Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Theme Party: The Rewriting of a Novel

About 1/3 through with revisions, trying to stay on pace. Or, get back on it. After letting it sit for several months, it's a challenge to immerse back into my story and characters, because it's really about waking them up, not me. But I've found the cooling off period in fact indispensable: the editing is easier, the flaws stand out more readily, this far removed from the blinders conferred  by familiarity and pride.

Really appreciating the power of purging--not just total words, but the right words--well, scrapping the right "wrong" words, and preserving the right "right" words(hmm, there were probably better words for that). Wondrous, though, how much more lustrous those words we retain can be, unencumbered by those superfluous ones we'd once been so sure of.

And, of course, it's never just about the words: character, story, theme, are paramount. Cucariva is literary-suspense, a pretty dark(but hopeful, hopefully) tale. A few overarching themes: human nature(what is is that, when all luxury and pretense are stripped away, truly authors our lives?), redemption, perseverance, and lost love. Imperative when rewriting, to ensure the themes are credibly, and impactfully conveyed.

A snippet:

A sensibility cellular in nature: she was the love of his life, this he knew in his blood and in his bones. The one person for whom he’d been procreated into existence—blood and bones and organs and musculature and tissue—his, in its precise assembling—that he might those decades hence meet and love this woman. Who until recently had professed a devotion no less profound. And so he brimmed with this imperative and wanted to tell her he loved her, for so he did. Not to persuade her toward some starry end, but simply, because it was truth, of the most unassailable type.  And truth had become an inestimable, if faltering beacon, upon the fringe of this fathomless sea.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night...

And, I shall not. But the light, or enthusiasm for Cucariva, my literary-suspense novel to which I devoted some 18 months, had been waning. Many dozens of queries unrequited. But today,  I had an agent say she was very intrigued, and request a full manuscript. She's giving me a little time(I have no time, but shall make it) to polish up. Still a longshot, but any progress affirms perseverance, and rekindles the flame. Here's a snippet from an early chapter:
He clambered up the stairwell to the street, which tilted crazily, so that he had to steady himself on the railing. Something brushed his ankle and he looked down like an oafish giant and stared as a bevy of rats scampered past. He would cut through the park. It loomed pitch and silent beyond the pale glow of the streetlights, but soon his eyes adjusted and the park’s architecture budded into resolution like a strange, post-modern birth. The benches, the walking path, the oaks looming tall and imprinted like midnight sentries.
It was a perfect night, really. Almost enough to persuade him that the ordeal now before him was as ethereal as the stars dropping away along the slope of the blue-black firmament. The city slept. He crossed in darkness through the park, which fell out before him, flat and dark and promising ahead only darkness still, a great promontory at the edge of the earth.

We'll see what happens, but either way, I need to finish final revisions so I may do justice to the effort. There's a lot of my heart in that book. Thanks as always for your support, and I'll keep you posted.

PS: Amazing, I am reminded as I dive back in tonight, how no matter how many times you edit, you always find more...

Friday, January 26, 2018


Night, which had become his most steadfast companion, spoke to him one evening.

Why, it inquired of him, do you continue along this road? 

“Because,” the man answered, “it is the only one remaining to me. The one to which I am consigned.”

Night contemplated this a while, as the man walked on.

Forgive me, Night said at last, for I am but darkness, but I dare say you’re wrong. There is always another path. There is always turning back.

The man, requiring no contemplation, replied, “Not for me.”

Ah, said Night. Punishing yourself. You choose this path in penance.

“In truth,” said the man. “I can no more choose it than I can choose to breathe. And every breath speaks that truth. Speaks her name.”

They were silent a while more, until Night said, in scarcely a whisper: I know. I’ve heard you.

The man nodded, walked on. A latticework of stars traced across the deep-set firmament. Flickering in their fathomless remove. Planets and galaxies entire waxed beneath their aegis, these coldest of sentinels; the passing of a nameless, wayward soul, of not the slightest consequence. 

Do not begrudge them, urged Night. Even their light shall one day extinguish. 

“I begrudge them not in the slightest,” said the man. “If a broken heart is the worst of my travails, I should call myself lucky.”

Be kind to yourself, Night offered. Loss is loss; pain is pain.

“Aye,” said the man. “That it is. But to have lost the love of my life, is at the very least the rawest validation of having found her. There is no greater blessing.”

Night smiled at this, in that nearly imperceptible way of things incorporeal. An easing, however brief.

What, Night asked the man, did you love most? Was she the woman of your dreams?

“She was the woman who gave me the dream,” said the man. “She was all things love and light. Light in the darkness—err, no offense—and light in the light.”

No offense taken, said Night. But light in the light—what do you mean?

“She lit up the world. Everyone. No matter how things were in that moment. Made the dark days brighter. Made the bright days, brighter still. Saw the best in me. Loved me even for my worst. Made me believe again, in the man I could be, the man I must be.”

You loved her deeply.

“Still, and always.”

There must be anger; there must be pain. 

“Only the latter,” said the man. “Sometimes I want to be angry, but I can’t. She is the only soul on earth for whom my heart cannot harbor an angry sentiment. Even in this pain, there is but love. That is her legacy, whether she desires it or not. Even in her absence, she’s taught me true love.”

They walked on, these sojourners. At length, a wind kicked up, and the smell of rain perfumed the air.

Storm coming, Night said. 

“And let it,” said the man. “Therein resides one reason more. She was at once, my storm and my refuge. Never did my heart know such tempest, and such peace. No matter that she’s severed it, never a stronger connection have I felt.”

To this day?

“For all days. No matter where we were, with her, my heart was always home. She remains, and ever shall be, my touchstone.”

The storm grew nearer, but they walked on, for their road was their road, and the storm was a storm, neither the first nor last they would encounter.

You still live for her. 

“In many ways, yes.”

And would you die for her?

“Aye,” said the man. “I have.”

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ringing in the Grind...

Talk about a cold open, 2018. The intrepid canine and I ventured out into a sunny, -5-degree morning, he, the Great Pyrenees, infinitely more suited in his God-given coat. He stalked on out, invigorated, as I shivered along, thinking through clacking teeth, I need to write today.

And every day, really. New Year’s Resolution? Sure, why not? But soon the revelry and inspiration will wane, spiraling away like my frozen breath on this artic morning, and what then? For such is the nature of things: the excitement ebbs, the guests trickle home, even our Muse, especially any other than the one greeting us each day in the mirror. Life goes back to its daily grind, but, you know, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

Writing IS a grind, for most of us anyway. “It is by sitting down to write every morning,” noted Gerald Brenan,  “that one becomes a writer.” Sure, we’ll have moments of epiphany (too cold and too tired to conjure the adjective for that…epiphaneous? Epiphanific? Spellcheck has rebuked both). But even those moments of precious elucidation are fleeting, and we must return to the grindstone, for it is at once our whetstone, our covenant. Oh, the Muse might visit, but don’t give up your chair. She might toss you a bone, but she really only came back for her hat. Keep at it. “If I waited for perfection,” said Margaret Atwood, “I would never write a word.”
I write fiction, but one of my favorite scribes is nonfiction icon Erik Larson, who told me, among other things, that what separates an amateur from professional, is completion. Write the thing. And yes, there are indispensable ingredients, but as Doctorow reminded us, “Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
That it is. So be it resolved that today, we’ll write. And again, tomorrow. Even if only a little. And if you miss a day, start over the next. The grind will keep grinding, after all. “Writing,” said Gwendolyn Brooks, “is a delicious agony.”
Write on.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Life IS Pain, Princess....

Always fun to reference The Princess Bride. And what about the quote above? Sage words from Mr. Hemingway? For me, yes. Happy, saccharine writing is bad writing, from me, anyway. Finding some silver linings, perhaps, some windows of redemption, in a world gone otherwise dark? Now there's some territory to mine.

To wit, this excerpt from my work in progress. Kind of an undercurrent of much of my work. What about you? You prefer happy writing, or at least, happy endings? Is your best work extracted by giving voice to your pain? Please weigh in...

Losing her cut him to the quick, and the pain never ebbed. Only deepened, in fact. And where was the mystery in this? She was the love of his life, and this love redoubled with each beat of his heart, and continued to do so no matter her absence, for it was a devotion born not of possession, but bequeathment. A heart given over. A life. He missed her beyond all measure, but his wish was no longer for her return, but for her happiness.  For one fallen faithless,  his lone, remaining gospel. And so it pierced like a knife, one he wasn’t certain he’d pull out if he could. No masochism in this, pray tell; no ill-conceived martyrdom. He simply feared what would happen when the blade at last came out; that all the life would run out of him, and it wasn’t the emptiness which scared him most, but rather the thought of what cold, sinister things might find their way in.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Author Interview: Nillu Nasser, All the Tomorrows.

Sometimes we can’t escape the webs we are born into. Sometimes we are the architects of our own fall.

Akash Choudry wants a love for all time, not an arranged marriage. Still, under the weight of parental hopes, he agrees to one. He and Jaya marry in a cloud of colour and spice in Bombay. Their marriage has barely begun when Akash embarks on an affair.

Jaya can’t contemplate sharing her husband with another woman, or looking past his indiscretions as her mother suggests. Cornered by sexual politics, she takes her fate into her own hands in the form of a lit match.

Nothing endures fire. As shards of their past threaten their future, will Jaya ever bloom into the woman she can be, and will redemption be within Akash’s reach?

“Make no mistake: while All the Tomorrows is character driven, those who enjoy a good plot will not be disappointed… This is superb writing.” ~ Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews


It is with gratitude and excitement I welcome dear friend and elegant scribe Nillu Nasser to the blog.

1. Welcome, Nillu! I’ve heard you talk a little about the inspiration for this novel, and it's very compelling. What can you tell us about that moment in time, and how it became the genesis for your tale?

I’ve always been a daydreamer. There are some images I just can’t shake, and that’s when I know a story is worth telling. With All the Tomorrows, there was one scene I could vividly see, as if it were already on film: a filthy, older, Indian man, pressed up against a window. He was sad, and not a threat. I wanted to know more about him. What brings someone to spy on a family? Could there ever be a reason to act that way? Could you feel sympathy for someone who other people might class as a monster? Could a man like that find his way back into being a functioning member of society? The novel grew from those questions. 

2.  Tell us about your publisher, how you connected with them, and some unique aspects of their approach.

Evolved Publishing is a small, hybrid US press. When I finished writing All the Tomorrows I looked around for which publishing house might be the right fit for me. I was keen to sign quickly if I could, to keep my momentum going, to carry on learning about the industry. I really wanted to find the right person to trust my manuscript to so I could keep on creating. I knew a couple of authors at EP, and they encouraged me to submit. They were kind enough to share their experiences with me, and it seemed a great fit. The team at EP is very passionate and collaborative. I get more of a say in final decisions than I would at other houses. I was thrilled to get an offer. The CEO puts a lot of focus into editorial quality, and I loved the fact that I was signed for three books, so they are investing in me as an author long-term. I couldn’t have been luckier with my editor and cover artist. I’m so proud of the book we have created together. 

3.  People sometimes fret that a literary novel can't include a riveting plot, or a thriller doesn't allow for deep characterization. But early praise for All the Tomorrows suggests your literary novel has pulled off both--tell us how.

This is such an interesting question! Most people so far have said that the novel is an easy read, and in some ways that surprises me, as it raises some challenging themes. I want it to challenge perceptions, certainly. I think my style has been influenced by critique groups I have been a part of, in which authors have written a cross-section of work. I often trade feedback with fantasy, thriller or romance authors, for example, and these wonderful authors have influenced me. I live in fear that mine will be one of those books readers drift away from. That was not something I wanted. I wanted it to be a book people devour, as there are so many other forms of entertainment to compete with. So I wrote chapter endings that often have a small reveal. My editor helped me to make the most of small moments to keep the reader turning the page. 

4. What were the most rewarding, challenging, and surprising aspects of writing this novel?

I’ve wanted to write a novel for years. I started many. What surprised me is the persistence it takes to finish a story. I underestimated the grit it takes. There’s always this fear at the back of your mind, that you eventually learn to ignore. It’s like a little woodpecker: you’re not good enough, no-one is going to read this, why are you wasting your time? Eventually you realise that every creative leap is an act of faith, and you find little tricks to keep on chipping away at your creativity until it becomes a swell. I also found it surprising how awkward it is for some people to engage with a first-time novelist. They have no way of knowing if you are talented, and after a while I wonder if they might think you’re a bit deluded. It’s not like baking a cake. There’s no immediate taste test. So for both readers and the novelist, this sort of work is a test of patience!

5. Your story's setting is vivid and distinct: what can you tell us about the research that went into it?

All the Tomorrows is set in Mumbai. I wanted a culture that suited my themes of gender and traditions, but one I was at least half-way familiar with. I’m Indian, although I was born in the UK. I know lots about Indian culture, and I loved the opportunities the setting brought to the story: the colour, the food and traditions. I’ve visited India twice, once as a child and once in my early twenties. My recollections are broad brush strokes: the smell of street food, the sticky heat, the palaces in Jaipur, child beggars pressed against cool taxi windows. For details I turned to travel guides and photo books. Friends sent me pictures of their own travels there. I watched Bollywood movies to drink up the setting. The geography was a bit more difficult. I used Google Maps for the layout of Mumbai, and picked beta-readers who would be able to alert me to any glaring errors, and guide me to make the setting a bit more authentic. I hope I did it justice. 

6. What projects are next for you? 

I’m signed to Evolved Publishing for three literary fiction novels. My pace for novels tends to be about one a year. My next novel, Hidden Colours, tells the story of an acrobat and a journalist in Berlin. It’s about grief and chance, and about race and fixed viewpoints. I usually try and write for a couple of anthologies a year, but with three small children life gets really busy, and the novel has to be my focus. I’m itching to get to that place in the process when the connections all start fizzing, and you just pour it out onto the page and trust that the magic will somehow happen. I hope you’ll read All the Tomorrows, and be back for more when novel two is ready. 

You can get your copy of All the Tomorrows here

Nillu Nasser is a writer of literary fiction novels. She has a BA in English and German Literature, and an MA in European Politics. After graduating she worked in national and regional politics, but eventually reverted to her first love. She lives in London with her husband and three children. For further information or to say hello, visit Sign up to Nillu’s newsletter for a reader freebie plus, from 6-13 November only, to celebrate the release of All the Tomorrows, newsletter subscribers will receive a multi-author e-book bundle of fiction about contemporary women: 


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Musclewood: a Labor of Love Revisited

In 2014, I set aside a mostly finished manuscript into which I had poured my heart. A dark but hopeful tale, and the reasons I stepped away from it were very personal, but it was something to which I knew I would always return. That's the way of things, after all. Our truth will always call us back home.

It needs an overhaul, and it'll take time. Anything worthwhile does. I'll keep you posted along the way, and as always, I'm grateful to have your support as I sojourn. To those of you beside me when I was living this--2012-2014--you have my thanks, and my heart, as ever.

Here's the opening. Musclewood.

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” 
Czesław Miłosz

​Buried things, it seems, have a knack for not remaining so.

In 1978, the small, Midwest town of Jacksonburg having agreed by democratic majority to submerge itself, watched as the Serpent River was dammed and its banks spilled over and flooded the entire municipality.  Once a prime source of commerce and life, the river now became an angel of death, consuming the town with indifference.  Sherriff’s deputies had performed a walk-through the evening prior, to ensure every living soul had in fact been evacuated. No official report exists confirming the result; one may perhaps assume in this town numbering fewer than 2000 souls, one gone missing would have been noteworthy, or perhaps even floated to the surface.