having written


a guide to writing

cynthia gregory

Everyone has heard the old chestnut to “write what you know about.” But, cherished friend, it ain’t that easy. We’ve also been told to “write like you talk” – and that’s just foolish. This kind of advice just leads to unrealistic expectations, not to mention bad syntax, sloppy verb conjugation, and mangled grammar. This is not to say that you should worry about any of these in your journal because journaling ought to be at the very least an exercise in jumping into the stream of consciousness with both feet and an inner tube.

Journaling is not for sissies.  You have to really want it with a desire born so deep only a seismographer can find its source. You have to do it; you just do. And you don’t have to explain or justify it any more than you have to justify breathing. Great genius is born of desire. And once the desire to write is established, the next most important part is means; and the method of true genius is to journal by hand. You know, the old fashioned way. Pen. Paper. Good lighting, a comfortable chair. Not too comfortable, just saying.

Why, you may well ask, is it important to write by hand when its so much easier to tap away on three rows of electronic buttons? Isn’t that why God invented Steven Jobs? The answer is that true writing is a tactile experience and because you think differently when you have to push a pen over a rough sheet of reconstituted tree pulp and because the process of writing is refined – just a little – when you have to make the words exact and legible and pretty on the page with nerves and tissues and with the fine muscles of your fingers. Writing becomes a whole body experience when you do it by hand. Transcribe your thoughts later if you must, but start first with an unblemished  piece of paper and fill it with observations, feelings, and a million details. Write. By. Hand.

Writing by hand is visceral and it connects with the most primitive parts of the brain; also the most elevated and elegant parts of the thinking apparatus. However, don’t think too much: just write. A mentor once said to me, “Don’t worry about how it all comes together. Just write. The story will take care of itself.”

So I pass this along to you: write. Just, write. And I really insist: by hand. So, you get cramps in your fingers; so what. You’ll get over it. And when you do, you will have written – and you feel like you climbed Kilimanjaro.

to be continued. . .

fading away

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



The fund raiser for Governor Jackson Randall was in full swing.  White-gloved butlers circled the Philadelphia Visitor’s Center with delicacy-laden trays.  Champagne flowed.  Marty exchanged his empty glass for a full one and Ruth, declining her own, took a sip of Marty’s.  The orchestra began a swing tune.

“Wanna dance?” Marty asked.

“Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not.”  Marty rolled his champagne around on his tongue and puckered.

“You know I have terrible night vision,” Ruth said.

“Duly noted.  I will be clean and sober by the stroke of midnight.  Now, please.  Dance with me.”

Ruth basked in Marty’s adoring eyes.  Resplendent in her slightly risque gown, the vigor of her convictions adding a blush to her cheeks, she looked to be a woman ten years younger.  If Ruth Eugenia Tirabi missed the earlier version of herself, she never showed it.  A brilliant strategist and a great campaign manager, she was courted by many a politician, even those whose social agenda ran far afield from her own.  Had she been a man, she could have been governor.  But soon after marriage, she got pregnant with Kori and four children and twenty-four years later, was still working politics into the peripheries.  She was in no rush.  Statistically speaking, Ruth had a fifteen to twenty-year greater life expectancy than her male counterparts; she could jump start her career at any time.

Ruth kissed Marty on the lips, slipping him a bit of tongue.  It wasn’t lost on him.

“Let’s blow this clam bake,” Marty whispered.  “I got somethin’ to show ya’.” He dipped her, and rolled his eyebrows up and down, a lewd gesture.  Ruth laughed out loud as he set her upright.

“A little while longer.  C’mon.  Let’s dance.”  Ruth grabbed Marty’s arm.  Marty set his champagne down and twirled Ruth onto the dance floor, sidling up next to the Governor and his wife.  Mrs. Randall laughed as if her husband had just said something supremely funny.

“Enjoying yourself, Mrs. Randall?” asked Marty.

“Immensely, Mr. Tirabi.”  She looked at Ruth.  “I can’t thank you enough.”  Mrs. Randall whirled around so the women could dance shoulder to shoulder.  “You gave him back his idealism.”

“Hey, Ruth.  Sure I can’t convince you to hit the campaign trail with us tomorrow?”

“Thanks, Governor.  But I must respectfully decline.”  Ruth said.

“Well, aren’t you going to give me a pep talk or something?” the Governor asked.

“Give the people more than they ask for.”

Governor Randall gave Ruth a peck on the cheek.  “Thank you.  For everything.”

“I’m just a phone call away if you need me,” she said.  Ruth squeezed the Governor’s arm, then looked at the watch on her gloved wrist.

“We gotta go.  Not only am I dying to get these gloves off, but we need to get home and make sure the kids haven’t blown up the place,” said Ruth.

“Sometimes I close my eyes going down our street,” Mrs. Randall said.  “Our 16-year old loves to host some wild parties.”

“Good luck, Governor,” Marty said and escorted Ruth off the dance floor.  Ruth blew the Governor and his wife a kiss before fading away.

to be continued. . .

write, writer, written

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a guide to writing

cynthia gregory

A journal is not a diary. Well, it can be, but at its best, it is not. It is not about recording your deepest, darkest fears; the ones you don’t want anyone (especially that one you love) to read. It is not about judgment in the sense of  “am I a good writer?” or “what does it say about me if I can’t put a few scribbles on a blasted sheet of paper?”  kind of judgment. It is, in part, killing the editor in your head. You know, the one who says, “who cares what you think? You know you’re never going to write anything worth reading anyway, why bother?”

Kill the editor. The editor is only your insecurities with carte blanche and the power to stop you in your tracks before you uncap your pen. This is what you do: write. Write for fifteen minutes every day, no matter what. Even if you just write “I have nothing to say today.” Even if you just fill the page with gibberish. Write knowing that our journal is not about you. Do you get that?

Your journal isn’t about you, sweetheart.

No offense, and as important as you are, your journal is not an extension of you. Rather, it is like a Polaroid camera that you aim at everything around you and with which you snap a photo. This café. That conversation. That wide, beautiful coastline with clouds hovering over the water like cottoncandy and the smell of the surf pushing spring toward the desert on a mission from God.

It is a recording. It is a gift from the universe. How is it a gift? It is a gift because no one, not one soul who has ever been or will be, has the power of observation from your perspective, with your history, with your love of crossword puzzles or majong or Thai noodles with peanut sauce. You are a dazzling flower on the furthest branch of the tree of life and what you see around you is a devotion in the truest sense.

So write about the hamburger you ate for lunch. Write about the girl who brought it to you, whose shoes seemed unnaturally worn maybe because she’s working her way through art school and she deserves a little extra tip so maybe she can sleep in tomorrow and dream of a watercolor that will turn the world on its collective ear. Your journal is not about you. It is a gift to the world.

My ex-husband’s grandmother kept a journal every day of her married life. When Grandma died at 96, my father-in-law gave a journal of the year they were born to each of the grand kids. You could say that there was nothing extraordinary about it, but there was something precious in the grocery lists she made in her spidery hand. There was a door into the life of a woman who made a family so big that galaxies were created just to contain the love she had for them.

The laundry lists, the shoes to be taken to the repair man, the small concerns, were a door into a world we none of us had seen before. This was a picture of a woman not as we knew her, but a woman who when she wrote the journal, was younger than we who were reading it, and it was astonishing.

So write your journal, and don’t worry about being brilliant. Just write. Just do it, knowing whatever you say is sacred, in a context you can’t even imagine. Or not.

Hallelujah, amen, and wahoo!

to be continued. . .

fire in the night

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



Kori screamed and scrambled over the console into the back seat, squishing in with her brothers.  ZiZi yelped and Kori screamed again.  She was wide-eyed with terror, yet put a protective arm around Gil.

“What the hell!” Avery said, staring in amazement.  Several dogs began barking.  The neighbor’s car alarm, activated by the blast, began its cycle of warning.  Porch lights flooded the darkness.  A small blaze started on the porch, its flames licking delicately at the tattered Venetian blinds partially emerging from the broken windows.

 “Our porch is on fire.” Avery said, fumbling through Kori’s purse for the cell phone.  “We gotta call the fire department.”  He found the phone and pushed the “on” button.  Kori shook her head and grabbed the phone.

“No.  We gotta call Mom and Dad,” she said.  Her hands were shaking.

“Mom and Dad are in Philly.  We gotta call the fire department.  Otherwise it’s going to be more screwed up.” Avery grabbed the phone out of Kori’s hand.  She put her hand on top of his and there they sat, locked together in a game of push me, pull you.

“Avery.  We gotta call Mom and Dad!” Kori yanked the phone from Avery’s hand.  He pulled it back before she had a chance to dial the first number.

Aunt Stella’s garage lights flicked on and the Tirabis watched as Aunt Stella’s stout frame, adorned in robe and slippers, lumbered across the front lawn at full throttle.

“Mmmmmm, cookies,” Gil mused.

Aunt Stella’s pudgy, round face peered in through the back window where the kids huddled together like war orphans.  She opened the door, pushed the driver’s seat forward, and thrust a hand inside.  Kori grabbed it and Aunt Stella yanked them out one by one.

 “Are you alright?  What are you doing in the car?  Thank God you weren’t inside!”  Aunt Stella looked at Gil who still had tissues sticking out of his ears.  “What happened?” she yipped.  “Did an experiment go bad or something?”

All three of them started talking at once which instigated a round of ZiZi’s agitated barking.  Aunt Stella waved her hands in the air, the international symbol for enough already, and gathered them together like a head coach at halftime.

 “Alright.  It’ll be okay.  Let’s go inside,” she said.  “I already called the fire department.”

As if on cue, a fire truck screamed down the road.  Everyone turned to watch as the massive vehicle docked on the Tirabi lawn.  A second truck could be heard off in the distance, sirens blaring.

Aunt Stella sighed.  Four firemen alighted from the truck and began assembling the hoses, their yellow emergency vests glinting in the fire light.

 “Mom and Dad are in Philly,” Kori continued, her voice cracking from the strain.

“I know.  Your mother called me this morning.”

Aunt Stella placed a large arm around Kori’s shoulder and held fast to Gil’s wrist with her other hand.  Flames licked the front of the house.  The double-wide porch swing, made of wood, canvass and macrame, crackled and spat and danced in the darkness, spitting bits of light in wide arcs over the railing.  The fire chief shouted several commands and the fireman trained their hoses on the light.

“Come.  They’ll soon have it under control.  Robbie will know where to go.”  She steered Gil and Kori in the direction of the house without releasing them.  “Let’s try and call your parents.”  Kori shot Avery a look and wrinkled her nose at him.

They walked across the lawn, ZiZi bringing up the rear.  Aunt Stella pushed a reluctant Gil into the house.

Avery stood alone on the front stoop, mesmerized.  Flames darted about the porch leaving a crackling trail of blazed, scorched wood.  The macrame seat on the porch swing – Avery’s favorite reading chair – looked like a million writhing snakes.  Avery grimaced as the acrid smell of burning memories reached his nostrils.  He stood immobilized, clutching Kori’s cell phone, anguish pouring from him like water from a hose.

Aunt Stella popped out and grabbed Avery by the arm.  “C’mon, baby, there’s nothing to be done right now.  And I don’t want you having nightmares.”

Avery swiped at his eyes and followed Aunt Stella inside.

to be continued. . .

dark shadows

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



 In exchange for driving privileges, Robbie had completely rebuilt Kori’s engine, supplying it with more torque than a freight train.  The second child, Robbie was stocky and athletic and possessed of neither Kori’s prima donna attitude nor Avery’s command of the English language.  Born with dyslexia, he struggled to spell sometimes, yet he was mechanically inclined and could build anything from scratch.  That coupled with a keen imagination earned him the monikor, “Mr. Fix-It.”

Kori stuck the key in the ignition and the car roared to life, radio blaring.  Gil covered his ears and screamed.  Kori jumped and turned to see ZiZi licking Gil’s face where he lay huddled on the floor, his hands tightly clasped to his ears, his vocal cords exploding in wave after wave of high-pitched wailing.

“Gil.  Easy.  Gil!”  Kori turned off the radio, but the engine still wailed like a colicky baby.  Avery climbed in the back, pulling Gil up to a sitting position, covering his ears and rocking him gently.  Gil stopped screaming, but his body continued convulsing.

“Do something before he has a fit,” Kori yelled to Avery.  Avery’s gaze swiveled; his eyes settled on the glove compartment.

“Tissues,” Avery said.

Kori handed Avery a package of tissues.  He folded one and rolled it between his hands, scrunched it into a conical shape and inserted one into each of Gil’s ear, grabbed Gil’s shoulders and took several deep breaths indicating Gil should mimic him.  Gil’s chest rose and fell rhythmically and after a minute, his shaking, along with the tension in the car, subsided.

“Are you sure you want to leave?” Kori asked.

“Just go before he has another freakazoid attack,” Avery said.  Gil looked past Avery with wide, doe eyes and a slack mouth.

“Drive!” Avery commanded.

Kori watched Gil in the rear view mirror, rocking gently in the back seat, tissues sticking out of his ears.  She stifled a laugh and pulled out of the driveway; she’d only made it a few hundred feet when Gil spoke.

“Pull in here.”

“What?” Kori asked.

“Just do it, Kori,” Avery said.  Kori shook her head and muttered something under her breath, but pulled into Aunt Stella’s driveway anyway, a scant three doors down from their own.

“Why are we parking at Aunt Stella’s house?”  Kori asked.  “we’re practically still at our house.”

“Yeah, Gil,” Avery added.  “This doesn’t bode well for concealing our whereabouts.”

Kori fished through her purse for a cigarette, found the pack and pulled one out.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” Gil said.

“I don’t, really.  Just once in a while,” Kori answered.

“Shut the lights and cut the engine,” Gil said.

“Stop telling me what to do,”  Kori said, but obliged.  “This is ridiculous.”  She found her lighter, flicked it once.  It didn’t take.

“No!” Gil whispered.  He shoved Kori’s head down across the console.  Avery bent his head down next to Gil who was crouched on the floor in the back seat.

“Jesus, Gil,” Kori said, her chest pressed against the drive shaft.  “You’ve been watching too many Bruce Willis movies.”  After a minute, she sat up.  “Gil.  Enough!”

“Get down!” Gil said, and turned to peer out the back window.

A car was creeping down the road.  The driver killed the lights as it passed Aunt Stella’s house.  The trio huddled together, peering out the back window as the car pulled into the Tirabi driveway.  A dark figure emerged, climbed the porch steps and unscrewed the light.  The porch went dim.  They watched the dark silhouette playing with the lock.  Moments later, the figure walked in the Tirabis’ front door.

“Did you lock the door?” Kori demanded of Avery.

“Ssshhhhhhhhh!”  Gil said, staring wide-eyed and fascinated.  The children saw a shadow pass by the window, followed by the erratic beam of a flashlight, sweeping the room.  The figure emerged, carrying a long tube under his arm.  In one fluid motion, he jumped over the railing and rolled onto the ground.  The car backed out of the driveway and crawled down the street.  Halfway up the block, the driver flicked on the lights and drove away.

“Let go of me,” Kori jerked away and Gil released the stranglehold grip he had on her neck.  Kori breathed in short bursts trying to regain her composure.

“What just happened?”  Avery asked.

“The drawings,” Gil replied.

“What drawings?” Avery asked, but even as the words left his lips, an explosion on the Tirabi porch caused their car windows to vibrate.  The front door of the house blew off its hinges and several of the windows on the front porch shattered.

to be continued. . .

second sight

copyright 2011/all rights reserved




Avery washed the dinner dishes while Kori sat at the table, sketching.

“The rule is, he who cooks does not clean up.  That is the rule.  And frankly, I’m flabbergasted to hear that you’ve never heard of it,” Avery said.  “My advice?  Find a guy with plenty of money cause you don’t know the first thing about work, sister.”

Tall and sinewy with inches still to go, Avery had his mother’s good looks and a healthy dose of her wavy, red hair.  At sixteen, he towered above his sister, destined to be not only the tallest, but most loquacious one in the family.

“Hey, jabber jaws.  Easy.  I’m trying to work here,” Kori replied.  She stood up, grabbed her eraser and dropped back into the chair, her shoulder length hair flouncing around her like the head of Medusa, dark, coppery strands writhing and whirling in all directions.  Kori was older by five years, but looked younger than her brother.  She stopped to admire her long slender fingers under the pretense of inspecting her fingernails for paint residue.

“Work?  That’s not work.  That’s fun.  This is work.” Avery pointed to the mound of dishes awaiting rinsing and placement in the dishwasher.

“Hey, we could have had pizza.”


“I can’t tell you how many times I cook and clean up,” Kori said.

“For yourself, yeah.  But other people live here, too.”

“Robbie ate your food and he didn’t do any cleanup.”

“Robbie gets special treatment.  He’s taking me to see Tom Petty this weekend.”

Tom Petty?  Jesus, Avery.  He’s so old.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s not still good.  It’s better than that classical crap you listen to.”

Kori shook her head.  “You’re a cheap date.”

“And you’re just cheap.”

Avery fixed her with a top-that look, but it was useless.  She was her father’s only daughter, blessed with grace and beauty from birth; Kori was used to entitlement.  She rolled her eyes and picked at her cuticles.

Avery put the last dish in the dishwasher.  “Let me just repeat – Big Fat Checking Account.”

“I’m making my own money now.”

“What, hawking second-rate oil paintings?” Avery said.

“They are not second-rate.  What’s second-rate is your attempts at dating.”

“You suck.”  He threw a dishtowel at her and stormed out of the room, still fuming when he sat down next to Gil in the living room.

“What a b. . . .”

“Ssshhhhh,” Gil said, covering Avery’s mouth.  Gil rocked back and forth, his narrow shoulders bouncing off the couch at two-second intervals.  At almost eleven, he still maintained the little boy looks that would soon be lost to puberty.  He removed his hand from Avery’s mouth and drew it very deliberately across his forehead, anchoring his Justin Bieber haircut in just below his eyebrows.

Avery huffed, crossed his legs and practiced some deep breathing exercises.  After a minute, he forgot all about Kori and engrossed himself in the final scenes of Die Hard.  He didn’t notice Gil walk to the dining room table, roll up a stack of blueprints and stuff them into a cylinder.  Nor did he notice Gil retrieving their shoes from the hall closet.

Gil placed Avery’s shoes at his feet and sat down to put on his own.  “The bad guys are coming,” Gil said.

“It would appear so,” Avery said, his attention focused on the television screen.

“We have to go.”

“Hmmm?”  Avery turned to see Gil slipping into his sneakers.  “Gil, it’s only a movie.”

Gil picked up Avery’s shoes and handed them to him before turning off the television.

“What are you doing?”  Gil scooped up the cylinder and Kori’s shoes and walked into the kitchen.  Avery slipped on his shoes and followed.

Gil laid Kori’s shoes at her feet.

“What are these for?” Kori asked.

“We have to leave,” Gil said.


“The bad guys are coming.”

“What bad guys?”

“The bad guys on T.V.,” Avery answered for him.  “C’mon, Gil.  Let’s watch the end of the movie.”

“Yeah.  Take a chill pill,” Kori said.

“We have to leave NOW!”

Avery and Kori both jumped.  Gil covered his own mouth.   His siblings exchanged glances.

“Okay, okay,” Avery said.  He grabbed the car keys.  “I’m driving.”

Kori slipped her feet into her sandals and swiped the keys from Avery.

“I have my permit!” he protested.

“Your learner’s permit only allows you to drive during daylight hours.”  She opened the door to the pitch black night, put a hand on her hip.

“You suck.”

“That’s the second time you said that tonight.”  Kori blew him a kiss and held the door for Gil and ZiZi, the family Golden Retriever, and closed the door on her brother.

to be continued. . .

the mother of invention

copyright 2011/all rights reserved




Marty stopped and laid his face against the side of the metal grate.  It was cool to the touch and not at all indicative of the processes going on inside.  He shook his head and started his hop, skip and jump dance all over again, this time adding an ecstatic laugh to the mix.

He’d done it.  Just like Dr. Frankenstein, he’d brought the beast to life:  his Thermo-Depolymerization Unit, or TDU, lived – years in the making, like nothing the world had ever seen, and until five minutes ago, only a theory.  Marty had envisioned that the TDU would take garbage, computers, old sneakers, last night’s dinner, yard waste, old fence posts, plastic tupperware, with or without lids, old sweatshirts, used ball point pens, broken picture frames, old love letters, paint waste, empty cardboard boxes, broken refrigerators, busted telephone poles, wrecked car parts, or the whole car for that matter, old comic books, unwanted furniture, hell, this machine could take anything carbon-based, and do something magical with it, something that, to date, no one else had figured out how to do – take trash, and convert it into oil –  pure, unadulterated, car-starting, engine-revving, turbo-driving, eighteen-wheeler-moving oil.  Marty figured that the TDU would mimic what Mother Nature did every day hundreds of miles below the earth’s surface:  break down fossils into fuels.  But Marty’s contraption would take about three hours instead of millions of years, combusting nothing, and leaving no waste.  After twenty years of toil, Marty’d had his share of false starts.  But now the whir and hum of booster pumps and coolant fan units was evidence:  modern-day alchemy.  Marty had called down the vision.

But the world had no template for it.  Like the shaman of the first American Indian tribe to come into contact with Columbus, Marty had to mold the vision into a discernible shape, give the people something palpable that they could recognize.  For even as Columbus’s ships approached the shores of the New World, the Indians couldn’t see them, not until their shaman provided them with a frame of reference.

But being a shaman was at times an exhausting, aching and lonely occupation.  So Marty did what any man in his place would do when faced with a discovery of unrivaled proportions.  He propped himself up on the hammock in the corner of the barn and took a nap.

to be continued. . .

The Sweet By and By

It’s not really giving anything away to say that the debut novel by Todd Johnson, The Sweet By and By, will make you cry. Maybe this says more about the reviewer than about the book, but still, the fact remains that the subject matter of The Sweet By and By is tear-worthy. It’s about friendship and loyalty and big end-of-life issues like dignity and happiness and who really loves you for sure.

Lorraine is a church-going, God-smacking woman who has made a career out of taking care of other people. She is a caregiver at the Ridgecrest Nursing Home, and little gets by her. Lorraine has equal measures of patience and endurance, which she exercises each day as she looks after Margaret and Bernice, the two brightest spots at the home. Margaret has a sharp tongue and high standards, and Lorraine bears Margaret’s rebukes and criticisms with calm mother-patience. More than helping Margaret to dress and bathe, Lorraine preserves the dwindling strands of dignity that Margaret clings to.

Bernice provides comic relief in what would otherwise be too sad a story to bear. Bernice is a happy ditz and reliably out of her mind most of the time. She is Margaret’s constant companion, and they look after each other is a way that is endearing and practical. Bernice carries a stuffed monkey with her everywhere and treats him as a real person. Except of course when she hides bootleg booze deep in his throat where no one of the nursing home staff, even Lorraine, would think to look.

Rhonda is at the home by accident, if you believe such things. Rhonda survived being raised by a hateful grandmother and has grown into a decent person. As a hair stylist, she endeavors to make the world a more beautiful place. However, it is for cash that she applies to Ridgeview, never expecting to like it, much less fall in love with the ladies who line up outside the beauty parlor door each week.  Despite any intention to get in, do her job, and get out, Rhonda is adopted by both Margaret and Beatrice, who see the goodness in the girl and provide the mother-encouragement for which she had been starved as a child.

One of the delights of The Sweet By and By is that it is set in North Carolina, where eccentricity is as natural as sunlight and sweet tea. This lovely bit of fiction is not nostalgic; it takes an unflinching view of who we are, what connects us, and what’s important, without being preachy. In the end, we realize it is Lorraine’s story, and Johnson leaves her narrative not with a nice neat bow, but with faith that everything will somehow work out:

“I used to hope that if I went to church long enough, all my inside weight would go away. That ain’t right. Jesus may have come to take away our sins, but he left our feelings right where they’ve always been. I still have inside me some of what I’ve always had, built up over a lifetime. I just keep adding to it, every day, like everybody else, and hope the stew gets better the more ingredients I put in.”

The Sweet By and By is perfect summer reading. It’s weighty enough to matter, but manages also to take itself lightly.

Review by Cynthia Gregory/ceegregory@aol.com


copyright 2011/all rights reserved



Chapter One

Marty Tirabi sat on a stool aside his drafting table, an aluminum pie plate in each hand.  His eyes were closed, his spine erect, his breathing slow and regular, his conscious mind sitting on the pinnacle of present awareness.  At the exact moment Marty’s consciousness shifted, sliding across the threshold from beta to alpha to delta like a single-base hitter stealing home, Marty’s grip slackened and the pie plates clattered to the floor.  He woke with a start and stared, wide-eyed, at the back wall of the barn where It sat, all the while scanning his interior databases for a revelation that refused to be retrieved.

Marty rubbed his forehead.  This was how Thomas Edison did it, mining the gem-rich ground of his subconscious by bringing himself to the brink of sleep, then pulling back with a start for a third-party observer’s view.  The result of Edison’s efforts was the light bulb and one thousand and ninety-two other patented inventions, but Marty’d be damned if he could get Edison’s process to work.  For him, it was just there, a vision that sometimes crept, sometimes hurtled from unconscious to conscious awareness – claircognizance some called it, a simple knowing – and suddenly Marty would know how to pull it all together.

But not tonight.  Frustrated, Marty spun his stool around, laid the pie plates and his overtired brain on the drafting table, and stared at his father’s oil lamp, its soft, incandescent glow casting ectoplasmic shadows on the blueprints beneath his head.  He started to fall – no aluminum to stop him this time – but was halted at the threshold again.

A faint hum jarred him back, a soft, deliberate noise like the whir of a refrigerator motor or the patter of a soft rain.  He felt it in his feet first.  It climbed up his legs as it grew in intensity, settled in his heart, and then shot up to his forehead.  His head vibrated.  Marty rose slowly so as not to disturb the hum’s cadence and strolled across the barn floor toward the back wall, convinced that a nonchalant attitude was imperative to the hum’s survival.  He tried not to smile, tried not to look directly at It until he had stopped in front of the thousands of pounds of steel assembled in six distinct units.  He sniffed the air.  Dozens of smells slid past the cilia in his nose and traveled along his olfactory nerve, stopping at the cerebral cortex to register:  methane, plastic, burning rubber, decay, ash.  Even in a closed-looped system, the vapors, like his dreams, always escaped.

And then, suspended in the air like dust motes lollygagging in a single ray of sun, the smell of oil, sharp, sweet and slightly acrid, knocked on the registrar’s door, tap, tap, tap, piercing Marty’s nasal cavity and shattering his equilibrium.


Marty clapped his hands and because he was half-Greek, did the only dance he felt comfortable doing, a little hop/skip combo that was the backbone of most traditional ethnic dances.  He repeated the steps over and over until he came full circle.  He added a little jump to his combination.  The word Eureka came to mind.

to be continued. . .

The Imperfectionists

There are certain professionals that seem to be the darlings of fiction: lawyers, doctors, cops, writers. In The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman takes great glee in shining a light on journalists, and as the title of his debut novel implies, they are best at their worst.

Newspapers are not what they used to be. And certainly, Rachman’s unnamed global English language newspaper launched from Rome in the 1950s, is no exception. Before CNN and the Internet and iPads, there were newspapers.  If you wanted hard, cold, facts, you got them printed in black and white on newsprint and by gum, there were people who ate and breathed deadlines to bring them to you.

Newsmaking was a noble profession. It was gritty and real and yet, there was something a little glamorous about the paper and the men and women who made it run.

This fact however, bears little relevance to Rachman’s book. None of his characters are quite likeable. Their noble profession is to deliver the news of the world, and to that extent, they are quite good. And yet personally? Well, it’s probably best not to look too closely.

The Imperfectionists is more a collection of short stories than a novel in the traditional sense, with all stories related by the terribly important international English language newspaper printed in Rome.  Stringers in Cairo and Paris, Davos and Nairobi, feed the ravenous paper its content. Devoted editors and tyrannical staffers ensure that all twelve pages of the paper are crammed with the activities of the world and presented daily, to a circulation of 10,000. They are all perfectly imperfect, smart and sassy people giving their all to do something meaningful and right.  Beyond news however,  the paper is just an item on the balance sheet of the newspaper’s corporate owners, nitwit offspring of the original founder, nested safely in far away Atlanta.

Meanwhile in Rome, Herman Cohen has created an encyclopedic style guide with which he tortures his editors. Editor in chief Kathleen Solson enjoys the sophisticated patina of living abroad, even as she discovers her husband having an affair.  Copy editor Ruby Zaga is a spiteful, friendless staffer who secretly hungers for connection. Business editor Hardy Benjamin is so desperate for a boyfriend that she supports her loser of an Irish lover to shield herself from living alone.

The terribly important international English language newspaper is fading by the hour. It’s gushing red ink. Its loyal readership is dying  off. It’s not even on the Internet, for pity’s sake! The ship is going down, yet each character has a vested interest in believing that the ship is unsinkable. At a publishing conference at the Cavalieri Hilton in Rome, Kathleen Solson is asked if the newspaper will survive.

“Absolutely,” she tells the audience. “We’ll keep going, I assure you of that. Obviously, we’re living in an era when technology is moving at an unheralded pace. I can’t tell you if in fifty years we’ll be publishing in the same format. Actually, I can probably tell you we won’t be publishing in the same way, that we’ll be innovating then, just as we are now.” Unfortunately for Kathleen and her crew, the paper is doomed. Fortunately for the reader, it’s a heck of a ride down the rails.

Review by Cynthia Gregory/ceegregory@aol.com