Open Wounds


NOLA Beignets and Genitalia

Mardi Gras in New OrleansI’m sitting in New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport with Max and Karen waiting for Jetlbue flight 576 to arrive to head back to New York. It’s a long story and I’ve only got the energy for a short version.

Drug Court conference for the state of Louisiana. I did a plenary for the whole association (some 400 practitioners) on Cultural Competency and LGBT clients – a workshop for about 100 on Young Adult Developmental Issues. I said the words penis and vagina out loud. You had to be there to get the context but it was a moment I’m proud of.

Karen and Max came down here with me. It was their first time here. We did Mardi Gras, and a swamp tour, and Max held a baby alligator, and we ate beignets (Max laughed and made the powdered sugar go all over the place), and we caught beads thrown from parade floats, and walked the French Quarter.

Grant proposals are due. My work as Ex Dir is giving me constant brain freeze. I’m running out of steam.

I haven’t posted since December but I’ve been writing. That’s good.

Half of one book (Cid prequel) and half of another (modern-day). I’ve been marking new pages on a note app and am up to 42 this year on the modern-day newbie. That puts the total for modern-day up to about 135. Writing is good.

Finishing is better.

I’ll work some on the plane ride home. I’ve promised myself that. That and a movie  – perhaps a comedy. We could all use a good laugh. We’re heading into the cold and a coming snowstorm.

I read The Bully Pulpit – by Doris Kearns Goodwin – a massive tome about Taft and Roosevelt. It was a long long tough read but totally worth it – even if Teddy R comes out looking like an ass at the end. Small print and many hours reading later…

Taft was an introvert. Long live the introverts. They are different kinds of leaders and good ones too.

It’s 2014. Two months in. 42 pages. Have to catch up.

The Kingdom of Ass-holes

Assholes: A Theory

I know. I know. But tell me if you saw a book like this in the bookstore, that you wouldn’t pick it up to at least, you know, look.

I’ve been reading a book called, Ass-holes, A theory, by Aaron James and thoroughly enjoying it. James is a Harvard educated philosophy doc and takes a philosophical approach to looking at assholes and you either go with it or you don’t. I did. It reminded me of an extended, funny Monty Python sketch. He’s not going to tell you how to deal with assholes. He’s just going to examine them and identify them, and try to figure out why they appear in our world in such large numbers.

I can honestly say I have never seen the work asshole used in combination with so many other words so many different ways, all in one place, before. For example there is asshole management, are assholes shaped by enabling cultures,  self-aggrandizing assholes, reckless assholes, delusional assholes, an asshole population, asshole CEOs, assholes within, corporate assholes, royal assholes, royal royal assholes, presidential assholes, asshole bosses, smug assholes, boorish assholes, borderline or half-assed assholes, the supreme court of assholedom, kingdoms of assholes, small assholes, full-sized assholes, individuals who have an inner asshole, moral assholes, have a proliferation of assholes, be a mere asshole, or be a part of asshole capitalism. And that’s just stuff from the first half of the book that caught my eye.

James sets up a hypothesis for what makes up an asshole as opposed to a psycho, tyrant, scumbag, or jerk. He likes to work from the middle of the spectrum of assholedom.

Why am I writing about assholes? It occurred to me while I was contemplating reading Ass-holes, that I should buy the iBook version and read it on my iPad – one less book to carry around while traveling. Then I realized once again – for I go back and forth on this over and over again – that if I continued this pattern I would not longer buy books from independent bookstores – which, if they no longer exist, would be the end of civilization as we know it.

Besides, I bought Ass-holes because I saw it in the window of Kramer Books on Dupont Circle in DC – a great bookstore, coffee shop and diner.  They earned the purchase by their display, their wonderful sales help, allowing me to wander through their aisles for an hour, and their all around awesomeness.

So in a way, if I didn’t buy the hardcover I would have been an asshole without a cover.

It’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.

Fish Bones and So Long Suckers

I’ve been traveling a lot. Over the last four months I’ve been to Seattle twice, Oklahoma, New Orleans, and DC (where I’m headed now). My day job has been calling and I have had to answer.

I lost 90 pages of my WIP late in the summer – don’t ask how. Okay I’ll tell you. I can’t help myself.

Once, when my son was small, about four years old we had a small fish tank with a few fish in it. One fish disappeared one night. I mean … it disappeared. There had been casualties before (many, many, many casualties) but they always showed up on the surface, belly up. So one little guy, like a master illusionist, one night disappeared. I searched the whole tank, top to bottom, filter to gravel graveyard. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.

I called fish experts.

They scratched their heads.

He was too big to be eaten by the two other fish inside the tank with him. So what happened to him? I don’t know. But sometimes, late at night when I’m just about asleep I swear I can hear him laughing and calling out to me, “So long sucker.”

One night in August I was working on my WIP. I left the document open on the screen, got caught up in watching The Big Bang Theory with my son and wife. I went to bed. In the morning…

So long suckers.

The document was there but 90 pages were gone. I looked everywhere. I looked on my screen, in my dropbox, in my WIP folder, in my other computer, in all my back-up files. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.

Fortunately I had a hard copy. I just had to type it all in again…

I wish I was a faster typist. Mavis Beacon, here I come.

So long suckers.

Tattered Covers and Denver Fencers

I was in Denver this week teaching Cultural Competency workshops to drug court practitioners. But I had my evenings free.

IMG_0354The first stop was The Denver Fencing Center (fencing is big in Denver with about 10 different fencing salles to choose from) and it was huge. I think they had 10-12 strips in four different rooms. Great space. Nathan Anderson is the Head Coach/Owner and he was a great host. I gave the center two copies of Open Wounds and a bunch of book marks. I fenced for two hours (group lesson and some open fencing) wheezing badly from the high altitude (yes, that’s why I fenced so badly – it’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!) but really enjoyed the good company on and off the strip. Fencers are great company and this salle has a good feel to it. Before I left that evening one copy of the book was already gone – in someone’s backpack and out the door.

Second evening I was taken to dinner by Pam (aka: Joemmamma at Life Happens While Books are Waiting blog) and her wonderful family at a great Italian restaurant called Maggianos. We talked books, movies, and more books until the last piece of desert was finished. Pam’s blog named my book one of her favorites in 2011 and she was one of the first bloggers to review it. Thank you Pam.

IMG_0358Third evening I finished work early and headed out to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in downtown Denver on 16th street. There are three of these wonderful, beautiful stores in Denver and my last time in town I visited all three in the hope of getting them to pick up my book and carry it in their stores. They ordered the book and have been carrying it ever since. This year I was on foot and using mass transit so I was only able to visit one store.

Open Wounds on the Shelf!

Open Wounds on the Shelf!

I visited the 16th street store and my book was on the shelf. It made my day. I pulled it off the shelf and found Barry, the YA expert, and signed the book. She stickered it and I gave her a bunch of bookmarks to give away. IMG_0356Barry recommended a book titled The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making by Valente very strongly for my son and for me. I later found out she liked the book so much she had talked to every staff person in the store about it (even gave each of them a copy and said “read”). IMG_0357This is the kind of word of mouth that gets a book noticed. Hearing this story just made me smile. It’s one of the reasons I love books and bookselling. It’s why I keep stopping in indie-stores with copies of Open Wounds. If just one bookseller reads it and likes it – look at what a champion can do. I met the manager and thanked her for carrying my book and spoke to the baristas (who made a killer latte). I left the store flying.

IMG_0359Took the Lite-Train to Evans and walked to Navajo Street for some more fencing. I might have been getting used to the altitude or it could be I worked out some of the kinks from the last time there, but fenced another two hours – until I just about dropped but in a much more dignified manner.

Met a coach named Bob Block who knows Witold Rak, a fencing coach who runs his own backyard salle in Woodside near where I live. I found out the person who took Open Wounds to read two nights before was another coach Paul Von Rentzell (who also lent me his prize epee to use – it was awesome and now that I think of it – probably the reason I fenced better) and his review of my book was a big thumbs up.

Denver couldn’t have been better.

A Downpour of Broken Sticks

Have you ever had one of these kinds of days?

I’m walking to the subway from 23rd and 6th, heading towards 7th avenue. I’m on my way to AMTRAK up on 32nd at Penn Station. I have an overnight bag and my computer bag with me. It’s pouring rain. I don’t have an umbrella. I’m not late yet but I feel the pressure of the clock ticking. I have about fifteen minutes flex time.

The rain comes down harder.

I duck into Duane Reade and look for an umbrella. There’s a long line of ten people all waiting to buy umbrellas. I pick one off the rack and get in line. There’s only one cashier and he is slow. I wait ten minutes then ditch the umbrella and head back outside.

It’s raining even harder.

I go back in to get the umbrella – wait 10 more minutes on line then rip off it’s sheathe, open it and head into the rain.

The umbrella is small and my back starts to get wet. If I don’t hurry I’ll be running for the train at Penn, maybe miss it. My heart is starting to beat faster.

I’m almost at the 1/9 on 7th Avenue and 23rd. There’s construction and scaffolding over the stairs down that extend to Pong Sri, a Thai restaurant I’ve been to a number of times before. It’s crowded and I try to step to the side as a blind man comes out of the aisle next to the stairs. The rain is drumming. People step away. I have no place else to go. I bump into the scaffolding. The blind man’s walking stick gets between my legs and I snap it in half.

“You broke my walking stick!” the man yells. He’s maybe in his thirties, wearing a black tee-shirt and pants and is getting wet. I’m getting wet too.

“I’m sorry,” I say reaching down to try to put the two pieces together. I thought walking sticks were extendable and collapsible so maybe I could just fix it.

“It’s broken!” he says again and grabs my arm, threading his arm through mine and turning me around. “Now you’re taking me to where I have to go.”

“Sure,” I mumble, looking forlornly at the subway entrance only ten feet away. “Yes, I will.”

“You’re damned right you will,” he adds as punctuation.”

We start to walk faster together, him holding me tight. “Where are you going?” I ask over the sound of the rain. I look at him and don’t look where we’re going. Another blind man is in front of us. Before I realize what’s going to happen they collide shoulder to shoulder, my man pushing into me as he spins around.

“Watch where you’re going!” my guy yells then turns towards me. “You have to watch out for me.”

“Your mother!” the blind man who passed us yells over his shoulder, tapping away with his cane.

“Fuck you!” my guy shouts back still moving forward.

“Fuck you, you asshole,” the other man yells then disappears into the downpour.

“I’m sorry” I say. “That was my fault. I wasn’t looking.”

“Damned right it was your fault. You have to watch out for me as we walk.”

“Right. Now where are we going?”

“135 West 23rd street,” he says.

I look to the left and see the Council for the Blind building and guide him carefully past a few other pedestrians and into the front door.

“Thank you,” he tosses over his shoulder at me.

“I’m sorry again about your stick,” I say as the door closes. I don’t have my umbrella anymore. I don’t know where it went.  I turn around to head back towards the subway.

And the rain continues to come down.

The Dudes

As you walk into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (an avenue long by an avenue wide huge monster of a pre-war, pre-war finished 1888 building) you can’t help but be impressed by the picture of these two dudes while you’re waiting to be scanned and wanded through the second stage of security. The sign below them cracked me up. HELP. Need I say more? The rest of the small print says, “…keep our floors clean.” But I couldn’t resist. These guys need all the help we can give them.

So… no, I did not meet the Dudes. I only saw their very real and life-like pictures. And though I didn’t get into the White House I did get into the building where all the business is done next to the White House and I did soak up some of the powerful office space air and the wheezing breath of history. It was cool.

In a strange bit of serendipity one of the two White House ONAP (Office of National AIDS Policy) committee members that our team met with, I actually knew from my days working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. We realized we knew each other towards the end of the meeting when he mentioned The House of Latex Project (Long story for another time but let’s just say I won trophies for realness and my trophies went down with the world trade center but my memories of winning them did not) and I mentioned I had worked there. We looked at each other, named a few colleagues from the early nineties that we both remembered and smiled. “You had a pony tail and long hair?” he asked. “Yes,” I said.

And so it goes.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything we live and breathe makes it into our work. Everything. The Eisenhower Building becomes the Palace of Falling Chandeliers that lies beneath the cascade falls where seven thousand bound and manacled civil servants in rags bang away on manual Smith Caronas typing the letters, “I will not forget my photo ID,” over and over again until the overlord in dark grey pinstripes and wingtips tells them they can go to their meeting at room 207 (the room we met in) just past the restroom where civil servants go in and none ever comes out.


Now check out the picture of the long hall. The picture doesn’t do the reality of how long this hall is justice. It is easily one hundred yards long – an endless hall of bureaucracy with marble floor, hanging lights and door after door, after door…

What will come of the meeting in my day life as a public health worker? I don’t know. Was it worth the trip? Every second of it. Did it give me more material to write about? Always gathering, always using, always thinking, even when my eyes are glassy and I’m daydreaming about someplace else, where typewriters clack and black ribbon snakes spin.

Flesh Fleche

Back at the Virginia Festival of Books in Charlottesville.


The Charlottesville Fencing Alliance is off Allied Road and McIntyre a short fifteen minute walk from the Omni. I visited two evenings last week, fenced 8 times (thanks Ken 2x, Dave, Drew, Emily, Sarah, Chairon, and Aron for your lessons in humility) , winning 2 of 4 the first night and 1 of 4 the second, for about 90 minutes each night, talked shop with the members between bouts, and pitched my book to anyone who would listen. I left four copies of Open Wounds to be used for prizes in tournaments, a ton of book marks, and a lot of sweat.





The director, James Faine, was a great host and has a terrific club to boast about. They fence foil, sabre, and épée with a good number of sharp épéee-ists on hand – a number of which are lefties – always tricky to handle. That’s a nice way of saying they kicked my butt.

The picture of the fleche is Ken (red hair) with a perfect touch against Sarah.

I’m still a bit sore from all the leg work but I’d do it again in a second. I’ll have to bring my equipment when I go to New Orleans next month – see if I can get in another evening of swordplay. Oh yeah, and sell some books!


Doing the Rocky Dance

I was away last week at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I did no blog entries. I’ve been in Charlottesville Virginia, moving between the Omni, downtown, Emmit Road B&N, Allied Road Charlottesville Fencing Alliance and Allied Yoga. Oh, and the AMTRAK station.

I took a seven hour AMTRAK ride down and wrote some while my butt rode the rail. That made me smile.

Here’s the other thing that made me smile besides the beautiful town, the nice and friendly people, and the warm weather and flowers.

Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville carried my book there. There’s no other B&N in the country that carries my book. But in Charlottesville VA, they carry it. That’s cool.

It’s in two different places, the New Teen Fiction section and the table with all the books from the book festival authors – at least that’s where it will be until the end of today when the festival closes. This was the best series of events I’ve ever done. Seriously. If you ever get the chance to do this as an author, don’t hesitate, do it.

Panel I, Fiction: Conspiracies and Obsessions – I did with three very cool authors – Alma Katsu (The Taker), Amelia Gray (Threats), Virginia Moran (The Algebra of Snow) – and an even cooler moderator named Meredith Cole. Meredith knows how to moderate (not as easy as it would sound). She gave us a series of questions she would ask ahead of time, met us 30 minutes before the event to get to know us and help us settle in, and read all four of our books so that when she introduced us and asked us questions she knew what she was talking about. Meredith rocks. And, she’s a heck of a good mystery writer herself.

There were over 60 people at the even at the Barnes and Noble in town. They were standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor. That was a very cool thing to see. I don’t know who they were there to see and I don’t care. We all had a good audience to talk to and the panel kicked butt. Seriously. These women were funny and interesting and I added a touch or two myself, but watching the ladies work, I wanted to be in the audience myself. I had fun and… sold ten books, at least as far as I can remember. j

The Festival volunteers were helpful. The B&N staff were helpful. I probably had too much coffee because my hands shook. Or it could have been the influence of the Christianity section behind us. Or that might have been my nervousness showing. In any case it couldn’t have gone better.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the fencing. Oh yeah, and Panel II with Elizabeth Nunez.

The Nose Knows

st-armands-circle-shopping.JPG (21340 bytes)St. Armands in Sarasota.

The Circle Book Store – the only independent book store in the area.

I stopped in with Max and Karen, looked at the YA section – searched for Michael Grant’s Gone (it’s next on my list) and finally, when the register was clear, wandered over to say hello to the bookseller in charge.

I had brought a copy of my book and surreptitiously signed it. I was ready.

I chatted a bit about the book, gave her my pitch and all the usual accompanying information about availability at Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. She smiled at me and seemed interested then said, “It sounds good. I think I’ll read it first myself.”

My job was done.

I walked over to where Karen was looking at a book and gave her the thumbs up. She stopped for a second and looked at me. She stared at my face.

“What?” I said, leaning in close.

“What’s that big pen mark down the middle of your nose?”

“What pen mark?”

“You had that on when you talked to her, didn’t you?” she asked.

I nodded and wiped the mark off. “It’s off now?”


And so it goes…

Prussian Gulf or Sarasota Maul

We’re on vacation at a friend’s family condo in Sarasota, Florida – two families, one of my son’s friends. The two boys are laughing and giggling all the time (except when they are mad at each other which is not often). If I open the window I can hear the waves breaking on the beach. The balcony overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. I love the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know why. The waves are small but the water is a different color than I’m used to. Long Island water is dark and cloudy and cold cold cold. The water here is lighter in color, turquoise, and chilly but swimable. It is beautiful.

I’ve slept until almost nine two mornings in a row. Normally I am up at 5:30am. The dogs are back home being boarded for the week playing with other dogs and wondering if we’ll come back for them (well one isn’t wondering – he’s probably too busy playing, but the younger one probably is). I miss those mongrels but I’m also glad I can sleep late.

It’s 70’s with a breeze and the sun just came out. It might have hit 81 but I’m not sure. I’m not wearing my watch.

This is my vacation. I’ve had a cold since the day before we left but it’s getting better. The sea air is doing it. That and some sleep.

I’ve been exhausted from my day job.

I’ve written two for two days of vacation – continuing my streak of three months. It is lovely writing from the balcony, listening to the ocean. We’re going to Disney one day, but only one day. Every other day is the pool, the beach, or the pool (there are two).

Here’s three words I wrote today:

  • maul
  • center
  • Prussian

Symbiotic Stew

I travelled to Phili on Monday.

I took the day off from my job to teach a 1hr distance learning writing workshop to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at three Pennsylvania High Schools. There were about 40 kids in attendance at the three sites. I taught from the UPENN distance learning center, called MAGPI and it was a very cool thing to do. Each school shows up on a huge TV screen as a small 1 foot by 2 foot rectangle. I teach from the MAGPI studio – a small ten by ten space with three cameras, my laptop and Powerpoint, some notes, and a copy of my book to read from. The MAGPI folks don’t pay me for teaching and I cover my own traveling expenses,but I get to teach classes on writing to young writers and that makes it worth every penny.

Today I talked about first lines of novels and how they start the relationship between reader and writer. I’m into this relationship idea. Readers read and interpret and writers direct the interpretation through the words they write. I know this sounds very basic – like I should have gotten this before -but I didn’t. I just had it in my head that writers wrote and readers read – separate from each other. We’re not. We depend on each other, need each other. We’re symbiotes in a way.

The kids were great and I enjoyed speaking with them. They came up with first sentences for their own to-be-written novels that were terrific. I hope to see one in book form one day. It’s the second time I’ve done a workshop with the MAGPI folks and they’ve invited me back for a third workshop in the spring.

On my way home I stopped at a nearby public library and met Dan, their YA specialist. I gave him a copy of my book for the library. He had a big smile on his face when I gave it to him.

I love libraries.

Conspiracies, Obsessions, and Crossing Boundaries

Virginia Festival of the BookIt’s coming.

My first book festival in which I’ll be on a panel discussing a subject that has to do with my book.

I’m very excited about this. So far I’ve been to a few (3) conferences (ALA, BEA, and a NYC Dept. of Ed Librarians Conference) and each of them I’ve signed and done some author speed dating but no presenting on panels.

It seems like a cool thing that an author would do. I’m excited about it.

The Virginia Festival of the Book invited me (thanks to my great publicist JKSCommunications!) and as a Yankee, it’s a real honor to have been picked. Maybe the road trip last summer down south paid off. Whatever Goddesses were looking out for me I’m one happy camper.

I’ll be on two panels.

Panel 1: Conspiracies and Obsessions – novels of unravelling lives – with Alma Katsu, Virginia Moran, and Amelia Gray (and me). It’s an adult author line-up, not YA. I’ll have to think about the context but it sounds like a good fit for Cid Wymann and Open Wounds.

Panel 2: Crossing Boundaries – novels about family drama, love, and loss beyond borders – with N.M.Kelby, Jacqueline E. Luckett, and Elizabeth Nunez (and me). I can’t forget me. Also adult novels but I think I’ll fit in with Open Wounds just fine.

The festival is on March 21-25 and I’ll be on panel 1 on Thursday the 23 and panel 2 Friday the 24. If you’re in Charlottesille VA around then… come say hello. I’ll be the author with the big smile on his phiz.

And here’s the real kicker. The panels will be at a Barnes and Noble. They won’t carry my book normally in store (although they do sell it online) but I’m betting they carry it for the festival. Oh yeah. Uh huh. Oh yeah. I’m still stopping at indi New Dominion Bookstore – oldest in VA. That’s going to be even cooler. Maybe I can convince them to carry my book…

Here’s the link: Virginia Festival of Books

Four Calling Agents, Three French Editors…

Three things I learned this year about publishing (please remember I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. These are based on my experiences this year).

  1. It’s better to be published by a legitimate press than to be self-published. Even if it’s a small press – if you want your book to be carried in a store it has to be available from Ingrams, Baker and Taylor, and or Folio. These are the big distributors in the business. I found in every instance in approaching booksellers and managers in over twenty bookstores across the country that as soon as I told them I was not self-published and that the books were available from Ingram or one of the others I was treated instantly differently (ie: better).
  2. Marketing is like a second job all by itself. I now work a full time day job, teach yoga twice a week, write, and do marketing for my book. I spend at least 1-2 hours a day marketing (twitter, facebook, blogging, emailing, interviewing, reviewing books, etc…). And that’s probably low. Finding a balance between marketing and writing is key to surviving your first publication.
  3. The publishing business is crazy. Agents leave the business without telling you, publishers are put up for sale seemingly out of the blue, subsidiary rights can be sat on, writers are just as competitive as world class athletes when it comes to snagging a seat at a full table of librarians during author speed dating, books don’t show up at readings, managers who’ve been called ahead of time about your store visit can’t remember talking to your publicist even though it was only 24 hours ago, Goodreads is like crack (or craic) for writers, it seems no two writers have the same writing process though most would agree it’s incredibly hard work to do (find a writing process and to write), and finally once your book is published writers you’ve never met before will help you to sell it through blurbs (which are key to getting your book looked at by just about everybody in the business and many readers looking for a new author to read.

After Christmas I”ll have to come up with some writing resolutions. That will take some thought. Here’s something though. For the last twenty years I wondered if the coming year would be the year I finally published my first novel. This year I don’t have to wonder anymore.

And that’s a very cool thing.

Cambridge Library Author Trio

Going to Cambridge MA this week for two days. Cambridge public library will be hosting an Author Trio event this Wednesday the 16th that I’ll be a part of with the wonderful Amalie Howard (author of Bloodspell) and Leigh Fallon (author of The Carrier of the Mark). We’ll be reading and answering questions so I hope to see you there if you’re in the neighborhood.

I’ll also be visiting local indies in the Cambridge/Boston area and a fencing salle or two (Bay State Fencers on Thursday the 17th in the early evening from 5-7pm) before I head home late thursday evening.


Oh… and the pictures are of Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park. We went on Friday, Veteran’s day, and took a bunch of pics. I also gave their library a copy of Open Wounds to add to their reading list. I’ll be putting up pics of the demonstration all week.

Sweat and Tiffany’s – Goodbye Seattle

Okay. Okay. The downhill was worse than the uphill. The walk to Salle Auriol on Harrison was long with stretches of darkness, empty parking lots and offices. At one point I saw a guy on a bike going up a hill I was coming down. We were on a small level space between two monsters. He rested a few moments then put his bike into gear and started pedaling. I really felt for him and hoped he had at least 21 speeds to choose from.

I love fencing salles.

I really do.

The clashing of swords, the sounds of coaches speaking with heavy Polish, Russian, or Hungarian accents, and the energy of fencers competing and honing their craft. Sometimes there’s laughing and smiling, even though they’ve been stuck hard in the chest. Everybody learns from everybody. And as new meat, people swarm to fence against me because I bring new techniques to learn about and figure out how to defeat. It’s a great place.  Did I mention the smell of wet and dry sweat?

Salle Auriol is just such a wonderful place. The business manager,Catherine, met me and gave me a tour of the salle, hooked me up with the three épée fencers in that night, talked to me about my book (she’s a budding novelist herself) and recommended a good place to get food and drink. I fenced against three opponents (I’m probably getting their names wrong so I hope they forgive me) Carmella, Marla, and Greg. Carmella took me apart quickly in my first series of bouts, though I was glad to get a few runs of touches in to remind myself of the skill I can call upon with a little bit of focus. Basically Carmella was good and she gave me a lesson that I only had to pay for in sweat.

Greg was next and he’s only been fencing five months. I focused my work on point control, trying for stop thrusts and thrusts to his wrist. He’s a researcher, doing work on cancer and the immune system. He face lights up when he talks about his work and about this sport he’s found called fencing.

Marla works at Tiffany’s and loves it. She’s also a good épéeist. We were well matched and traded the first two bouts, both close. Her coach was watching from a seat at the end of the strip and gave advice like, “You have to get out of the way of his blade,” and “Don’t let him hit your wrist,” after I scored three touches in a row in just that spot. It made us both laugh. Nothing like a coach with a good sense of humor. Marla won the final bout 5-4 on a series of infighting attacks and ripostes that ended with her final downward thrust hitting me in the ankle. Touché, Marla, you earned it.

After a late dinner at Serious Pie (that’s it’s name, really) I walked another half hour to the light-rail station (flat with no hills) and just about midnight, walked back in the hotel front door.

I’m ready to be home. I know my wife is ready for me to be home. Too much traveling this week and too much double duty on her part keeping the family moving and attending to her consulting work. She’s definitely had the harder work of the two of us.

Oh yeah. And there’s the world cup of rugby final to see.

Hill of Humongosity – Seattle Day 2

Usually a little walking does not daunt me. I walk at least an hour every day just to the subway and back and taking out the dogs. But the hill you climb from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill and the Elliot Bay Bookstore is brutal. I got a ride downtown this time and skipped the light-rail then figured I’d just walk the thirty minutes to the bookstore.

How tough could it be? I walk fast. I figured I’d make it in 15 or 20 minutes max.

It was cool and misty but I was sweating heavily by the time I got to the top of Capital Hill and over onto 10th Avenue. Capital Hill shouldn’t be called a hill. The word just doesn’t suit it. Hill of death. Hill of humongosity. Ankle-break hill. Mountain called hill. Really.

Elliot Bay Bookstore is a big indi and I wanted to make an impression. I’m sure my disheveled look and the beads of perspiration rolling down my forehead did the trick. Bookseller Mathew was kind enough to take my book.

“Can I give you my pitch?” I asked.

“Not necessary,” he said.

He checked to make sure he could get it from Ingrams and to make sure it was not self-published (yes, these things do, in my experience over the last six months marketing my book, matter). Satisfied with both, he assured me he’d get it into the hands of their YA specialist. Then he kindly got me directions to the Club Auriol, Fencing Salle – just 30 minutes … down hill … north of where I started.

“Downhill?” I asked.

He nodded sagely.

“Well,” I said, “it’s better than up hill.” And off I went. Back to sweating.

I had planned to go to two fencing salles in two different parts of town but at 7:15pm I knew I would never make it to both. So I went for the closer of the two – Salle Auriol. And I figured I’d work the opposing muscles in my legs on the downward haul – always searching for balance.

Oxygen Debt and Yoga Surplus

I love Seattle. It’s not New York, but I love it just the same.

I’ve been to Seattle three times now. The first time was after I finished the Peace Corps and I traveled up the west coast to Alaska then across the country to New York (a 6-month trip). I stayed in Seattle for 11 days, a few on Bainbridge Island at the home of a family friend, the rest at a Hostel.Elliot Bay Bookstore was in Pioneer Square – far from it’s present 10th avenue location. I travelled up to Juno by ferry from there and stayed north for a month afterwards. It was sunny six out of eleven days in Seattle, even though everyone swears to me it’s never sunny there.

The second time I was in Seattle it was for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals national conference and I stayed four days – mostly at the conference center but one afternoon we got a tour of some parks on the outskirts of the City by the sister of a colleague. It was sunny every day. A Seattle resident told me, “Yeah we love the summer but we all hate the winter. It rains every day and we don’t get much daylight as the days so much shorter up here. Everyone goes on antidepressants to get through to the spring.”

This third time in Seattle was for only three days, but I definitely made the most of them. I rained every day and I didn’t see the sun.

Four things I noticed this time about what I consider to be a unique and beautiful city include:

  1. This time I walked, bussed, and light-railed a good part of the city and it is oxygen-debt-in-the-thighs hilly. It is also hard to figure out the bus lines but the men in yellow make it all easier than it should be. “Just ask the men in yellow if you get lost,” the hotel manager told me. “They’ll help you find your way.”
  2. In the neighborhoods outside downtown there are a lot of runners – I mean a lot. They run alone, in pairs, and in packs. They run in the rain and mist.
  3. The city overall is pretty clean – now remember I’m from New York City which is not.
  4. There are a lot of yoga studios, massage and wellness centers. This could have been the neighborhood I was in but I don’t think so. This is a city relaxed with the concept of new age.
  5. Booksellers are friendly at the indies. This should go without saying but… it doesn’t. But I had three for three good experiences at indies and that was cool.

Orca Pass – Seattle, Day 1 of 3

The next four entries are from last week in Seattle.

Facilitation Skills training in Seattle, teaching court practitioners how to facilitate training sessions around an online curriculum.

One day of travel.

One day of work.

One day of travel home.

Mockingbird Books

Sue Nevins at Mockingbird Books

Sue Nevins at Mockingbird Books

I stayed at a hotel in the South Center, near the airport so I had to really work to get downtown. Shuttle to the airport. Light rail to the last stop. A bus and some walking took me to Mockingbird Books.

Sue Nevins was prepared for me, having looked up information about Open Wounds on my website. This has never happened before. I don’t have to pitch. She has questions already ready for me about where to place the book shelf-wise based on language and content. Sue is incredible.

The store is a beautiful bookstore thriving selling children’s books, with a small café and children’s play area. If we lived in Seattle we’d be hanging out at Mockingbird. And Sue knows her books. For almost half an hour she gave me a tour of books that my son might like. I left with four. He got Amulet: Stonekeeper Book 1 (a beautiful graphic novel of mystery, spookiness, and adventure), Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril (graphic novel about burrs – work with me on this it’s very funny and cute and good for budding artists with graphic novel potential), Merlin (Merlin’s story at the age of 12) and Virus on Orbis One (science fiction to give my son something a little different for him to chew on).

I should do a better job of planning these things out. My publicist (JKS in the hands of Sami Lien who does all the finding of bookstores I should hit and contacts them to see if they’ll take a visit with a smile and calls the fencing salles too) draws a big net. I’m ambitious but come up against the constraints of time and transportation every trip.

Sue told me I should go to Third Place Books also because it was in walking distance – only about twenty minutes – and they had a good pub underneath them. I was thirsty and I needed to eat dinner. The three-hour time difference was knocking me out.

At Third Place I talked to the owner, Michael Ravena, and he seemed pleased both at Sue’s referral and to listen to me talk briefly about Open Wounds. He read a few pages of different parts of the book while I watched, and smiled at a description of Nicolai Varvarinski. “That’s great,” he said. With a handshake and a thank you, I asked for directions to the pub.

The beer (Seattle has a lot of home local brews) was good and the food was even better. The World Series was on the television – no world cup rugby but that can wait until early Sunday morning when France and New Zealand will remake the clash of the titans.


… as in evocative of past memories.

CW Post Reading

CW Post LIU Reading

The reading at CWPost was great. At least I had a good time. I think the students did also. As my friend and professor from undergraduate days, Dr. Joan Digby said, “There were a lot of people asking questions so that’s a good sign that you didn’t scare them away.”

I’ll get to the student’s questions and my answers over the next few day’s posts. Today it’s about the pictures and what resonates for me.

I went to Post as an undergrad and Dr. Digby (who is in charge of the honors program and has been so since I was there) has since invited me back a number of times to read short stories and talk about my various careers to students. It’s great to have a teacher believe in you especially long after your class-taking days are over. I’m taking her to lunch next time we get together. This kind of faith keeps a writer writing.

Art Museum at CW Post

So the reading, in the art museum at Post, as the inaugural event for their newly opened poetry center, was very cool. There was standing room only with over 70 folks in attendance – young adults to older adults pretty much 18 and up. It was something to stand there with my book in front of me and speak to folks who were in my seat thirty years ago.

It resonated like a long, loud, ringing, Om.

Post Toastie – Reading

I’m off to CWPost tomorrow, my alma matter, to do a reading at the new Poetry Center. The head of the Honors Program, Dr. Joan Digby (I get to call her Joan and not Dr. Digby these days and I still can’t get used to it) has been a supportive presence in my writing life since I was an undergrad with her in her newly started honors program way way back when.

She taught me one of my first and really powerful lessons as a writer. In a tutorial with her on writing we spent a whole semester rewriting and reviewing one short story that I wrote.

I rewrote is 16 times.

I counted.

And I still remember each of the 16 times.

This taught me the importance of rewriting – what it can do and how it can change and improve a manuscript. I’ll have to tell that story at the reading. It runs from 12:30-1:20. Here’s a link to the event at Post on their Greenvale LIU campus: Poetry Center.

Small Moments and Waf Hou

My son hates to write about small moments. They are part of his school work on writing non-fiction. He hates to come up with them and thinks they are a torture made up just for him.

As a writer I appreciate the technique the teacher is trying to teach him. I’m still working on the concept of small moments too in my writing.

Here are small details for small moments from my road trip:

  • speed limits in some states on the interstate are 70 mph which means most people are travelling between 75 and 90 mph.
  • if the Waffle House sign is broken and only says “Waf  Hou” you should probably not eat there.
  • a coffee cup is a good thing to throw up in if you have nothing else available though it’s better to stop the car and avoid throwing up instead if you can.
  • passengers can do a lot of things on road trips but drivers can do only one – drive.
  • an iPad is an excellent travel aid but you do need to get the 3g service or you will be stuck hopping from wifi station to wifi station on the interstate and no matter how fast the iPad drive is it just can’t keep up.
  • engine lights will go on only while you are taking short cuts to avoid traffic while you are in the middle of nowhere, travelling in darkness, with your iPad on the 2% battery indicator.
  • engine lights will go off while you are not watching and while things are going well.
  • you can only drink so many cups of coffee before your hands start to shake.
  • when visiting bookstores in the south, smile, show them your book, mention Kelly Justice’s name (thank you Kelly!) and see what happens.

Lucky Day 13: Home and the Field of Dreams

Yesterday we hit traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and finally had to reduce speed down below 65. It’s amazing how little traffic the rest of the world has. Ahhh… New York City. It’s good to be home. 45 minutes going what would normally be 15 to get from the Verrazano to Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights. We travelled half of New Jersey in the same amount of time on the Jersey Turnpike, and twice that in North Caroline on I-95. Did you know the speed limit is 70mph down there?

We’re unpacked and have slept a full night in our own beds and yes, that does feel good. I even have six full days of vacation left so although the day job worries me (looming like a nuclear missile would be the appropriate metaphor I think) I can ease back into life at a slower pace. It was interesting to see the effects of Irene on the land we passed through. I-95 is like a tunnel, trees to both sides for so long, and it’s basically straight, so we only saw downed trees in North Caroline and Virginia. But the sense of being in a sort of time machine was visceral. Overall, the trip back was quick and uneventful – hard on the butt of course, but that goes with sitting for 6-8 hours a day in a car. We didn’t stop at bookstores on the way back because we were all pretty much done in by Universal and the driving. And… we wanted to get home. That’s the sign of a good vacation. It was time to be home. That and my family might have mutinied if I asked them to detour one more time – just an hour to visit one more store… no (imagine the flurry of debris thrown at me from the back seat from my son) … we headed home.

I have a list of stores to follow-up on in Baltimore, Richmond, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Gainesville. I’ll see who has had a chance to read Open Wounds, and who may now order it to have it in-store. I’m going to make  list of stores that carry it and direct folks there (people are banging down the doors to get a copy, really). Well, as they say in Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. In the case of bookselling, if they’ve read it, they will sell it. For those of you who’ve been following along with me on the trip to Universal and back, I’m going to take off tomorrow from blogging – I have a guest blog to do for a friend to put together which I’ll let you know about over the next few days – and I’ll be back on Friday.

I hope you enjoyed the trip.

I sure did.

Day 12: Downed Trees and the One-eyed Lady

I didn’t know there were any HoJos left (Howard Johnsons). But it seems there are some hotels still hanging around.

Okay. She didn’t have one eye, but one eye was much bigger than the other and bulging a bit like Marty Feldman’s. This was the lovely lady at the HoJo’s we stayed at last night in a nameless town somewhere between Richmond and Savannah who checked us in. I know it’s a long stretch of highway but I’m worried they have a long reach. Let’s just say, we’re hoping to never have to stop at that HoJo’s again.

Some things that worried me:

  • nonsmoking rooms that used to be smoking rooms – I’m sorry but the smell never leaves those rooms.
  • very dark upholstery, bedding, walls – just what are you trying to hide?
  • room doors with holes in them that have been puttied and not painted over – it just doesn’t feel… safe.
  • hotel doors without locks – that speaks for itself.
Some things I noticed on the way home on the stretch between Savannah and Richmond.
  • I-95 is long long long.
  • I-95 has lengths of it that have nothing at all along them but trees and marsh – long lengths.
  • Starbucks in Targets are not as good as stand-alones.
  • The signs for South of the Border are many and colorful – the compound by the interstate bright like a giant collection of christmas lights.
  • Hurricane Irene left its mark along the road with debri and fallen trees – a bit eerie having seen all the footage on TV the day before.
  • JR spends a lot of money on billboards.
  • Sooner or later you’re going to eat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
  • Avoid the Waffle Houses.
It’s our last night before we make it home. We’re just outside of DC. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone os on the computer and I’m late to watch it while I type this out.
It’ll be good to be home, collect the dogs, see what’s left of the apartment.
As for the one-eyed lady from HoJos…

Day 11: Dueling Dragons and Frida Khalo Treasure Hunt

My wife’s family is safely ensconced in our apartment – having to evacuate Rockaway Beach where they live before Irene hits. They have found the inflatable mattresses and as of this moment know how to work the cable remote and therefore the TV. We’ve been watching the weather report here. The sky is dark here also and the threat of thunderstorms – a constant in August anyway in Florida – has shut down the pool. We’re all reading, gaming, blogging in the giant lobby sitting in comfy chairs. Soon I will be drinking tea.

Earlier we made our last visit to Harry Potter-land. We will miss it. Tomorrow we leave. I left my stomach on the dueling dragon ride. Karen and Max watched me disappear into the gated line after viewing all the dozen or so warnings about quick turns, sudden drops, 360’s, and backward somersaults. Unless you are in perfect health and above 5’4″ you are not allowed to pass and ride the beast.

I rode the blue dragon.

It did indeed flip me over, twirl me around, make me go upside down and inside out all at an incredible pace and with centrifugal force keeping me plastered to my suspended seat. Yes, it is a suspended car roller coaster. I love these things. The whole ride lasted less than a minute and I felt mildly ill afterwards, even had some trouble walking straight for a few minutes after landing. But it was cool. Once was enough though, until next time.

Back to the treasure hunt I promised yesterday. So here it is. Frida Khalo is in my book, somewhere. Aldo Nadi is too but he is named and easy to find. Frida had a slightly larger part in an earlier version of the book but was scaled back in the finished version of Open Wounds. Find her. Tell me what page she’s on and what made you think it’s her. Here’s a hint. You can find her with four letter words. Now start the hunt.