A costumer’s thoughts upon the recent appropriation of Safety Pins:

safety_pinSafety pins are not meant to be passive—a furtive steel prick of conscience—hidden on a lapel like a secret handshake. They are tools of healing, kinetic kindness given to strangers, a means to spring into action.

They are to be freely offered in the name of Girl-Code:
To secure a hijab slipping from grace, and pull up restaurant restroom zippers on skinny jeans stressed to self-destruction, to raise the brim higher on an Easter Sunday crown, and bridge that third button gap in every blouse designed by man.

A pin in stasis rusts closed.

Reattach a ruffle of a neighbor’s quinceañera gown, tend to a yarmulke where the satin has slid from the seam, extend the strap on the stiletto of a size fourteen queen.

Wear them with responsibility, with a woman’s vigilance, a first-aid-kit used long before the shine is noticed on a collar. Safety pins are not a dormant decoration to define your clandestine tolerance—they are a conscious means to a mend.

Elie Wiesel and a child’s fear

elieWhen I was little my father took me everywhere with him. I was a reasonably well behaved kid, and could be tucked in a corner with a book while he conducted a rehearsal or gave a voice lesson. Once, as we went to a meeting with someone about a concert his orchestra was playing, he gave me the usual spiel: please and thank you, sit still, don’t say fuck or shit, and if I was offered sweets, accept if I wanted it or not and say I’d save it for after dinner.
Fundraising is tricky. It is important to say yes, to welcome all gifts, no matter how small.

The man was thin and taller than my dad, with bushy gray hair and pale skin and an accent like a vampire movie. I thought he looked like a ghost, but the room was full of books, wall to wall to ceiling, and ghosts didn’t read.

When their meeting was over, the man offered me a doll.
I panicked–dolls had always scared me, with their dead eyes and lax limbs–and I misbehaved. “Daddy, I don’t want it!”
My father was embarrassed, and told him I had always been a little afraid of dolls, and the man smiled and said, “That is a good fear for a child to have.”

I never saw him again, or even thought about him, until high school and my English teacher passed out NIGHT, and there was his photo on the back cover, looking exactly the same. It was only after I read the book that I understood how lucky I was, that my kid fears were only of ghosts and dolls.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” -Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Personal Confessions and Tiffany gems.

41GtTg20zcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_One of the things I love about Tiffany Reisz is how personally her writing hits me. Beyond the wit and the banter and the sexy feels, there is always a theme that grabs at a deeper internal level. Sometimes there’s a kink that pushes my curiosity and makes me wonder if my hard limits have cracks in their rigid walls. Sometimes I get a new understanding of doctrine and faith. Nothing is left untouched in her frank discussions of sex, feminism and religion.
THE CONFESSIONS delves into this almost exclusively. Two short stories-conversations with one of my favorite characters, Father Ballard (from POINSETTIA)-and an author interview. It’s a quick companion to the Original Sinners series.

The first story, THE CONFESSION OF MARCUS STEARNS is a lovely peek into Søren’s mind, and probably the closest we will get to his PoV. His interaction with his Jesuit friend and confessor-an insightful and liberal priest with good taste in music-is hysterical. The descriptions of Eleanor are melting.
The second story, THE CONFESSION OF ELEANOR SCHREIBER, is Nora’s unloading on the same priest, a look at choices and hidden desires that stabbed me sweetly in my barren guts as she discusses her decisions about childbirth.

The last third of the book, THE CONFESSION OF TIFFANY REISZ, is a conversation with romance critic Cyndy Aleo. The interview is hilarious, running the spectrum of Catholicism to kink. The two discuss the Church and the biblical parallels of the characters in the Original Sinners, gospel passages and other Christian Literature. They also talk about the distinctions between “safe consensual” play and “risk aware” play, and pushing the limits of dubious consent. Another thoughtful conversation delves into the age of teenage sexual agency-again, a topic hitting close to home for me-I’ve also written on that particular knife edge of moral discomfort.
This section was a special treat. I met Cyndy online in 2009, and fell in love with her writing, her endless pursuit of the sexy off-beat and sensually creative, and her acerbic honesty. Recently, she has edited four of my manuscripts, so in a fashion, she is also my confessor. Three years ago, Cyndy was also the one who said “You must read THE ANGEL, or I’m not speaking to you again.” I did, of course, and then looked up the author on twitter, and said, “Wait–I’ve met you!”
A few years previously I was at a book event at Joseph Beth, my favorite local bookseller, and a friend of the featured author was there-a vivacious woman, jubilant because she had just signed on with an agent for her literary erotica.
Turns out, Tiffany Reisz lived in my hometown. Fast forward to 2014-she invited me to a writer’s crit group at the library. Afterward I met her and her guy (Andrew Shaffer) and had one of the funniest, most encouraging and inspiring conversations over a cup of Starbucks I’ve ever had. (They promptly moved across the country.)
So I confess I have to agree with Cyndy, despite the author’s protests, when she says that Tiffany is the embodiment of Nora: petite, dark haired, clever and funny, with an unrivaled boldness about sex, God and writing. But that’s only a little sin, and I’m sure Father Ballard would forgive me.

THE CONFESSIONS is quite spoilery, (there’s even an Easter egg Fun Fact appendix at the end) so I would recommend reading the entire series before grabbing this little jewel.

Echoes

loanaI saw The Name of the Rose when I was sixteen, in the theater, and so began my love of Umberto Eco and Christian Slater. The movie led to the book, which was-unlike the movie-about books, and their meaning and the written communication that can shape a culture.

The semiotics at the core of the book brought me to the terrifying and delightful realization that books have the power of time travel and telepathy. An author from centuries ago still marks the mind of those reading their words today.

Decades later I read Foucault’s Pendulum, during my Forgotten Year-so I shall have to read it again-but I do remember being struck by the notion that people want to believe conspiracy theories. We want our stories to connect, to have a purpose and great import, a life of their own.

A few years ago, I read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, ironically enough about a man who loses his memory and searches through the literary mementos-books, magazines and comic books-that shaped him growing up, to discover what he has forgotten.

Umberto Eco’s books always give me a deeper understanding of the power of language, of words, the transference of thought through time. I am sad that there will be no more them, but I love the idea that his books, because they have shaped me, will have,  somewhere, a mark on my own.

Writing Advice

draftThis time a year ago, I started scribbling a goofy little story just for fun. I titled it “The Artist and the Architect,” because I’m literal like that. Six weeks from now, THE DIRTY SECRET will be released from Carina Press, an imprint of of Harlequin.

One of the promo bits I was asked to participate in was a Tuesday Tip for So You Think You Can Write, Harlequin’s new voices in romance project.

But who am I to give advice? I’m still a novice at this.
In the past six years, I’ve published nearly half a million words across various platforms, and every single process was different. My only constants:
I hand write my first drafts.
Climbing out of my research-holes requires Elvish rope, every time.
My love for the Shatner comma is epic.
But here are a few things I’ve learned in this crazy journey of words that might be useful to beginning writers:

ljjibpMGet involved with other writers.
Write in a fandom and get some feedback. Play on a forum outside your comfort zone, where you can learn something new. Go to a crit group at your library. Don’t do this alone.

Let your first draft be rough.
This is your gesture drawing, your first exploratory jog in a new park. Let it be messy. Spending a lot of energy in making it technically perfect can cut into the creativity, or worse, keep you from finishing. Get it down, and clean it up later.

Make it a sensory experience.
How do your words appeal to your readers physically? Are you describing what your characters feel? How are their thoughts and actions affected by a perfume, a texture on the skin?

Read your final drafts aloud.
Where your tongue stumbles-where you hesitate in the sentence, wondering which word needs emphasis-your reader will too. Rework these places so that your language doesn’t detract from the story.

Above all:
Enjoy yourself.
Write what you love.

And live, long, and prosper.

 

Dorian Gray

A 250 word flash fic dare asking, “When you are down to the wire on a project, how do you make it through?”

“Thank you, fourteen,” she mumbles, sniffing at yesterday’s armpits, Tuesday’s laundry, and the fresh coffee he’d left on the windowsill, still hot. Skipping the shower, makeup, and curling iron gives her enough time to hem Basil’s Act One frock-coat.
“Thank you, two,” she mutters when the text message bleats, clenching her fists around the hank of elastic, broken nails digging her palms. She’s jittering with the pulse of caffeine cruising through her veins; the fabric store clerk checks her ID twice.
Dorian loses his ascot, but her shirt is the same color as the one in his painting; she tears the bottom six inches off and loops it around his neck. “Thank you, House Open.”
“Thank you, places.” She winces at Sibyl’s panicked cry, and digs in her purse for her last tampon and chocolate bar. Lord Harry’s waistcoat pops a button. Her earring makes a passable jeweled brooch.
They cluster at the mirror by the stage left door.
Her hair is a twisted disaster, snarl on one side like a bramble, and there’s her chalk pencil. The bruise over her eye (the dress-form lost the skirmish) has blossomed to a vicious plum, and her tattered shirt hangs sideways, caught on her failed bra. Her pants, stained with paint, are belted by a measuring tape charting how many meals she’s skipped this week.
She smiles, and her tooth–chipped from biting threads—catches at her starch and steam chapped lips. She might be gruesome, but the actors, they are beautiful.

 

Κλεοπάτρα Κομνηνού

246524_101145823363541_2135185963_nCleopatra Comnenos is a writer, a poet,  reader, reviewer, blogger (fabulous critique of the book over there), self-described nymph and the friendliest person I know online. She lives in Athens, and tweets at the best times of day for an Eastern Standard insomniac like me. I’m so excited that she let me ask her some strange questions:

  • Describe a “perfect” book:

    I really like that you put perfect in quotes. I think that perfect is a condition we human beings created to express the outcome when balance, harmony and beauty are in equality. In that sense, I think a “perfect” book has a very good plot, is tight and its characters pull you in.

     

    You are our book ambassador from Greece – Is there any particular book by a Greek author that we need to be reading right now? (preferably translated?)

    It is a pity that most Greek Authors don’t get translated into English, except our well known poets, i.e. Kavafis, Seferis, Elytis, and of course the most known contemporary Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. No, I won’t say anything about Homer. He is another chapter all by himself.

    There are good authors–contemporary and not–in this little part of the world too, but their work is not known outside Greece. Maybe things will change, we shall see.

    Search for the following:

    Petros Markaris‘ crime fiction novels.

    Kiki Dimoula’s poetry collection.

    Kavafis, Seferis, and Elytis are a must.

    grec050_600What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?

    Let me think. I have to write about books you would know, so:

    I read Hector Malot’s Nobody’s Girl and Nobody’s Boy and I was shocked from the mischief those children had in their young lives. Now that I mentioned it, I have to read them again…

    As a teen, I was reading with zeal Enid Blyton‘ The Famous Five. I really enjoyed reading about those young detectives.

    Lastly, I have to mention that an all time favorite is Antoine’s de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. After all, “all grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

    You write in two languages, does one appeal more than another in certain situations?

    Your mother tongue always appeals more, mostly because you have grown up learning it. So, the connections are there from the very beginning. As you all know, the greek language is really old and although we don’t talk ancient greek, common words have survived from back then, others have been updated. Our language is still evolving.

    I started learning English since I was in primary school. In order to achieve the level I have now, I had to read for many years and still there are times I feel I really don’t know what some people are saying, mostly when they are using slang, or a joke that I am unfamiliar with.

    There are days that I feel comfortable writing in English, because I want my thoughts to be heard outside Greece. To connect with people worldwide. Even when I am translating a piece of mine in English, I am really cautious, mostly to the fact that one greek word cannot be translated in one english world, but in a phrase. So, when I am writing a poem, I have to use an english word that has a similar meaning or change the phrase entirely to grasp the meaning I want to pass to the audience. Translating is not that easy!

    At the same time, there are days that my need to write in my mother tongue is bigger. It is like breathing. You cannot stop your brain processing the thoughts into the letters that you already know, right?

    Lastly, don’t forget that the most important thing is to express yourself. It doesn’t matter which is the language you use in order to do so, as long as you are truthful to yourself and to who you really are.

    What do you do when not reading or writing?

    Obviously, I have to work in order to live. The Crisis hit Greece and things are not good. We have a recession and many people have lost their jobs, so those who still have work, they support their families. It might be shocking but that is the truth.

    Many things have changed the past three years for the worse, and although it is hard, I am trying not to lose my optimism. Please leave your biases behind. We are talking about people around here, and not numbers. Also, I know and admit that our politicians made huge mistakes for some of my fellow citizens, but still, living this situation versus listening to it via your TV, is another matter entirely.

    cleos photoSo, when I am not working, reading or writing, I am listening to music. I am a music lover and those who follow me on twitter can confirm it. (nodnodnod) I also love taking pictures, but I am an amateur photographer. Lastly, I try to have quality time with my loved ones. We all need to catch up and escape from reality from time to time…