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.


Midsummer on Öland

Öland, (pronounced err-lahnd) is an island off the southeastern coast of Sweden, a magical place that time, and for eleven months of the year, most of the world forgets. Iron Age and Viking people settled (or at least died a lot) there, and the island served as the Royal game preserve for centuries of kings. Nowadays it’s a folksy artist summer hideout, with huge parties at midsummer that go on for days.

I first was on Öland—which translates to island-land, Swedes being rather literal like that–in 1991, and I fell in love with everything: the sea, the stones, the history, and the people. Everyone is beautiful in Sweden, from the craggy faced great grandmothers with laughing eyes, to brash boys that stare openly while not saying a word, and gorgeous women with the innate ability make really funky sweaters look fashionable. If you don’t believe me, have another shot of aquavit and tell me there isn’t something charismatic about that guy over there, the tall one who has been watching you all night and doesn’t look away when you meet his eyes.

The sunlight is amazing in Sweden in June. All the clichés of the “land of the midnight sun” are true; it’s as if the sun is too excited to set, and doesn’t want to miss the festivities. I lost track of the hour when I was there, and the day, it was simply summer. A Midsummer Flight’s Dream is an homage to the island, and the airports that take us there and get us home.

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…

Dirty Socks

Flash fic challenge: a story with three sentences. (I’m probably going to hell for this one.)

Dirty Socks:

Monkey’s brains are filled with cotton wool, the stuff that comes from yarn stores, though he once told Teddy that it came from the bra of a flat-chested stripper from Vegas, and that’s why he thinks the thoughts he does, and he’s made from socks worn by a lumberjack, too, so he could kick anybody’s ass, even the boy who sneaks out the window late, late, late at night.

He knows he’s a he-Monkey because when he wishes he could masturbate, he wants to yank, not to finger, not like the girl who isn’t little anymore, lonely quick movements under her covers, who doesn’t realize his button eyes see in the dark, sewn wide open, watching her, tail stiff and quivering.

His red smile stretches wide, wide, wide, for he will be there long after the boy is gone, smothered up against her soft breasts as she cries; he’s not a jealous Monkey –after all, Teddy doesn’t have a penis either–  and no one looks as good in a sock cap as he does.


When I visit my dad in Stockholm, I invariably get lost, but if can get to to the top of a hill, I can reorient myself when I find Hogalid Kyrka on the skyline.
The towers can tell you where you are. If I’m in Liljeholm, I look northeast, and the clock tower is behind the church, the vented one in front. If the clock tower completely blocks the view of the other, and the business end of the church goes the other way, I’ve gotten off the T-bana at the wrong stop, and I’m in  Kungsholm. Again.
Oh, well. There’s a neat fabric store in Marieberg if I go straight south. See, I meant to do that.
I know where I am.

dad-towers-smallerI grew up looking at towers–playing on the roof in Brooklyn Heights, in the park with the good swings at the end of Pierrepont Street, walking with Dad on the Promenade.
But my father left New York for Sweden twenty years ago, and I haven’t been back, and now I am afraid to visit, because I think I would get lost.


Sidewalk Cracks

Flash fic challenge: 100 words on the subject of revenge.

Sidewalk Cracks:

“So Josie,” the thick-necked boy crooned. “What did Mommy pack for us on this fine Thursday morning?”

The tall skinny one pawed her backpack. “She’s got something hidden in here.”

“Ham and cheese,” crowed Freddy James, who apologized when the others weren’t around, “With mayonnaise.”

She stared at the quiet one in back. He watched her sometimes when he was alone, and his face grew tight and angry whenever his friends took her lunch, never hungry as the others tore her food in rough thirds.

Josie counted sidewalk cracks, walking with the hot sun behind her.

Ma packed that sandwich Monday.