Category: Books

Let the Story Lead You: Spain

I grew up traveling — lived in different countries, visited others. It’s a pattern I carried into my adult life.  And I was particularly lucky that I had parents who really knew how to travel.  They were adventurous, curious and open. That doesn’t mean they climbed the Himalayas or hitchhiked across Patagonia.  But they were readers. And through their reading they learned about new places, people and cultures. Often they would then venture forth and experience them in person.

They’d always have one real guidebook — given my father’s complete inability to get from point A to point B without visiting points D, K and L first.  But the books they used to guide them were memoirs, travelogues and novels.  I vividly remember the first time I became aware of their ingenious travel secret.  They were living in Spain and we had decided to do a cross-country trip from Barcelona to Madrid.

For that trip we used James Michner’s Iberia,  a memoir of his time in Spain during the nineteen-sixties. The writing is amazing. His images breathtaking.  Spain had changed enormously by the late seventies when we took our trip. But using him as our guide gave us so much appreciation of what was enduring and what was changing.

When we got to Granada,  I found an old copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of the Alhambra.  It was a weekday and past tourist season, so I had time to roam or linger with little disruption. As I sat in the cool shade near of one of the courtyards reading “The Legend of the Three Beautiful Princesses,”  I was transported back in time. I could see the valley they gazed over. I had walked past the fountains of the gardens in their gilded cage. I could picture their escape. What a magical afternoon.

If you venture to Spain, I heartily recommend you consider reading Iberia and Tales of the Alhambra before or as you go. There are lots of other books, of course. Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Two classics set during the Spanish Civil War:
Homage to Catalonia  by George Orwell
For Whom the Bell Tolls  by Ernest Hemingway

And a couple more modern contributions:
Shadow of the Wind  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (translated by Lucia Graves), again partially set during the Civil War. This is a rich, lyrical, mystical, very Spanish work — I personally enjoyed it most in the audio version.
Madrid Tales  — an anthology of Spanish short stories translated by Helen Constantine and Margaret Jull Costa. Not all the stories will appeal, but they are a great initiation into modern Madrid, and Spain.

Happy reading and bon voyage.




I’m a reader. I’m also an (unpublished) author. I find it disturbing to see how heated and angry the conversation gets about how to read a book. Apparently  the decision to read a physical book, a Kindle, a Nook, an e-book or listen to an audiobook is a reflection of your worth as a reader or perhaps even a person.

People, what’s the problem? Why does it matter as long as someone’s reading.

Personally I revel in those times when I curl up with a book in a comfy chair and can lose myself in another world. But I find it easier to snuggle in bed with my Kindle — books can be awkward to handle when you’re buried in pillows and dogs. And since getting my Kindle, I’ve been reading a lot more books. Because now I can read wherever I am and whatever I’m in the mood for.

As for audiobooks? On road-trips they’re a godsend. Plus I’ve found listening to an audiobook in the car is one way I can get through some of those books I find hard to stay focused on when I just sit and read. One of my favorites (long out of print) is The Vandal’s Crown,  which is about currency trading, of all things, something I’d normally never even try, but which I found fascinating as I drove from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.  I now deliberately choose the audio format for denser books just in the hopes I’ll actually manage to read them (unlike so many that sit on my shelves, pristine, dusty and unread).

Does this mean that I’m any less of a reader? I don’t think so. And frankly if and when I ever get published, please feel free to read me in whatever format you prefer.  Just please read me.

Pushing to Finish

Writing my first novel has been and continues to be a great adventure. One that excites, frustrates and challenges me.

I am now on my fifth major re-write (adding and deleting story elements) and am hopeful I can move to the copy/line editing mode soon.

When I started this journey I had no idea what I was really getting into. Oh, I had read about the query process, the need to be willing to promote your book, etc. etc. But these seemed like minor issues compared to actually getting the book written.

Now I see how rose-colored my glasses were. But instead of finding this complex process of taking my work from finished manuscript (assuming I actually ever finish editing) to published book intimidating or onerous, I’m actually a bit psyched. Who would have thought.

I like to think one reason for my unexpected reaction is that my father was a salesman (a good one at that), so those paternal genes are kicking in. Or maybe finding a strategy for selling, marketing and getting my work out there has reignited my problem-solving engine.

In any case, I’m now immersed in developing my blog, learning about queries and synopses, and developing my pitch. I even participated in my first pitch session (utterly terrifying, but exhilarating, too).

Of course, I continue to write, and edit, and write, and edit. Hopefully soon I’ll take all I’ve learned about queries, synopses, etc and actually send the manuscript out. Now there’s a terrifying thought. Keep your fingers crossed.

The 2012 Miami Book Fair International

I love volunteering for the Miami Book Fair.

For one week I get to focus on reading and authors.  I meet authors I’ve long admired and learn about authors I’ve managed to miss.  And in the process I catch glimpses into the world of the writer and of the book publishing industry.

This year I attended a literary death match held at Bardot, a local trendy night spot.   Four new young, published authors read from their works and competed for the praise of the judges and the adoration of the assembled masses.  In the meantime, a pop-up book exchange allowed the crowd a chance to pick through older books to find unread treasures.  I ended up with a slim volume by Isaac Asimov and a paperback by Joyce Carol Oates.  Who says reading isn’t cool?

Couldn’t resist having my photo taken with Da Chen.

But my highlight was meeting Da Chen, a Chinese memoirist and novelist, currently living in the U.S.

Not only was I introduced to writing about China and Chinese cultural that is engaging and authentic,  but Da Chen himself is a delightful human being.  I am now savoring his latest novel, My Last Empress.  And enjoying the personal Chinese calligraphy he did for me in lieu of signing the book (which I managed to forget to have with me).

Miami is often dismissed as a city with “no culture” and a superficial, brainless population.   But in 1984 Mitch Kaplan, a local book store owner, started a modest book fair which with the support of the Miami-Dade Community College and the residents of Miami has been transformed into the largest book fair in the U.S.   Now authors and people come from all over to participate and enjoy what the Miami Book Fair has to offer.

The bad news is that it’s over for this year.  And like a child after Christmas, I hate that I’ll have to wait a whole year before it rolls around again.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with all the new reading I’ve lined up to do.