Archive for June, 2009

Happy 106th Birthday Grandma !

Last week my grandmother, Regina would have celebrated her 106th birthday! After studying her life while writing my recent memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, I realized that even though there were many aspects of our personalities which were similar—our lives and times cannot to be compared.

My grandmother lived through two world wars, and although there were already two wars in my own lifetime—The Vietnam War and The Gulf War—their physical proximity only were only as close to me as my television screen. What must life have been like in 1903 without radio and television? Imagine only knowing of the beginning war from the soldiers marching through the streets of your hometown or some distant newspaper finally making it to your doorstep? Surely, life was tougher when technology was not an integral part of society, but in many ways it was much less complicated—priorities were family and survival and the wondrance if the daily bread would appear on the kitchen table, or even be delivered to the corner grocer because of war-torn districts. Now we worry about whether the newspapers will survive the technological advancement and stressful economical times or if our environment will survive our waste.

In the end, we must always have our lives in the proper perspective.

Honoring Fathers

Honoring Fathers

Yesterday, in honor of Father’s Day, I spent many moments meditating on wisdoms of fathers around the world, but in particular, my own father, who passed away in late 1991. During the years following his death, and on each third Sunday of June, when kids around the world celebrated fathers, I would cry relentlessly from morning to night. Now., many years later, I have accepted the loss and the fact that my father will never come back. Instead of mourning his death, I have decided to pay tribute to my wonderful father’s spirit by propagating all the wisdoms he shared during the thirty-seven years we shared. My father, who had survived the Holocaust. was a forgiving man who taught me not to hold grudges against people and that if I didn’t have something nice to say I shouldn’t say anything at all. He was gracious and demonstrated the fine art of giving and receiving love. He also showed me the intrinsic value of compassion, working hard and being happy.

My father, Edward Marquise, was a man who continuously counted his blessings and was appreciative for each day he spent on this earth. In spite of losing both his parents and baby brother, Josh in WWII, just days before his fifteen birthday, he made it his life’s mission to bring happiness and joy to anyone who crossed his path—whether family, friend or stranger. His greatest pleasure rested in bringing a smile to someone’s face. He loved telling jokes and although he was never a rich man, he had enough for a comfortable life and housed a rich spirit and zest for life.

Only when illness took over him and his vitality dwindled, did he decide that enough was enough.. In the end, my father’s smoking habit took away his life and although at times I am upset that he never tossed out the cigarettes, which eventually killed him, I try to focus on all the powerful wisdoms he shared with me during his lifetime.

What Story Are You Being Asked to Tell ?

Whether your chosen genre is fiction, nonfiction or poetry, you have a unique story to tell. For many writers, reliving and retelling childhood stories are common platforms. We often return to those times because they were filled with pain, joy or unanswered questions.

As writers we are often intuitive in regard to what we want to share and more often than not, there’s a story in us yearning to be told. However, once in a while we get stumped. Often times, the best story ideas come to us when we are not sitting at our desks ‘working,’ but rather when we are out and about, ‘not working.’ It’s important to be alert to those mundane moments in our every day life—odd discoveries and chance remarks made by others in the social, work or casual setting. Weaving these incidents with known facts about oneself, help make the story compelling.

My morning ritual is to read the newspaper and during the course of a day a magazine or two. Sometimes I will surf the web researching an idea which will lead me to something else intriguing, perhaps reminding me about a story I wanted to write some time ago, but forgot about. In my drawer, I have a file folder called, “Writing Ideas,” which includes all the stories I hope to tell one day. Whether I get to them or not is another story, but at least the file is there for when my well dries up. When you get really stuck, here are some questions you might want to ask:

1)    What is going through your head?

2)    What do you think about most often?

3)    Who are your villains? Who are your heroes?

4)    What are you obsessed by?

5)    What inspires you?

6)    Where are you in your life now?

7)    What stories are you drawn to read?

Whatever you choose to write, you will soon learn that the creative journey is similar to life—it is unpredictable, unstructured, mysterious and laden with miracles.

In her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002), Margaret Atwood says this, “Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out into the light.”

In Writing (1993) Marguerite Duras says, “Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”

William Faulkner believed that there’s a more profound reason why writers write. “An artist,” he says, “is a creature driven by demons. He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.” Whatever this dream is writers often loose sleep until the project is completed and this is how they uncover the story they have to tell.

In many ways, writing could be thought of as a modern, guilt-free replacement for confession. This might be one reason so many people are drawn to writing memoirs and personal essays. Writing about real life experiences is like a snake shedding its skin and leaving a former self behind. It’s easier moving forward when the baggage from the past is dropped. Franz Kafka summarized this idea beautifully by saying, “I write in order to shut my eyes.” Fiction writers might argue that they write fiction so that they can tamper with the facts in their life and that they have more freedom during the writing process.

In her essay, “Why am I a Writer,” Joan Didion says, “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

In essence, we write to know ourselves. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears can transform to reveal value and meaning for us. And with any luck, for others as well.

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My journal is full of seeds, some of which will blossom into full-fledged projects and others will fizzle. Just like the beautiful process of fertilization—some eggs  get fertilized and some don’t. Speaking of which, my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High-Risk Pregnancy (Hunter House, 1988) is now being updated and next year the 20th anniversary edition will be released. I am working with Dr. Errol Norwitz, the Co-Director of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Ob-Gyn unit. This year my eldest daughter, Rachel turns 25 and I started writing this book on a typewriter while on bed rest with her! It took me three years to write. In fact, she designed the first book cover. Now Rachel is old enough to be a mother herself. Although she’s not even married yet, wouldn’t it be cool if this newly-revised book could be a guide for her during her own pregnancy?

By the way, I am looking for anecdotes from women who have had difficulties during their pregnancy. Do you have any that you’d like to share?

Post #5

By the way my pregnancy book began as a journal of my pregnancy. Eventually the journal was condensed into the book’s introduction and the book evolved into a self-help book for other women also experiencing difficult pregnancies. So you never know where your journaling might lead you. Have any of your journals or anyone you know had journals which turned into published articles or books?

Post #6

Most of my articles and books are first written long-hand in my journals. Studies have shown that there is something about the creative juices which flow when the pen meets the paper. Actually, I do my best writing in airplanes. Less distractions? High concentration of oxygen? Where do you do your best writing?

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Post

Instead, I have just pulled down from the shelf in my library one of the many random volumes of journals I’ve filled over the years. A red un-lined journal with parchmont paper that I used while studying poetry with Sharon Olds in Key West back in the early 2000’s. I revisit a poem about women’s purses and how sacred they are—clutched close, jammed with receipts, phone numbers and unsent letters. Very sacred, just like my anniversary.

So what are your thoughts about women’s purses? What do you look for in a purse?

Journaling About Authors and Food

“Sometimes people say I am unusual because I cook and write. I smile and nod and think aren’t these things that everyone should do? I cook and write for one reason; I like to make stuff.” These are the words of writer Greg Atkinson in the forward of an anthology called Literary Feast: The Famous Authors Cookbook. I truly believe in Greg’s words and feel honored to be included in this collection put together by The King County Library Foundation. However it wasn’t easy to decide which recipe to include in this collection. After being married for 32 years and raising three kids, I have my share of favorites. I started by pulling out my self-compiled handwritten cookbook and listing in my journal the family’s all-time favorites. The recipe I chose to submit has been carried with me from my childhood—Wiener Schnitzel. I was asked to write a few words before introducing the recipe and here’s what I wrote:

“I have an Austrian mother and had a Polish grandmother, so this crispy Schnitzel recipe, with home-fired potatoes, was a staple in our home. It was the dish we had once a week and was always served when visitors were invited for dinner. You can say that I was brought up on this meal. Also it was often accompanied by a sliced cucumber salad marinated in vinegar and water. Although I didn’t mention this recipe in my recently published memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, it was a huge part of my childhood. My children, now all grown, have also learned to love this favorite dish of their ancestors.”

This wonderful collection also includes recipes from 90 authors, including David Baldacci, Elizabeth Berg, J.A. Jance, Jonathan Kellerman, Alexander McCall Smith and John Saul. By the way, it makes a wonderful gift for all the writer friends in your life.

CoverYou may order a copy for $22.95 from: http://www.thriftbooks.com. Happy cooking! Until you get your own personal copy, here is my recipe:

Wiener Schnitzel

4 thin slices of veal scaloppini

bowl of flour bowl of bread crumbs

2 eggs oil salt and pepper

• Assemble three deep bowls. In one put the flour, in the second beat the two eggs and in the third pour the bread crumbs. Start with moderate amounts of flour and bread crumbs, you can always add more as needed. • Flatten the veal with a meat mallet. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. • Dip both sides of the veal in the flour. Shake off excess. • Dip the flour-coated veal into the egg, making sure veal is completely covered. Lift up and allow excess to drip off. • Lay the veal in the breadcrumbs and make sure it gets coated on both sides. • To help the breading adhere to the meat during cooking, you can place the cutlets on wax paper in the refrigerator for one hour. • Use a large frying pan and heat oil (can use half oil and half butter) until it gets hot enough that the cutlet sizzles when you put it in. It usually only needs about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately. This is also delicious served cold for the next day’s lunch.

The Notebook and Story Ideas

If you are a published writer you’ve surely been asked where you get your story ideas. What non-writers don’t understand is that coming up with story ideas is the easy part of being a writer. The more challenging part is finding the time to write. Crafting a compelling story using an angle that will grab an editor or publisher is also a challenge. Let’s face it, story ideas have been the same for centuries – love, hate, money, women, men and sex—but what has changed is the way in which stories are told.

It’s been noted that 95 percent of the ideas writers jot down in their notebooks do not end up into publishable work and only a mere five percent are what we call literary gems. Figuring out the ideal time out  to launch your idea to the literary community is also crucial. Often times if you think about what is interesting to you, your friends or loved ones, then chances are those are the subjects which will be interesting to your readers as well.

This reminds me of a comment made by an editor I visited at a New York publishing house some weeks ago. I asked her what was selling, and she turned to me while looking for a book on the shelf and said, “We have a saying in the publishing world that anything about Lincoln and everything about dogs, sells.”

So there you have it – just in case you were wondering what to write about!


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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