Thursday, February 18, 2016

Writing Work Ethic vs. Procrastination--and, of course, Burn Notice!

Okay, I'll finally got it. The Burn Notice obsession, the attempts to clean and organize the house, the decision to take up running--they're all about avoidance. 

This is because I am working on revisions of a novel that I both love and hate. It's got such wonderful parts, and I know what I'm trying to say matters, and yet, I do not want to approach it yet again, trying to fix it. 

Even though, this time, I can not only see it clearly, but I have this fabulous critique group to give me outsider eyes and pinpoint precisely how to fix the issues that have dogged this novel since the beginning. 

Or, I could just blow the damn thing up. 

P.S. This was not a How To post. I'm sure you are just as capable as I of writing avoidance--or any other kind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Burn Notice Explosions Part 2

Okay, so I'm obsessed with these Burn Notice explosions. Because there are hundreds of them. I know Miami is a big city and must have a lot of crime, but really? Nobody notices these hundreds of explosions? No one from the fire department has begun to clock their much-discussed bomb-maker fingerprints? 

I read the paper. Our local throwaway paper has a crime report, and the fire department report, too. Even I would start being suspicious after awhile if I kept seeing these explosions and fires. 

Oh, and the concussion thing? Like, hospital bed time? Like stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Poor Michael, Sam and Fiona, dying young of chronic dementia, their brains rotted away and full of holes. 

In other words, do not try this at home. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Burn Notice Thoughts--Explosions/Concussions Etc.

More Burn Notice Thoughts
Watching Burn Notice with a concussion provides an odd framework. Nearly every episode, our heroes and heroines blow something up, and we watch them leap--or get blown away--from the blast.

Nobody, however, gets a concussion, or if they do, they don't complain about it for more than a minute.

Your brain is soft, squishy stuff that floats inside the hard bone of your skull. When you are moving, brain and skull move along together. When you stop suddenly, skull stops, but brain keeps moving. This shears away connections at the base of the skull, but it gets worse. Brain hits side of skull, is knocked backwards, hits other side of skull, and winds up bruised all around. It's kind of like what happens to a house in an earthquake. Earth moves, house starts moving. Earth stops, starts going the other way, but house keeps moving in the first direction and either the walls flex like crazy and things fall down inside, or the house simply falls off foundation and everything goes boom.

I can speak about concussion now from experience, and I didn't even get blown up. I was ice-skating on a public rink where kids were breaking the rules and racing. (I had just told them to stop.) A tall teenager, going full speed, lost his balance and slide full speed into the back of my skates. I went up, then down, flat on my back. The helmet could protect some of the back of my head, but still, brain sheared, went front, went back, went up went down, while neck muscles got some pretty bad whiplash, ribs were bruised, elbow black and blue, etc. So, I know, really know, how dangerous being blown off your feet can be.

Of course, your brain isn't the only thing that would get messed up in an explosion. Hearing would be destroyed. Each time. 

But Mike, or Fiona, or Sam, or Jesse, all get up, and run or walk to someone important, who usually says something softly to them--some of the actors in particular have adopted that recent: "if I whisper my lines, I will sound more intense," school of acting. And our recently blown off their feet hero can hear them.

And we're not even talking about the times people slug someone in the head.

My little ones and I have enjoyed watching another show, Chuck, which has a lot of this stuff, too, but my husband doesn't like Chuck, preferring Burn Notice. "Chuck is a fairy tale," says my husband. Huh. Don't get me started.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Some Fascinating Reads From Last Year (Inspired by Literary Agent, Nephele Tempest--and Isn't That The Best Name Ever?

Nephele Tempest wrote a post about her favorite reads from last year. Not those she represents, just ones she read for joy.

She has some fabulous ones. I recommend you taking a gander, over at

And of course, I had to take her up on writing about my own favorites. Unfortunately for publishing, many of them are from least year or earlier, but oh, do they smoke!

Some books are comedies, like Nephele's choice of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry." I think of these as the perfect books to read when you're going through a divorce, or have a child in the hospital--enough meat and insight to give meaning, but you always know it will end happily. And though, like Nephele, I tend to skew female in authors I read, I'd put the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett "Good Omens" in this category. It is without a doubt one of the funniest books I have ever read. I would also include Toby Barlow's "Babayaga," (another guy) and Christopher Moore's "Sacre Bleu." (Three guys, oy.)

I enjoyed the book "Hild" by Nicola Griffith, an exploration of Saint Hilda and got jealous of Saint Hilda's 7th Century, a world where, believably, women were expected to work, weave, bake, brew, plot and wield power side by side with the men we more often hear about.

Two books older books changed the way I look at the world. Both deal with the overwhelming horrors of the Holocaust--and you have to figure that any . One is called "Conscience and Courage" by Eva Fogelman; the other is "Shielding the Flame," an interview with Warsaw Ghetto uprising leader Marek Edelman, written by Hanna Krall. Fogelman, who participated in the research into bystander behavior, (those infamous--"would you torture someone if you were ordered to" experiments) became fascinated by those few who refused to follow orders, which lead to interviews and analysis of those who saved Jews during the war. Her insights are astounding. Edelman, who survived the Warsaw ghetto and was one of the young leaders of the uprising there--they held out for longer than almost every country in Europe--later became a noted cardiologist. I found his view of God and life to be earthshaking.

Right now, I'm immersed in research on Anna Leonowens and her King of Siam. "You just got another book about Thailand?" my husband asks, while I skip for joy--another book! Both Leonowens and Mongkut, historically, are vastly different from the way they have been presented in American culture via missionary Margaret Landon's "Anna and the King of Siam," and of course, "The King and I." Both straddle multiple cultures in ways we have not historically understood before.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole of Research pt. 2: Gabrielle Anwar, Burn Notice and Crazy Research

So, to recap. Gabrielle Anwar

married Shareef (nee Mark) Malnik
whose father is Al Malnik (get a load of the plastic surgery on these two)

with the ceremony performed by Tantric Kaballah Rabbi (!) and likely serial sexual assaulter and child predator, Marc Gafni, (nee Marc Winiarz) 
But the story gets both more interesting and crazier. The interesting part to me is that of Gabrielle Anwar's family.

 Grandpa on her father's side was Rafiq Anwar, from India. Rafiq went to England as an engineering student.  In London, he met Edith Reich, an Austrian Jew. (I cannot find a photo of her.)These two married and went back to India, where Rafiq became an actor. They had two children, one, a son, born in 1945. Which means they must have met before '45. Which hints that Edith had fled to England from the Nazis. 
In 1946, Rafiq starred in a film produced by his brother, Rashid, called Neecha Nagar, which won the first ever foreign language film award at Cannes that year. (The music was by a young guy named Private Ravi Shankar, and the dance segments, created by the doyenne of Indian cinema, Zohra Saigal,  were edited out for the Cannes screening.) 

Edith came back to London with her two children, followed by Rafiq, who also worked in Hollywood, in The Spy Who Loved Me and Lord Jim. Edith and Rafiq's story sounds rich and complex, something I would love to learn more about. Give a holler, everybody, if you know more than this bare outline I can find. 

Their son, Tariq, became a very well-known film editor: The Crucible, Oppenheimer, American Beauty, and The King's Speech, which earned him an Oscar nomination and two BAFTA Awards.He is now based in the United States and England. He is the father of actress Gabrielle Anwar. Mother is actress Shireen Anwar, nee Shirley Hills, and this is the only photo I can find. 

That's all the interesting part. The crazy part has to do with Michael Jackson, Al Malnik and Jackson's children:  Michael Jackson, Jr., Paris-Michael, and Prince Michael Jackson II, known as Blanket. More about that later. 
Sometimes, with the Internet, it's just fun to go down that rabbit hole. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Down The Rabbit Hole: Internet Research About Nothing in Particular, Burn Notice, and Gabrielle Anwar

I'm a little slow on the uptake when it comes to popular culture, which is why I just discovered the TV series Burn Notice (via Netflix.) Of course, I had to look up the writers, producers and actors, and when I did, I fell down the All-Time, Bizarro Rabbit Hole of internet research, all intertwining around the actress Gabrielle Anwar.

I have nothing at all against Ms. Anwar. In fact, I think she is an actress of extraordinary brilliance, so good at expressing complexes emotions that her face seems almost translucent. The rabbit hole, however, began with an article about her recent wedding to a man called Shareef Malnik, the service performed by--as the papers stated--a Tantric Kabballah Rabbi who officiated and read passages from his book to the blissful couple.

Mark Gafni. (The One Not in
Red and Yellow)
"Tantric Kabballah Rabbi. The name, which implies a tantalizingly silly mix of Hindu sexual practices, Medieval Jewish mysticism and the term for a Jewish teacher, set my Hilarious Garbage Antennae twitching. Those antennae were accurate. The tantric Kabballah rabbi in question, one Marc Gafni, (born Marc Winiarz), has a Phd from Oxford, and has been believably accused of sexual assault many many different times, including the grooming and assault of a thirteen-year-old student.

The woman accusing Marc Gafni of grooming
 and then molesting her as a child

Okay. Not exactly the guy I'd want at my wedding ceremony. Especially given that Anwar has three children by previous marriages and relationships, and her new husband also has a kid.

But if you want to go further down the rabbit hole, remember new hubby named Shareef Malnik? Hilarious Garbage Antennae go a bit haywire over that name. Is he the result of a Moroccan mixed marriage? A Jewish Mama's long-time crush on Omar Shariff?

Nope. Mr. Malnik was born as Mark Malnik in the U.S. in 1958.  In fact, Daddy is an all-American mob associate, Al Malnik, one-time lawyer for gangster, Mayer Lansky. It seems besides being mobbed up and representing Sammy Davis Jr. and some of his Rat Pack pals, Daddy more or less invented off-shore money-laundering in the Bahamas. Somewhere in between having his Rolls blown up (of course it was canary yellow) and the unsolved murder of some of his associates, Al became chief financial advisor--and much, much more--for Saudi Royal member Prince Turki Bin-Aziz. 

Now, Turki Bin-Aziz was one of the many sons of the king of Saudi Arabia. Bin-Aziz came to the U.S. in the 1980's on a crazed spending spree that encompassed several years, billions of dollars, and the kind of insanity that makes interesting news articles ("Saudi Prince hires decorator to paint genitalia of all mansion's statues in glorious, living color") and desperate neighbors. (Saudi family parks multiple Ferraris on your grass, lands their helicopters in your backyard, and shows up in middle of night offering three million for your bungalow as long as you and your family leave within the next half hour.) 

During this blazing craziness, son Mark starts toting a copy of the Koran and winds up married (briefly) to the sister of the Prince's commoner bride. (Look, this is so complicated and bizarre, that I can only hope I'm getting the details right.) I would assume it is at this point that Mark became Shareef, a name which, come to think of it, beats, say, Muffy Malnik for assimilationist silliness. 

The story gets even crazier, but I think I have used up my Rabbit Hole quotient for the day. And the good news is, it seems as if Anwar and Malnik's use of Gafni for their wedding has, hopefully, shown new light down Gafni's rabbit hole. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a costumed, Wild West marriage between an actress and a "restauranteur"/possible mobster, (this being wedding number five for him) would lead to a sexual predator finally having to face some of the consequences of his actions? Let's keep our fingers crossed. 


Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Romantic Phase of Research: The King And I, Anna Leonowns and King Mongkut of Siam/Thailand.

I am deep in that phase of research that parallels the romantic part of love: When you just can't get enough of learning about a subject about whom you plan to write, you just want to dive in, you have to order another book about the history of Siam or Anna Leonowens or King Mongkut.

Anna Leonowns in Canada

King Mongkut and Queen Debsirindra, 1856. 
Every other word out of your mouth is "Oh," and "That's amazing," and you bend stranger's ears with the absolute fascination of it: "And as a young monk, the king studied Sanscrit and Palian, plus he learned Laotian, Cambodian, Vienamese, Peguan, (what is Peguan?) Burmese, Malay and Hindustani. And then, later, he learned English, but there was no Siamese-English dictionary in existence, but there was an English/Pali one, so he had to translate words from Siamese into ancient Pali and then search for an equivalent in a "voluminous" Pali-English dictionary. And because he was never sure if the Pali word perfectly lined up with the meaning he wanted, he usually put in two or three choices, hoping he'd gotten at least one right."

Yes, it's true love. Staring deep into the eyes of your subjects, and wanting to learn every single thing there is to know about them.

Yes, I know this is Rudolph Valentino's Falcon's lair, and
not on Ivarene, but it will have to do
until I can do more research. 
Later will come the challenges in my research relationship, when I have to keep my cool even though, as the writing is pouring out, I have to stop, stop, stop, to figure out what kind of car star scenarist (screenwriter) Frances Marion would be driving in 1921, where the controls are in that car, how hard are they to manipulate, what the car sounds like as you drive it, what Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles might have looked like in 1921, and where can I find a photo of twisty Ivarene Avenue from that era? All those tiny, telling details that make something spring to life.

Right now, it's just bliss, just sinking into the cushion of another age--politics, religion, technology, geography, geology, and above all psychology, learning as much as I can about these fascinating other people's stories so when I write them, I will do them the honor of seeing them as clearly as I possibly can.