Comfort Zone


Between a sinus infection and a life that keeps on keeping on, I’ve missed coming in here and chatting with you, dear blogging friend.

I don’t remember when I last had a sinus infection, but this one wiped me out. Will power meant nothing. I simply had to stop, too tired to focus.

My Toastmasters group also needed attention, as I sort of abandoned my duties there for the past month. So, it was nice to return and evaluate a speech.

Moreover, I am working on a speech, which I will deliver October 14th. Amazing how I actually enjoy speaking in public now, something that couldn’t have been further from the truth two years ago. The nerves are still kicking my gut, but they seem to settle down after the first few words are spoken. 

I try to envision the speech as a storytelling event, and storytelling, writing, is what I love.

I’m always interested in similar experiences, or ways to conquer such fears. Public speaking, or any sort of public interaction that requires we step outside our comfort zone, how do you handle it?

Dark Side


It was interesting to see I had someone from Bosnia-Herzegovina visit my blog. I didn’t see a comment, but cool nonetheless. If they’d stopped by, I would’ve loved to have said hi. Would’ve told them about the time I lived a little to the east, in Romania.

Just the other day, I was looking at the map of Eastern Europe, trying to figure out the various corridors set up for refugees making their way to Europe via Greece.

It’s difficult keeping away from the news coming in from that part of the world these days. So much of Europe’s history goes back to refugee crisis of its own, war, senseless suffering, and here we are again — more senseless suffering, people fleeing their homes, looking not for a better life, but for a life.

I understand the safety concerns, and how overwhelming this mass influx can be on any one country. The refugees have to be housed, fed, and receive medical attention. Many are going to stay, no matter what, and will need jobs at some point, schooling and so on.

Still … these are people — from babies to seventy-year olds — fleeing unimaginable violence. Not the faces of folks looking for economic opportunity, I don’t think, more like going through harrowing journeys to survive.

Who is to say this can’t happen in Eastern Europe one day? With all the political insecurity, the turmoil on the other side of the Black Sea, who’s to say many Eastern Europeans won’t find themselves in this very situation, fleeing, desperately looking for a refuge?

There is a dark side to humanity, and what’s going on in Eastern Europe right now — the refusal to help no matter how overwhelming — highlights the darkest of the streaks. This is not to be said for every country, of course, Croatia just announced they would allow refugees in, but for so many it’s too late.

Given Europe’s history, the complicity in evil that killed millions in places like Dachau and Birkenau, I can’t help but wonder how the current crisis is going to look with the benefit hindsight.



Parts of the Self


Pieces of us are inadvertently left behind as we grow older. We adapt or semi-adapt to the world’s uniform oneness. Or so we tell ourselves.

I am a visual person.

As a child, I was a visual learner. I suppose this is true for all in childhood, the reason we start with picture books. But I think it went past childhood for me. Even when using text books, I always learned best from diagrams, charts, maps, images — the pictures in my mind immediate and striking.


I was reminded of this when sitting in my son’s classroom recently for the back-to-school meeting — an event filled with the teacher’s learning philosophy, something made abundantly clear in the papers sent home. Still, there I sat in my son’s chair, at his desk, hoping to glean the un-gleanable.

As always, I fell adrift in a daze of formalities until two words snapped me right back: visual learner … visuallearner — a phrase describing a way of study.

Suppressed memories came back alive: the young self with all those picture books. Photographs. Images of every color. And the question: How do visual learners survive those heavy text books in college?  Maybe that’s why we move to PowerPoint, diagrams and charts. Not only as a mode of presentation, but for our own benefit. For learning.

And how does a visual learner become a veracious reader?  I suppose the mind adjusts and the thirst for imagery is replaced by language in its most beautiful form. Descriptive language.

No wonder, then, Description is my favorite text type. Something the non-visual learner might skim through in a book, I delight in reading. And writing.

Here’s one such Description from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, implying the character’s state, in the big picture, but also offering vivid imagery for the mind’s eye:

There is a path through the willows and among the sycamores, a path beaten hard by boys coming down from the ranches to swim in the deep pool, and beaten hard by tramps who come wearily down from the highway in the evening to jungle-up near the water.

Those words, written just so, conjure up a spectacular image, and I am there, with those boys and those tramps on that very path.

And so we adapt, or do we?




in action

A few days ago, on a hot afternoon with not much else to do for entertainment, we saw the new Mission Impossible movie. A good one, but for the purpose of this post I want to focus on what this movie has a lot of, and that is action. 

Of course, distant voices whisper through the blogosphere, it’s an action flick for goodness sake.

Yes, that it sure is.

The opening scene (five minutes or so), is jammed-packed with action — some of it cliché, but most good enough to grab the viewer by the neck and keep her on that seat.  Keep the mind from wandering, yet my mind wandered way the heck off. Watching Tom Cruise run all over the place and do all sorts of impossible tricks while keeping his cool, got me to thinking …. hey, what about building action in a book?

After having written a couple of mystery novels (one published), having gone through edits with the publishing-house editor, and currently working on another mystery novel, there were a few things drilled into my skull over the years.

Deep breath, or if you’d like to take a break and grab a glass of water, or better yet wine … I’ll wait for you.

Okay, here I go.

An action scene isn’t just a car chase, a fistfight, or a hot-and-heavy sex scene. No. In my wandering mind, an action scene needs the pace cranked up to its most intense level to build tension, deliver emotional impact, and move the plot forward with one big punch.


So, how does an author turn scenes into heart-pounding experiences for the reader while building tension and emotional impact and advancing the plot?

Well, watch a movie like Mission Impossible, for one.

Or, in a book, keep descriptions to a minimum. The setting should be established before the action begins so we know where the action is happening. A winding mountain pathway during the night, a crowded street during morning rush hour, the prince’s secret boudoir, whatever the setting, it should be introduced before the action begins to limit the need for description.

When the action begins, my dears, an author only needs to mention the details that create the immediacy, urgency, or the sense of dread, panic, romance, or in short, the scene’s emotional goal.

That’s it.  Easy, no? 

Here is a short action scene from my book, Stranger or Friend:

     With his heavy boot on her back, he held her face to the ground. Shoved hard, as if to push her into the dirt.                                                          Desperate for air, Zoe tried to reach back, to claw at the boot. Her lips mashed against the rock, splitting open. Her teeth and gums grated against stone. Her mouth filled with a metallic taste. Blood, lots of blood. Why didn’t he just kill her?                                                                Frozen in fear and pain, she willed her mind to work. Maybe if she’d wait out the boot, if she’d keep her bearings a little longer … maybe she’d be all right.                                                                                                 But she was not all right. She felt a broken connection with her consciousness. She fought to keep her mind as one entity, while the boot squashed her face against the rock. Someone was crushing her skull. A distant part of her was shoved to a bottom where she sunk into her own spit and blood.                                                                                         Zoe struggled for a breath at the bottom of this pool, but darkness intruded. No sky, no trees, no way to tell which way was up.

The idea here was to keep the momentum going, show the character’s struggle while she was being badly hurt.  

While action is the lifeblood of mysteries and thrillers, I think we need momentum in any book, and that, my friends, means action.

What else have I learned? That I make a lousy movie companion, because my mind wanders to the parallels between the flick on the screen and books. All the time.


What say you, dear blogging friend?


Images credit:,