worked many places in a variety of types of jobs since then and my degree has helped in each of them because of its practical nature. Yet, I wish some days I had gone the other route. Perhaps my path to publication would have been faster? Or maybe it was slow because I had lessons to learn about writing and simply needed time to learn them.

It comes down to two things.

One was that I was not confident enough in myself at the age of 17 to be able to say, “I want to get a degree in English because I want to write.” My father would say, “But you can’t make a living writing so make sure you have a degree to get a day job.” By the time I developed enough confidence to say, “But creative writing is what I want to do and I need training in it,” two years had already passed. By then, I figured it was best to just finish the program I’d started. So I used what I had available to me, as Lefty from my novel Open Wounds would say, “I used what I found in the trenches.” With the help of the honors program I used my elective classes to take writing workshops and business classes focused on the publishing industry so all was not lost. I graduated with more credits than I needed but I was out in four years and wrote on my own during the whole time.

The second thing is that I didn’t know enough about life, what I could and could not do, what I could challenge my parents over and what I couldn’t. That was something my brother did very well, but I did not. So using black and white thinking typical of a young adult with a still developing pre-frontal cortex and an executive suite that was just not there yet – I did what I was capable of doing. I went to business school and developed my belief in myself as a writer by writing. I can neither blame myself for my inabilities nor my parents for suggesting what they thought would be best for me.

The moral of the story? Work with what you can and what you are capable of – don’t regret what you didn’t have or were not capable of. And of course, no matter what – if you want to write, write.

From My Mamma’s Kitchen – Talk Radio Interview

I’ll be interviewed tomorrow by Johnny Tan – Tuesday morning 9/20/11 from 11-12noon ET on FMMK Talk Radio on his weekly radio show From My Mamma’s Kitchen. It’s the whole hour and it will be archived on his site afterwards so if you have a chance check in and listen.

Here’s the link for the show:

What will I be talking about? His opening question to all his guests is, “Tell me about yourself from birth to now.” Gulp! How long do we have? Seriously, it’s going to be fun. And he takes questions from the audience so feel free to call in and ask away.

Day 10: Sunburn and Scrivener

When you stay in the pool for five hours, in the sun, with sunglasses on, a bathing suit, and only one coat of sunscreen spf50, you are bound to get burned. Oh, and if you’re Polish, Hungarian, Rumanian, Ukrainian and Luthuanian, all mixed together, then you might as well forget the sun screen and go straight to the burn anyway.

I’m toast.

I’m at that part of vacation where I am starting to think about going home. The days are starting to come back into focus. We have one more day at Universal and Harry Potter and then we’re following the hurricane north – riding in its wake.

I’ve been working on a new book. I don’t know if this will be the new book or not. I write slowly and take a while to start putting words on the page. I write some. Leave it sit. Write some more. Leave it sit. This book requires a lot of research so I’m hitting the books and starting to take notes. Usually I take notes on the margins of my books, underlining words, marking the margins to remind myself to come back to this page or that one. Then I put my notes on the computer. At least that’s what I’m doing this time.

With Open Wounds I used hard copy for all my notes and have folders upon folders of notes, timelines, articles, websites, and maps. I over did it for Cid’s story. I did. But I had so much fun doing it. My next blog post I’ll give you a treasure hunt for Open Wounds – see if you can find an un-named celebrity hidden inside it’s covers – one of the details I couldn’t let go of.

This time I’m using Scrivener instead of all those note pads. I’m going straight to the computer with my favorite word processing program, which has all kinds of gadgets and doodads to satisfy the pickiest writer. I got when it was free. Now it’s $45 but I think it’s well worth it. I don’t have stock in their product. I’m just happy with the way it works. It puts WORD to shame as a tool made just for writers. I still only know about 50% of all its uses. I’ve been getting myself tutorialized (they’re pretty good and I can’t learn just by reading or doing. I need some teaching too).

So I’m using the research page.

And creating characters.

And building a new world to put them in, one detail at a time.


Reviews and Interviews

I’ve been busy these last two weeks. Two weeks ago I was in DC and in addition to presenting at a National Association for Drug Court Professionals conference on Teambuilding and LGBT sensitivity issues had the chance to fence with the DC Fencers club (more on that in another entry) and visited a few bookstores to talk about Open Wounds. I’ve also been doing a lot of interviews – each different in its own way and worth checking out to find out how Open Wounds and its cast of characters came about. I’m going to list them below and give you some background on each.

Two local papers start things off:

The Queens Tribune – Jason Cohen did a piece on me titled Renaissance Man (I’m getting a swelled head already) that is only available in print and not on the internet – so no link. But it’s been fun having some neighbors come up to me and tell me, “I didn’t know you wrote a book!” I didn’t know so many people I knew read the Queens Tribune!

The Queens Courier – Salimah Khoj a wrote a nice piece on their online magazine called Jackson Heights Author Finds Inspiration in Childhood. We had to phone interviews and some written responses in order to get this one down and I think she did a great job.

Followed by two blog interviews:

Nikki Meiggs’ Wicked Awesome Books book blog just reviewed Open Wounds and today put out the second of two parts of an interview (part 1 and part 2) we did together. She has  a contest open until August 16th – simply comment on part 2 by answering this question: If you could live in any time period or historical event what would it be and why? She’s giving a free signed copy of Open Wounds to the winner! I met Nikki at BEA in the late spring and she has a great blog on YA books and really loves books. I also love the title of her website – who wouldn’t?

Cynthia Leitich Smith blog Cynsations also just put up an interview called New Voice: Joseph Lunievicz on Open Wounds. What’s interesting about Cynthia’s interview were the questions she asked. There were easily thirty different questions from various categories and I was able to choose two, and only two, to respond to. These are different from any other interview questions and I found them challenging and interesting to answer. She also did a wonderful job with pictures to complement the interview of books I mentioned and supplemental posts I have out on other sites.

And one review…

There’s also a short review of Open Wounds by Jodi Reszotaarski on her blog Book Eater – A novel test kitchen. She’s a high school media specialist in Lake County, Ohio. Thanks, Jodi for the great review!

Next up some fencing stories.

Open Wounds Reviewed by Mathew Rush

Mathew Rush has written a wonderful review of Open Wounds at Afterglow Book Reviews. Mathew has an incredible blog on writing and especially on how to write an effective query letter on his aptly named blog The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. He’s also an avid commenter on many other writer’s blogs and is just a nice guy who really loves to write. I met him through Andrew Smith’s Ghost Medicine blog and both of these writer’s blogs have opened up an online community to me that I really had no idea existed before. Thank you Mathew.

Samurai Story

I just finished grant writing for three projects – two state and one federal. They have nothing to do with my fiction life but they will help me keep my day job which pays for my night and early morning job. It occurred to me in the middle of this – what for me is a hellish process of putting together 20 to 25 pages of times new roman one inch margins narrative about a project idea, capability statement, project abstract, budget and budget narrative, and staffing narrative – that I might actually be learning something about writing while I was doing this.

Wait I’m getting ahead of myself.

The stress of putting these projects together is high, the stakes high (staff and my jobs), and the work hard (long hours for a good week right up to deadline). I did three in a row over a four-week period. During this time I could do little writing that I wanted to do – like work on my latest fiction project.

It reminded me of an old Buddhist story. A samurai goes in search of the meaning of heaven and hell. So like any good samurai he goes in search of a wise man – called a roshi. Well, he meets a roshi and sits down in front of him and asks him about the meaning of heaven and hell. The roshi says, “Why would I tell a miserable worm, a slug of a human being like you? You smell bad. You are worthless. And -” the samurai stood up at this point, feeling rage boil up inside of him. “You disgust me,” the roshi continued.

“Enough,” the samurai yelled and drew his sword, ready to cut off the roshi’s head.

“This,” the roshi quietly said in the moment before his decapitation, “is hell.”

The samurai, really a nice, honest, kind and loyal man, realized what he was about to do – what his rage had drawn him into – and sat down again in front of the roshi. Trembling, tears came to his eyes and the rage dissipated. He placed his hands together into prayer to apologize.

“This,” the roshi quietly said, “is heaven.”

My hell is the process of writing these grants that I have to write. But if I can look outside of this hell and see what it brings to me. The flexing of writing muscles that are different but that will help me to be more concise, more narrative driven, more specific. Then my hell can be my heaven. I can bow my head before the task and let the anger that boils up inside about the task dissipate.

Pema Chodron, in her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, tells this story and then sums it up. These words stick with me. She said (my paraphrase), “In life we stand in sacred space and everything that comes into this space, good, bad, or indifferent, has something to teach us.”

Man do I have a lot to learn.

3rd Gade Q & A

My son’s teacher asked me to come in to speak to the two 3rd grade classes at Buckley Country Day School this morning. After reading Andrew Smith’s column on going to a high school class for Q & A I have to say I wasnt as sure what to expect from a group of 8 and 9 year olds. Okay. That’s not true. I’ve been to his class before and his teacher is a wonderful reading and writing teacher who keeps the class mayhem to a minimum  so I knew the class would be behaved but I was not quite prepared for how focused they were and for how long they lasted.

Now I wasn’t there by myself. Another father who also happens to be an author – Paul O’Donnell, author of Man Up (a terriffic book) was also invited to speak so we shared the space and did a compare and contrast on fiction and non-fiction which, because Paul is so good and natural a speaker – came off well. Then we got to Q & A and man did they come up with some good questions. Here’s a few of them:

  • How do you come up with the titles of your books?
  • How many times did you have to rewrite your book?
  • What do you do if a bookstore won’t take your book?
  • Do you write only fiction? Non-fiction?
  • What gave you the idea to write the book?
  • Will they make a movie out of it?
  • What happens to the books that a store doesn’t sell?
  • Do you like to write books?
I wish I had a tape-recorder so I could remember the rest. Easily a third of the 30 kids in the two classes asked questions and some times they came rapid fire. We lasted an hour and fifteen minutes – pretty amazing for a group of 8 and 9 year olds. The teacher had to stop a few kids for asking their final questions because they were way past their next class time. But hey, they can see Paul and me any time when we come to pick our kids up at the end of the day. Hearing the teacher remind everyone of that and then watching the kids heads nod in recognition (oh yeah I see those two old guys all the time) put a smile on my face for the rest of the morning.

Lawrence Block on the Late Late Show

I met Lawrence Block at a the Ragdale Foundation, a writer’s retreat outside of Chicago. He was there for a month and I was there for a week. I remember thinking, holy crap, it’s Lawrence Block! And he’s sitting at dinner right next to me! Holy Crap.

Okay. Not the most eloquent but I tend to get tongue-tied when I’m around celebrities. Lawrence Block has been one of my hero’s as a writer for a long long time. Besides writing wonderful mysteries like the classic Matt Scudder series (as hardboiled as you can get) he wrote two of my favorite books on writing, Spider Spin Me a Web, and Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. They are collections of his columns for Writer’s Digest when he was the fiction columnist. I read him religiously when I was younger. I use his writing techniques today.

That was the last retreat I was at before my son was born and I haven’t been back since but… I got a chance to speak to Larry a few times, hear him read from a new book he was working on, and talk about the difficult process of writing a memoir. He even defended me against some challenging critiques in the audience when I read my work. I write him an email every once in a while and I’m on his newsletter email list. I just got one the other day and wanted to share his interview on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. It’s a howler. I mean, I was laughing my ass off. He’s a man of few speaking words (Larry, not Craig), well-chosen and taciturn. Watch him talk about his book and enjoy himself. He’s a great guy, a wonderful writer and 100% himself.