How American Sign Language is Making Me a Better Writer

I began my ASL journey for a very personal reason—I wanted to learn this language for someone dear to me. It wasn’t meant to be something I was doing for myself but… Perhaps it’s a symptom of selfishness or some kind of egotism but somewhere along the way that’s exactly what this little exercise slowly morphed into. Two years worth of college classes have become a refuge of sorts of me. I’m a writer so there’s no surprise there, I guess: any chance I get to escape into another world, I’ll take it. This was not different: a college class with so many characters to study, a culture and a language so nuanced, it makes you reexamine all your word choices. What better exercise for an author?! And what a fabulous reminder of just how much I love learning, in general.

I’m no stranger to translation work but translating a verbal language to a visual one was not an easy transition for me. I spoke about this in my post a year ago, when I’d completed two semesters of ASL. The word “glossing” was thrown around a lot back then, going for the meaning and all that jazz, but it was a hard concept for me. It wasn’t until ASL 3 that I had my proverbial “lightbulb moment.” The way my professor put it, we aren’t looking for a verbatim translation because some concepts may not exist in ASL (or in any other language you’re interpreting). What you do is try to figure out what the meaning of the phrase is and then ask yourself how can you rephrase it in a way that you can actually communicate (as in sign). BOOM. This is what my rigid brain needed to hear.

Here are some examples from my ASL 3 and 4 finals to illustrate:

For my ASL 3 final, we got to interpret a dialogue from a film. Because I was surrounded with college-aged kids twice a week and the very fact had me reminiscing about my own college years, I picked a movie I associate so deeply with those late teens/early 20s—Bridget Jones’ Diary. Here is an excerpt from my “gloss”:




Here is the original text for reference:

Bridget: Listen, uh…I owe you an apology about Daniel. He said that you ran off with his fiancee…and left him broken hearted, he said.

Marc: Ah. No, it was the other way around. It was my wife…my heart.

Bridget: Sorry. That's why you always acted so strangely around him...and beat him to a pulp, quite rightly. Well done.

As you can tell, everything is different: word order, the use of tenses, the little symbols meant to help another interpreter sign exactly the way you’d scripted it etc. I couldn’t literally sign “the other way around” because those words stringed together like that would make no sense in ASL. So I asked myself—what does that phrase mean in English and how can I sign that. Marc obviously wasn’t trying to point to “another way around” direction-wise. Voila—”OPPOSITE.” It sounds simple but let me tell you, it was not easy arriving at this “lightbulb moment.” It was no an easy step to go from “but it says ‘ran off with his fiancee’, why can’t I just say that?!” to "‘SEDUCE HIS FIANCEE is literally what that means and makes way more sense than literally signing "‘run.’”

Here is another example; this one from my ASL 4 final, where we had to interpret a song. I wanted to interpret a song by Noa and Mira Awad called, “There Must Be Another Way.” It’s a song with a wonderful and simple message of peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The song is in three language and I only know one of them so that was one additional layer of difficulty for me. What can I say, I love a challenge. My friend Mira (whom I interviewed last May) was kind enough to translate the Arabic and the Hebrew for me, and I interpreted from English to ASL. Here is an excerpt:


And when I cry, I cry for both of us

My pain has no name

And when I cry, I cry to the merciless sky and say

There must be another way

There must be another way







Signing “there must be another way” literally would imply that a new geographical direction was sought. That’s not what the song is about. We’re talking about changing actions, doing better as people, so that’s what it is when translated to ASL. As for crying for “both of us,” what’s meant is that the two people are bound together by this conflict and that the tribulations the two suffer are heartbreaking no matter who is suffering physical pain at any one particular moment. ”HEARTBREAK LABEL WHAT NOTHING”—the pain has no name. This is me, delivering my final project for a grade (I got an A!): Marina’s ASL4 Final

These projects were so rewarding and educational for me. They pushed me beyond my comfort zone, made me think instead of blindingly delivering literal words, context be damned. Now that I am done with my coursework at my local college (only four levels are available here), I am glossing songs and monologues on my own for practice as I look for a place where I would be able to continue my studies. Let’s not kid ourselves—I am nowhere near fluent, especially receptively, but expressively I’ve grown so much by doing this. And the skill translates back into English, miraculously enough, making me a more thoughtful writer and speaker (or so I hope). Word choices are that much more careful now: I ask myself, always, what it is I am trying to say and what is the best way to actually say it. I am so excited to continue on this journey. I love learning new things (frankly, I love school!), and to feel tangible results is exhilarating. I don’t want to stop so expect more videos:)

Author Interview Series-Miranda Oh

Miranda Oh

Miranda Oh

Miranda Oh is the author of the successful Chick Lit series, Chin Up Tits Out!

Author Miranda Oh, a girl of Metis tradition and descent is your typical girl: She loves the sunset, loves long walks on the beach, world travels, and when not playing the corporate part she can be found sipping wine and spending all her hard-earned money on nice shoes. Among her friends and family, Miranda Oh is known to be the storyteller of the group, always recapping crazy life stories and situations. Her personal experiences, emotions and fantasies are the inspiration for most of her books, so there is a little bit of her in every story.

Marina Raydun: I love the title of your series. Very gutsy! How did that come about?

Miranda Oh: Thank-you, I also love the title! It’s my life motto! My mom used to tell me versions of Chin Up Tits Out while growing up, when I needed a boost of confidence. Shoulders back, chin up, chest out, head up is meant as a power pose, to look confident, therefore feel confident.

MR: Hadley is a very raw, real character. What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

MO: Real life is what made my characters who they are. Life experience, and reality is sometimes is stranger than actual fiction. So I try and mix the best of both worlds.  

MR: Which book in the series was more difficult to write—book one or two?

MO: Book two was a lot more difficult to write than book one. It is because reliving everything that transpired in my personal life to prepare to write book 2 was like opening up Pandora’s box in the back of my mind. It let out a lot of really heavy, deep, intense topics that came out in the book.  Then in true Chin Up Tits Out fashion, I had to find a way to spin everything positive with a little twist of sarcastic humor. It was a challenge, and wine was a huge lifesaver during the creation of book 2.

Miranda Oh

Miranda Oh

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters of opposite sex?

MO: As women, we understand and can appreciate (we should always appreciate) our minds, and how many millions of things can cross it in a split second. When writing from a male perspective, it is hard to shut off the female; million mile a minute brain, and just slow things down, and make them less complicated.

MR: How do you select names for your characters?

MO: I am legit the WORST at picking out names for my books. When I create a character that represents someone in my life, if their actual name starts with a ‘S’, for simplicity sake, I will turn their characters name into something that also starts with an ‘S’ – I know, it is the least creative thing about my writing. But I got to do what works for me, and that is what works for me. 

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your book, who would play them?

MO: Hadley would for sure be Jennifer Lawrence, or Emma Stone. Both of those actresses are extremely talented, unique, and unapologetically themselves, and that is Hadley through in through.

MR: What literary character is most like you?

MO: Well since I wrote a little bit about my life, I would say Hadley, the main character is a lot like me, although more refined, and more tailored. I am not that graceful, or seemingly put together in reality.

MR: Who is your literary crush?

MO: Which women doesn’t have a crush on the typical Fabio looking character on the front of romance novels? I always gawk at them when I pass through a book store. As to a specific crush, I do not have one…that I know of yet.

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

MO:  I had a good laugh reading this question, the answer is not really. I didn’t have to sneak it per say. I was however snooping for whatever I was snooping for as a kid, and found my parents stash of illicit books. Once they realized I found them, they mysteriously found a new hiding place.

MR: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?

MO: Why did I share my story?

The answer to that, is because I want to connect us as humans, and by connecting, we share stories. When we share stories, we share feelings, and when someone can resonate with a feeling, no matter the circumstances, we can connect on a deeper level. I am a firm believer in the idea of “together we are better”. The only way I felt I could be better, was to share my story, and it lead me to selling copies of my novels around the world. I am really happy and really proud of that accomplishment, the more people who read it, the more we all become connected, and that is my overall goal.

 To learn more about Miranda, please visit:

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@ohmirandaoh – Twitter

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For your copy of Chin Up Tits Out, please visit:


I was in high school when The Truman Show came out. My twenty-two year-old journalism teacher, Mr. V, highly recommended it, and he was the resident boy-genius at my inner city high school and would never steer me wrong so of course I dragged my BFF at the time to the movies one Saturday morning to see it for myself. I also had a vague crush on Jim Carrey growing up so we went to the movies often back in the ‘90s. That was years before our small, four-screen movie theater was closed to make room for one massive Walgreens.

Mr. V was right—the damn thing blew my sixteen-year-old mind! The sheer paranoia I felt as I crawled out of the darkened building reeking of old butter! Forever mind-numbingly sober, I wondered if that’s what it felt like being high. Was everything fake around us, I wondered as we crossed Coney Island Avenue, walking up Kings Highway back to my parents’ second American apartment. The sky—was it naturally blue or was it a set? Was someone behind all the green pedestrian lights? I drove my friend nuts all the thirteen street blocks up to my house but the whole euphoria of stumbling on something truly life-altering wore off by Monday. Having reported to my teacher that I saw and loved the movie, I was free to move on to whatever other obsession I was hyper-focused on at the time. It was either Spice Girls or Prince William, depending on the month. I don’t remember much about the specifics of the timing but eventually I must’ve decided that it was irrelevant to me if the sky was real or painted. Whether or not my environment was manipulated and/or manufactured, I still had to pretend to study for my SATs. If my sky was clear—it was worth it, regardless of whether or not there was a control booth involved. Growing up, my agnosticism decided there wasn’t, anyway.

Fast forward twenty years… whoa, I only now did the math… I need a minute…

Okay, ready.

So, fast forward twenty years. I am thirty-six. To escape reality if only for a week, I recently took a trip to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. I won’t name names for the sake of preserving some pretense of anonymity, but suffice it to say, it was warm, exclusive, and incredible. In fact, it was so incredible, that the many palm trees planted on the luscious grounds of this Vegas-like grandeur didn’t sway in the breeze. It was full on Truman Show again! I was sixteen again—back to Mr. V, back to Stan, my then-BFF. I swear to the deity of your choice, no matter the wind speed, those trees stayed put. Much can be discussed in rational and learned manner about manicured resorts in countries where cost of living for an average citizen leaves much to be desired and whether or not our going there helps by way of taxes and jobs or simply depletes the resources, but I must admit—I loved the picturesque sky and the perfectly still palm trees. I didn’t care if they were real. If any of it was. For a week, I felt safe and happy. It didn’t need to be real. In fact, I wanted there to be a control booth.

Is that what fiction is?

Edward Willett


Edward Willett is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages. His latest fantasy/science fiction novel for DAW Books is Worldshaper; it’s the start of a new series, Worldshapers. Other recent novels include the stand-alone science fiction novel The Cityborn (DAW Books), the five-book Shards of Excalibur YA fantasy series for Coteau Books, the Masks of Aygrima fantasy trilogy (written as E.C. Blake for DAW), and the Peregrine Rising science fiction duology for Bundoran Press. Ed won the Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English for Marseguro (DAW) in 2009. His nonfiction runs the gamut from local history to science books for children and adults to biographies of people as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and the Ayatollah Khomeini. In addition to writing, he’s a professional actor and singer, who has performed in numerous plays, musicals, and operas, and hosts the new podcast The Worldshapers, featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, with his wife, Margaret Anne Hodges, P.Eng., their teenaged daughter, Alice, and their black Siberian cat, Shadowpaw.

Marina Raydun: You are a very prolific author and write mostly in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. What is your favorite genre to read? 

Edward Willett: I read and enjoy science fiction and fantasy equally. Right now, my reading agenda is pretty much being set by my new podcast, The Worldshapers (, where I interview science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process. Since I’m doing this radical thing where I actually read the book (or books) we’re talking about before I talk to the authors (something I know from experience not all interviewers do!), and I’m doing an episode every two weeks, I’m pretty much only reading work by my guests. However, my guests have all been (and will continue to be) amazing authors, so I’m enjoying it. 

When I’m not reading science fiction and fantasy, I read non-fiction on any topic that catches my interest. (Often, I read these books out loud to my wife—the kitchen is too small for us to work together on meals, so she cooks while I read.) Recent non-fiction books I’ve read have included biographies (most recently of Leonardo da Vinci), science books, history books, and a book about Icelandic volcanoes (because, why not?).

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

EW: I don’t know that it’s underappreciated—I think it was pretty successful—but one of the most fascinating fantasies I’ve ever read, and one I still think about even though it’s been almost ten years since it came out, is Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, and its sequel, Dreamquake. The story is set in a world much like ours except for the existence of The Place, inaccessible to anyone except Dreamhunters, who can enter it and capture larger-than-life dreams which are then relayed to audiences in the magnificent Rainbow Palace. But the Place hides a terrifying secret which 15-year-old Laura is about to discover...

Highly recommended!

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? 

EW: I can imagine topics I would rather not write about, but no, not really: not as long as I thought I could write about it well and honestly. 

MR: Your background is in journalism. How does this color your fiction writing? Also, what is Weird Al like? 

EW: I think the main thing I brought from journalism to fiction was the ability to simply sit down and write. I’ve never suffered from what I would call writer’s block. I’ve suffered from writer’s laziness, which isn’t the same thing, and writer’s procrastination, which is endemic, but put me in front of a keyboard and I can write. The world of journalism is a world of deadlines: the newspaper comes out when it comes out, and you have to have your story ready in time to make it into print.

The other advantage, I think, is practice in organizing my thoughts before I start writing. That’s not to say I don’t revise my first drafts of stories and novels—but those first drafts are really pretty good. I think the years of writing for a newspaper helped with that. 

Weird Al, whom I interviewed for the Regina Leader Post when he was coming to town for a concert, was great! I really enjoyed talking to him. (He’s not really that weird...but he is very funny.) 

MR: As a fiction writer, what is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

EW: When I first have an idea for a story, it seems, in my mind, to be perfect and complete, a glistening globe of perfection like a Christmas ornament. The process of actually writing the story feels to me like taking that Christmas ornament, smashing it with a hammer, and then trying to glue it back together using words.

So, the difficult part is choosing the words and scenes and characters and dialogue that will convey to the reader the ideas I want to convey, to try to recreate in their mind that perfect image I had of the story before I began. Writing, though it feels solitary, is actually collaborative: you’re collaborating with your readers, and those readers are not you, so they bring to your work references and memories and connections that you don’t have. They reconstruct the story you think you’re telling in their mind, and it may not be at all the story you intended...and yet, their version of the story is every bit as “true” as your version.

The other challenging thing? To keep readers interested, for the hours it will take them to read a novel. My biggest fear is being boring! 

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

EW: I alternate between feeling very successful and a complete failure. Sometimes I feel successful because I’ve written more than sixty books (counting all the non-fiction), which have been published by multiple publishers; I’ve won awards; I’ve gotten some excellent reviews. Then I’ll feel a failure because my sales aren’t what I’d like, I’m not fabulously wealthy, no movies or TV shows have been made of my books, and most readers of science fiction and fantasy have never heard of me, even though I’m published by a major science fiction and fantasy publisher, DAW Books. But that’s just life. We’re never satisfied. Objectively, after twenty-five years of full-time freelancing and millions of published words, I haven’t done too badly in a notoriously iffy occupation! 

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

EW: Best? I’ve had two starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, one for Magebane (written as Lee Arthur Chane), and one for my newest novel, Worldshaper. Those always make me feel good. Worst would be the one by some hatchet-job reviewer on Goodreads (someone who has written dozens of one-star reviews, seemingly picking books to savage at random) for Masks, first book in my Masks of Aygrima trilogy, written as E.C. Blake, which begins, “This book is not so much fantasy as toilet paper...” But the same book had terrific reviews elsewhere. Go figure.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? 

EW: Hm. This depends on your definition of “friends.” I’m friendly with, as in able to say “Hi” to and chat a bit, with a LOT of writers, whom I’ve met at science fiction conventions: people like John Scalzi, Tad Williams, Seanan McGuire, Lee Modesitt Jr., Guy Gavriel Kay, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Haldeman...and many others. 

I know a lot of Canadian writers a bit better, people like Tanya Huff and Julie Czerneda and Hayden Trenholm and Arthur Slade, and, again, many others. 

But topping the list would have to be Robert J. Sawyer. I’ve known him for more than twenty years now, and I can definitely say he helped me become a better writer, because twice he’s been my writing teacher, through the Writing with Style program at the Banff Centre. I went twice, both because I loved it and because the first time I had a non-fiction deadline and spent most of my time there writing a biography of the Ayatollah Khomeini instead of completely focusing on science fiction. 

The second time, in 2005, Rob came into the classroom one morning and told us to write the opening to a story, cold, no preparation: just...go!

I wrote: 

Emily streaked through the phosphorescent sea, her wake a comet-tail of pale green light, her close-cropped turquoise hair surrounded by a glowing pink aurora. The water racing through her gill-slits smelled of blood. 

My classmates thought it sounded interesting, so, as the week progressed, I turned that opening into a short story, “Sins of the Father.” However, I never submitted it anywhere. Before I got around to it, DAW picked up my novel Lost in Translation, originally published by Five Star, for a mass-market-paperback release, and Ethan Ellenberg agreed to be my agent. Needing something to propose to DAW for my next book, I took the seeds I had planted in “Sins of the Father” and let them sprout into the synopsis for what became Marseguro, my second novel published by DAW (and my first written for them), and winner of the 2009 Aurora Award (honoring Canadian science fiction and fantasy) for Best Long-Form Work in English. The sequel, Terra Insegura, followed. (The two were later published under one cover in an omnibus edition, The Helix War.)

So, that was 150,000 words of fiction and a major award, all of which began with one writing exercise set by my fellow writer and friend Robert J. Sawyer! 

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

EW: I’d love to sit down and talk to Jesus one-on-one and ask Him how accurately His life has been portrayed down through the centuries. It’d be cheap, too: I’d bring water, He could make wine. Also, there are a few minor ailments I wouldn’t mind having healed... 

MR: You have recently ventured into the world of podcasting. How does being a writer translate into broadcasting and interviewing? Asking for a friendJ

EW: My podcast, The Worldshapers, is very much focused on writing: in each episode, I chat with an author about the creative process. As of now, I’ve talked to Robert J. Sawyer, Tanya Huff, John Scalzi, Julie Czerneda, and Arthur Slade. Confirmed guests include Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman, Gareth L. Powell, Seanan McGuire, Kim Harrison, Tosca Lee, and David Brin...and several others.

I think the fact I am myself a multiply published author helps me with these interviews because all of us as authors are dealing with the same challenges as we move from idea to finished novel, shaping the setting, characters, plot, dialogue, and everything else, writing and revising and being edited.  

Interviewing is of course something I’ve done my whole career, since I started as a newspaper reporter and continue to freelance for magazines and other publications. And on the broadcasting side, I’ve done radio my whole career, too, both as a guest and as a host.

Since my new book is about people who shape worlds (which is why it’s called, duh, Worldshaper), this seemed like an auspicious time to launch something I’ve thought about doing for years. It seems to be going well, and I can’t wait to talk to the many great authors I’m lining up...and read their books!

Again, its website is, and it’s also widely available through many other podcast sources, including iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher, and more. Please check it out!

To learn more about Edward Willett, please visit:

 Online bookstore:

The Worldshapers podcast website: 





Amazon page:


Write What You Know

Strictly speaking, if we all stuck to specifically what we know, we'd wind up with pretty limited fiction. If female authors couldn't write male characters and vice versa, if straying from your decade was frowned upon etc, there'd be no historical fiction, no thrillers, and certainly no sci-fi. But what do I know? I'm an immigrant who came here at the tender age of eleven, peaked in college, and graduated from law school to become a suburban mom. Should I stick to writing about the frustrations of learning another language while tweening? Or sticking out law school because frankly it is just too darn expensive to quit? Or maybe I should focus on wearing leggings and driving an SUV to PTA meetings? Maybe. But that would predictable, if not boring. I like to research, I like to put my sense of empathy to good use, I apparently like to take risks. Based on my life choices, who would've thought?!

And yet, sometimes I am drawn to writing exactly what I know. I was invited to be a guest blogger on a wonderful literary blog this month but, unfortunately, the head admin of the blog had to shut down the site temporarily due to personal issues. I was bummed. I already had a decent seven page draft of an essay on how my immigrant experience colors my writing. I abandoned the aforementioned draft when the gig was cancelled, but I will return to it. Eventually. The reason being is that my first year in America sucked. In no way am I claiming to be alone in the shitty immigrant experience, but my family's unique set of circumstances does set us apart. That year was a formative one and I desperately want to write about it. In this era of fear of immigrants, one would hope this work of non-fiction would find its reader. The reason why I've been putting it off (I have about three chapters, written roughly a decade ago, stored on my computer and backed up G-d knows where) is because I am afraid that my honesty would hurt (or at the very least upset) certain members of my family. I think we need some more distance between 1994 and the present. In the meantime, perhaps the middle ground lives in the form of fictionalized experiences. Which I suppose what all fiction is to begin with, but I digress.

This brings me to Keith Gessen's A Terrible Country. Which I loved, by the way! It's clearly a work of fiction but it's also very clearly a lived work of fiction. The author is obviously familiar with what became of my old country (or rather, its neighbor); the intimacy is apparent in the writing. Keith Gessen is a journalist and a writer who's been to the former Soviet Union countless times and he conveys the nuances of what it must be like to grow up in America to then suddenly find yourself in your birth country that has undergone tremendous transformation since you've last seen it. The loneliness, the isolation is written with such care, such precision. The gap in his Russian vocabulary, lack of that instinctive grasp of the current culture and politics. It's all highly relatable, even though the last time I visited the city that was my home between the ages of four and eleven was in 1995. Is it the author's experience, research, or imagination that produced such a delicate product? Perhaps a bit of each. On the other hand, the second theme of the book is the protagonist's relationship with his aging grandmother, who is slowly but undeniably falling into the abyss of Dementia. Does Mr. Gessen have personal experience with this too? I don't know. Whether he does or not, clearly his life experience and talent were enough to help him write one gut-wrenching account of what it must be like to be losing your loved one despite their physical presence and agility.

So what's the verdict? Write what you know?

Currently reading: This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

Six Months in Books

Summer is a busy time around my house. What used to be my writing hours are no longer mine at all. Summer is a competitive time for a writer (who doesn't want to be read at the beach?!), but if you're writer who's also a parent, summer is also a tough time on the production end. I'm working on my upcoming novel-Good Morning, Bellingham. It's about half way there. This will be a multiple POV psychological thriller and I'm unreasonably giddy about it. I like to push myself to experiment with different genres and can't wait to share it with the world, but it'll be a little while before I'll be able to announce a release date. Why? See above! Still, a stout believer in routine and maintaining muscle memory, I try to write something every day just to keep the muse happy. Sometimes, it's only a long-winded e-mail, but it's summer so it counts! Again, see above! Summer sucks! This Six Months in Books update is a writing exercise of sorts. Plus, everybody looks for book recommendations in the summer. Two birds? Here we go...

January through June 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson


This book fell into my lap (or rather, my car's Bluetooth) at the most opportune time-my father had just passed away after five and a half months of torture that is pancreatic cancer. Though we knew from day one that prognosis wasn't optimistic in the least, his actual death came fast: Tuesday, I am driving him to see his oncologist about canceling his treatment in favor of in-home hospice, and Saturday morning he is gone. Left behind was hospice equipment that had barely had the time to be delivered, a boatload of medications, and a lifetime (at least an American one) of acquired junk. Clothes and shoes never worn, countless loose post-its with unidentified phone numbers, and three sheds of cables and screws. Torn between grief and practicality, we cleaned fast. So needless to say, when I came across a title with the words Death and Cleaning in it, it caught my attention. 

I was expecting a how-to, which, luckily, this wasn't. Now that I think about it, how could Ms. Magnusson tell me what to get rid of and what to keep? She didn't try and I thank her. These decisions are tremendously personal. For me, this book served as a gentle kick in the butt to start downsizing now. Hopefully I'll have enough time to do a decent enough job of it before it's my time so as not to leave my mess for my loved ones to deal with. All in all, this was an interesting perspective to read and it did inspire a change in my life. Recommend!

Read more about my thoughts on the book here:

Train Girl by Kristina Rienzi


I received this short story free of charge as a token of thanks from the author for joining her mailing list. Which is a neat idea, I admit. I, too, must come up with a tangible reward for signing up for my mailing list. Somebody please remind me to do this!

I actually interviewed Kristina back in February of this year. You can read our interview here: The story is incredibly short and is a real page turner. Which, of course, means I swallowed it in one sitting (yes, I read this one instead of listening to it!). It was suspenseful and engaging and the ending was a twist I was not expecting. Recommend!

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris


I could not, would not put this down (or turn it off). I got this recommendation on a facebook book group and it was so totally worth it. I listened every chance I got! Even if it meant five minutes at a time, I had to listen. Behind Closed Doors truly kept me on the edge of my seat. I was able to visualize everything so clearly, the writing is that crystal clear. Highly recommend! 

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris


Having loved Behind Closed Doors so much, I had to see what else B.A. Paris had to offer. The Breakdown did not disappoint.  Definitely recommend. I will be reading more B.A. Paris books in the near future, I'm sure!

The Girl Before by JP Delaney


A sucker for anything British, I do have a bias for books set across the pond. Now that I listen to books, the fact that they are narrated with a British accent is an added bonus. I don't remember now how I came across this title but it was an engaging one. The suspense was executed well and the ending was a bit of a surprise. All in all, a fascinating read.

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani


I'm sorry to say, but this was a total disappointment for me. The book is a winner of a very prestigious award and I feel a bit like a jackass for finding it overrated. It goes for profound, grappling with some serious societal issues, but winds up stretched very thin and superficial. I just did not like it, although I read it very fast (and at the beach). I have a separate entry about this one. Read it here:

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline


A reader at a street fair recommended this book to me. I won't lie-the whole thing did remind me of a quintessential Lifetime movie but it did hold my attention. The twist wasn't entirely unexpected, but the execution was entertaining. 

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld


Short stories are my jam! I find it such an intriguing and difficult genre. Putting out a compilation of short stories is on my bucket list. It's an ambitious dream. It's collections like this one that make it seem so intimidating because, oh my G-d, these stories right here are just sheer brilliance. So poignant and nuanced. So relatable. If you like short stories, please do yourself a favor and check out this book. One of my favorites!

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy


This was the one "the new Gone Girl" book that did not disappoint. Good suspense, yes, but it also delved into some real struggles that new mothers face. Highly recommend.

Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking


There are many Little Books out there nowadays. I was afraid this one was going to be a preachy book about finding your happiness. I don't do those. I'm one of those rare few people out there who did not like Eat, Pray, Love. But no, this wound up reading like a funny scholarly paper with a bit of statistics and anthropology. It was fun. I now want to learn how to ride a bike and light some candles. 

Author Interview Series-Margaret Gurevich

Margaret Gurevich

Margaret Gurevich

Margaret Gurevich is the author of many books for kids, including Capstone’s Academy of Dance series, Gina’s Balance, and their award-winning Chloe by Design series. She has also written for National Geographic Kids and Penguin Young Readers. When she’s not writing and teaching, she likes exercising, spending time with her family and friends, reading, and watching movies.

Marina Raydun: You work within the MG genre.  What is it about that age group that makes you want to reach out to kids and young adults via fiction?

Margaret Gurevich: I love connecting with the MG age group. There are serious topics tackled but in a manner relatable to the tween. I remember that age, and knowing someone understood what I was going through was everything.

MR: What were some of your favorite books as a middle schooler?

MG: As a middle schooler, I gravitated to adult as well as children’s books. I loved Agatha Christie at that age, but I also enjoyed The Secret Garden, all books by S.E. Hinton, The Babysitters Club series, and more.

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

MG: My mom was very open to whatever I read. I was lucky that way.

MR: You were born in Belarus (where I lived between the ages of 3 and 11), but moved to the United States at a very young age. Are you bilingual?  Which language lends itself better to storytelling?

MG: I can speak Russian and English, but English comes easier. There are many Russian words I have forgotten as there is no one to practice speaking with.

MR: What affect do you feel growing up in family of immigrants had (and continues to have) on your writing?

MG: I like this question! I would say the biggest effect was being brought here to have the life my parents could not. We actually came here as refugees, not immigrants. Growing up, I was always told about the opportunities I could have. I took that to heart. Writing was always my dream, and I wanted to do everything possible to achieve it.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

MG: The self-doubt that creeps up is always an issue, but I push through it. 

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

MG: There’s a poem I wrote when I was seven that my mom still has. I rhymed twirl with chocolate swirl. I think that speaks for itself.

You can learn more about Margaret by visiting and

Author Interview Series-Mira Awad

Mira Awad

Mira Awad

Mira Awad

Singer, songwriter and actress. Born 1975 in Rameh village in the Galilee (Israel) to a
Palestinian father and Bulgarian mother. As a relentless Artivista, Mira makes a point of promoting dialogue through all the art forms she practices. As actress she participated in numerous bi-lingual productions, as singer she has made the point of collaborating with artists from both sides of the conflict, to bring forth a model of co-existence. As writer she created TV formats promoting dialogue, and a TV drama series that deals with the Palestinian-Israeli identity. As composer, Mira developed a unique fusion of sounds, combining the East with the West, weaving the Arabic language and it's oriental ornaments with Western harmonies. She also composes music for film and theatre. 

Marina Raydun: I referred to you as a poet once and you corrected me, saying that you’ve
always thought of yourself as a songwriter, not a poet. What is the
relationship between lyrics and poetry?

Mira Awad: Well, I do have the habit of shying away from titles, but after giving your question some thought, I do think a song is some form of a poem after all. Once words are intentionally put together to describe a situation, or an emotion, they are poetry. And like in poetry, lyrics may come in many styles and rhythms, with or without rhymes, they may be strictly structured or freely flowing in an associative manner, this would necessarily affect the way they are put to music. 

MR: Is music in your family or did you fall into songwriting on your own?

MA: Yes, music is in my family, both my parents have musical hearing and beautiful singing voices. From my mother's side there are even musicians, in different levels of professionalism. However, as far as I know, I am the first composer. I started writing songs at a very early age, I cannot recall how I started scribbling words and why they became tunes, but nowadays I think maybe if there were existing songs in my language that portrayed the emotions that I had wanted to describe I would not have had the need to write new ones. I may be mistaken of course, and maybe the need to write songs is stronger than circumstance.


MR: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had

MA: I think I had that realization quite early in life. As I come from a multicultural family, I spoke three languages up to the age of 5, and could connect the different parts of my family together. Although I could not make that assessment as a child, that fact put me in the bridging position early in life.

MR: A couple of years ago you put a few poems by Mahmoud Darwish to music. 
What was your biggest challenge with this project? Having asked
that—biggest reward?

MA: The biggest challenge was that the poems were already put to music by a big Lebanese artist called Marcel Khalifeh, and his songs had a big popularity in the Arab world. I had been commissioned to write the music for a theatre play made of Darwish's poems, and felt that the original tunes could not serve the drama depicted on stage, and suggested to the director we re-compose them to serve the play. I did not know how this would be accepted by Palestinian crowds who know the original tunes, and I think opinions are divided regarding this: some appreciate the modern take on the very well known poems, and some feel it was presumptuous of me to even think I could do a better job than Khalifeh (which was never my intent). Regarding the reward, well, besides the actual rewards this project got (I received composer of the year in the theatre awards for that year, and also an award from Acum, the Israeli organization for composers), the biggest reward is when young Palestinians tell me I have revived Darwish for them, and even more, when Israelis , who were usually exposed to Darwish in a demonizing way, tell me I have introduced his poetry to them in a way they can connect to.

MR: You’re a true Renaissance woman—you’re a songwriter, a singer, an actress, 
a graphic artist, and a screenwriter. Does your creative method vary from
medium to medium?

MA: Calling it a "creative method" gives me a lot of undeserved credit, as if I have a planned process I go through in order to create. All the medias you mentioned are ways of expression, each one of them appeals to different senses, but all come from the same need to release what is within, whether in shapes, colors, words, melodies or stories. The process may vary, a creation may start from a private or a shared session of improvisation, or from an idea that then needs to take shape. Creativity is my therapy, that’s why I also developed workshops for creativity, to encourage others, who may not consider themselves artists, to uncover the creativity within them as well. I believe we are all born extremely creative, and I believe that when we release these creative energies, we are happier people.

MR: Your upcoming TV Series, Muna, is about a relationship between an Arab
Palestinian living in Tel Aviv and an Israeli Jew from Sderot and what
happens to their bond with the commencement of military operation
Protection Border in Gaza. You are a tireless advocate for peace and
coexistence. Is this project a part of that effort for you? What inspired you to
turn to screenwriting in particular?

MA: My TV drama Muna deals with the same story that I try to tell using all other medias: my identity, as a Palestinian living in Israel. Only this time I chose to bring it forth with a story, and not with a song. While songs may remain in the metaphoric realms, a scenario allowed me to treat the subject more directly, and go more in depth into the conflicts and the complexity. My only experience in scriptwriting comes from being an actress, acting out other people's scripts, and with the years I developed my own taste in what would be a good story or a good scene, and that's what lead me through the process. However, I did have scriptwriter Maya Hefner and director Ori Sivan working with me on Muna, so, although I came up with the story, the series is eventually a joint effort, and the process was yet another big lesson in collaboration.

MR: If you had to do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a
better writer as an adult, what would you do?

MA: I would have worked to release my creative energies more, to learn how to channel my thoughts more freely, something that had taken me years to develop.
That is why I also believe that education for creative thinking should be included in school curriculums.

MR: What, if anything, do you owe real life people who serve as an inspiration for
your characters, be it in a TV show, or perhaps a song?

MA: Everything is inspired by real life, by people I meet, and situations I encounter. Clearly these things get processed through my individual outlook on life, but nothing is created from nothingness.


MR: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?


Q: "In the eyes of the public, an artist only exists when they share their art. Is it frustrating that people sometimes ask why you disappeared?"

And the answer is: Yes. Sometimes I am frustrated that audiences don't consider the incubation time that I need as an artist, and if I'm not sharing a new song or new concert on my [facebook page], or if I'm not on some morning TV show, then it's as if I'm not doing anything. The truth is that the incubation time, the time that it takes to form a new project, is real life for me. When it is time to share it, it means the creative process has ended and the marketing phase had started, which is nothing about artistic expression and all about sales. I'm sure you can imagine that I would have preferred to remain a private individual in an ongoing creative process, but hey, we all need to make a living somehow.

To learn more about Mira Awad, please visit

Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes is a writer of plays and short stories from Jersey City, N.J. She is also a director, actress and event producer and is absolutely in love with theater. She has won multiple awards including a commendation from the New Jersey State Assembly, the Permanent Career Award in Writing from the Society of Arts and Letters-NJ and the N.J. Governor’s Award in Arts Education.

As a woman of Chinese, Spanish and Filipino descent, she is passionate about increasing diversity in the arts, a common mission for both her theater companies, Thinking In Full Color and 68 Productions. You may also know her from her work as an arts journalist covering Hudson County, N.J.

She would like to thank the Lord for His many blessings and her loving family for their support, especially her husband Greg and her stepson Greg Jr.


Marina Raydun: Is there a book that changed your life?

Summer Dawn Reyes: I think the most influential books for many of us are the ones we embrace in our youth, the ones that taught us to love reading. For me, this was the Nancy Drew series. I picked them up when I was maybe as young as 5 or 6, and couldn’t put them down. I wanted to read as many of them as possible, and every one was more intriguing than the next. I loved the covers and their dark, mysterious feel. I loved the girl power in the triumvirate of Nancy, Bess and George. It sold me on the entire mystery genre, which was by far my favorite until middle school. What I really loved was flipping to the back to read the ending, and then spending the rest of the read trying to see if the author had masterfully laid out the plot to get there.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

SDR: It’s not really underappreciated, but I think Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is so overshadowed by the musical’s success that many people don’t even know there is a book. They just assume the musical is derived from the movie (which I’m sure they don’t realize is from a book too). Wicked is so rich and so nuanced, and the world is so well fleshed out. There is racism and deviance and traditions, all of these layers that are just delicious. And of course, all the characters are way more fleshed out and serious and darker than musical fans would realize. I think anyone who is a fan of the Wizard of Oz universe in any of its depictions should actually sit down and read Wicked and enjoy it as a book.

MR: Who is your literary hero?

SDR: This is probably really cliché, but my literary hero is Shakespeare. I am a playwright and am deeply involved in theater -- I have my own theater company, Thinking In Full Color, which is devoted to sharing stories by women of color. I am also a director, theatrical production manager and actor. And none of this would’ve come to be if I hadn’t fallen in love with the Bard. He is just a master of exploring different depths -- debating philosophical issues on minute, and making cuckold jokes the next. Every single author has so much to learn from him. I can offer nothing new on the subject of his great merit.

MR: Who is your literary crush?

SDR: For some reason I feel like this question wants me to pick a fictional character instead, so I will! I always felt Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights was just dark and brooding and sexy in that stereotypical way, so I’d totally hit it. I would also totally crush on Lisbeth Salander from The Millenium Trilogy, but I doubt she’d give me the time of day (though who knows, maybe someday I’ll get cast as her lover Miriam Wu in something!) As for someone I’d actually want to settle down with….I’m not sure. Most really well developed literary characters are somehow awful, that’s what makes them interesting.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

SDR: To write, I pretty much just need a good beginning. I need inspiration, obviously, but also the first good sentence or paragraph. That for me is everything. Once I have a beginning, jumping off and following my characters’ paths is easy. But sometimes that beginning doesn’t come easily, and other days it just doesn’t come. Besides that, my biggest challenge is just finding time to write.

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

SDR: I like to think that I wouldn’t necessarily close myself off from writing about something, but there are definitely some genres or subjects that just don’t interest me. I’m not really into drug culture, cowboys, or like, gross aliens. I’m fine with extraterrestrial intelligence and cultures, but not into just big, slimy, three-headed, no-faced, tentacled monsters. Also I guess I wouldn’t write anything racist, misogynist, sexist, queerphobic or otherwise hateful and discriminatory.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

SDR: I’m friends with many writers, but I’m unfortunately not really active in any author communities. There is an organization in my area called Jersey City Writers that is really cool and I’ve thought of joining, but I feel like my personal writing (or rather, work) style doesn’t fit into writing clubs in general. I have, however, participated as an actor for their genre nights, when they challenge their writers to create something outside their comfort zone!

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

SDR:  In a literary vein, Shakespeare for sure, but I also really love science and fine art so I’d love to hang with Francis Crick, who sounds like a hoot, or maybe Da Vinci, Vermeer or Caravaggio (I won’t play tennis with him, though!).

MR: What is your biggest failure?

SDR: It’s probably not the worst thing I’ve done, but it is something that still bothers me when I think about it -- I messed up my Common App because I didn’t realize they didn’t allow you to change certain sections after submitting it anywhere, so one of my attached essays was only good for one school but not the others. I panicked and mailed my application to Harvard and wrote a note saying I was totally sorry I sent the wrong essay. I just looked like a big dumbass. ...And I still got on the waitlist. I would always wonder what would’ve happened if I just did the application right. I ended up taking some Harvard classes online, and ultimately not really going anywhere because I had to take care of my chronically ill mother, and I regret my whole higher education experience (or non-experience) in general. But I’m still hella smart, and I know someday I could still go back. We’ll see.

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

SDR: Yes! But doesn’t everybody have those?


To learn more about Summer Dawn Reyes, you can follow her on Instagram @summeringo


  • Boys I Haven’t Loved Yet (Coming Soon!)
  • how to destroy the patriarchy in seven days
  • In Full Color Anthology (Editor and Contributor)

All available at



Author Interview Series-Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak is an author, poet, and game designer. Born in Brooklyn in 1993, he studied creative writing at Purchase College, where he wrote the first chapters of his debut novel. After graduating, he published Aimless Sky in 2016, followed by The Phoenix Express in 2017. His poetry has also appeared in Italics Mine and New York’s Best Emerging Poets, and he contributed pieces to Hexblood Tales, Vol. 1 and College of Wizardry: The Magic of Participation in Harry Potter Larps. He currently lives in Jersey City, NJ.

Marina Raydun: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

Nicolas Hornyak: My favorite novel of all time is fortunately also underappreciated. It’s this rather unheard of book called When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon, which was published in 1993 in Ireland. It is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, but the protagonist is gay and closeted in a time where LGBT issues weren’t well regarded. Lennon really captures the almost inherent futility of existing when you’re even just a little different, and captures the gay nightclub scene of Dublin in a magical yet tragic way. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s queer today.

MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

NH: I don’t have a particular piece in mind, but as a game designer, I love reading documentation about live-action roleplaying, or LARP. These games are a sort of masterclass in storytelling, because the audience of LARPs are also the cast. You almost never see that in theater or cinema. And when you partake in LARP, you suspend reality, substituting it for an alternate portrayal shared by the people around you. In those moments, nonfiction becomes fiction, and fiction becomes nonfiction. You cannot tell the story of your characters without understand that you played them, and so they might as well be real. But you existed in a physical space that transformed into a reasonably fictional setting for the duration of the game. The documentation behind every LARP is a look at how fiction becomes real, and that is fascinating every time.

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

NH: I’m a really big fan of science fiction and fantasy, and thus far, I haven’t really published anything outside of speculative fiction. The Phoenix Express is the closest I’ve come to a literary work. 

MR: What are you currently reading?

NH: I am currently reading a book about the craft called The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. Since my two books have addressed themes of grief and mourning, The Art of Death is my attempt to explore why I did what I did. It’s very good. It subtly teaches lessons about writing via a memoir about the author’s deceased mother and her own explorations into the question of death. I will probably be rereading it for a very long time.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

NH: It kind of…didn’t. At least not all that much. My first book was episodic, with each of the long chapters published as a serial through Patreon before the full book came out. The sequel was also episodic, so the process stayed the same. Things didn’t change until I left Patreon before working on releasing the full sequel. Without a set monthly schedule, I pivoted to writing my novella whenever the inspiration struck me. In the end, I published that book second, and the sequel to my first novel is going to be edited and hopefully published this year. 

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

NH: The best review was on The Phoenix Express, where someone praised how much history, heroism, and feminism I packed into a small novella. I worked really hard to tell a story about this middle-aged courier who travels through time, so to see that someone noticed the lack of male characters and the historical nods was amazing. I’ve not received a bad book review yet, but I’ve definitely been called “bland and uninteresting” for short story submissions. I guess I make a better novelist than I do a short form writer.

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

NH: Omph, tough question. I guess the best answer I can give is that I owe them my friendship and love, unless they would rather abuse or toss it aside. At that point, I don’t owe them a thing. It’s definitely a brutal answer to your question, but I prefer to keep my characters very distinguished from the people I know for this exact reason.

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

NH: Probably my own self-doubt. I think a writer wants to do their very best to craft authentic and relatable characters. But sometimes, I do feel that for all my feminism and woman’s rights activism, I’m still doubting the choices I write into every female character of mine. It doesn’t help that I dabble in escapism, and that includes crafting worlds with better rights for women. But it is infinitely better to try and learn from experience though, and feminism only succeeds if everyone, regardless of gender identity, works for that better world.

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your books, who would play your characters?

NH: I think from The Phoenix Express¸ Elmira would be played by Freida Pinto, while Malikah would be voiced by Eliza Dushku. In Aimless Sky, Sky Ashworth would be played by a younger Dev Patel. Never really had an answer for Chelsea Alawi, but her character was influenced by Gina Torres’s performance in Firefly.

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

NH: I’m not sure, actually. As a writer, you don’t want to limit yourself, but you do see the lines which you try not to cross. From a game designer perspective, I don’t write about sexual assault at all, because that’s not a topic players can have fun or enjoy a game with. As an author, consent between characters is always on my mind, if only to set a good example, but I’ve read plenty of books which discuss sexual assault. But one topic? Well, I’m almost certainly never going to write about pedophilia. And I think part of it is because there’s a history of queer individuals being labeled as pedophiles (which is obviously not true), and since I’m a bisexual man who likes to write narratives that involve queer characters, there’s no compatibility.

If you would like to learn more about Nicolas Hornyak’s work, check out

His latest work of fiction, The Phoenix Express, is available for purchase at



Author Interview Series-Patrice Hannon

Patrice Hannon


Patrice Hannon

Patrice Hannon

Patrice Hannon holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and a B.A. from Saint Peter’s College, both in English.  Patrice is the author of Black Tom: A Novel of Sabotage in New York Harbor, Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love, and 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen.  She taught English full-time at Rutgers University, Vassar College, and Stockton University.  A Jersey City native, she now lives in New York.  Recently, Patrice read from and discussed Black Tom in the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Patrice can be contacted through her website,

Marina Raydun: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?  

Patrice Hannon: That question is broad enough to be taken in any number of ways.  What comes to mind is how my reading when I was in the graduate English program at Rutgers—literary criticism and theory as well as primary texts—changed my experience of literature.  Even if I don’t literally have a pen in my hand, taking notes as I read in preparation for a class or an essay, I read as a teacher, critic, and writer.  I’m very much aware of style, of the ways a writer is achieving effects at every level.   

MR: If you had to do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

PH: Although I know I could be a better writer, I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done differently as a child to make that happen.  As is the case with so many writers, I read voraciously when I was young.  I memorized poems.  I also wrote poetry and stories under the influence of those models.  I believe (as do many) that aspiring writers should immerse themselves in great literature.  Although heaven knows not everything I read was great—I read comic books too—I experienced again and again the thrilling pleasure of some of the most beautiful and powerful language, the most captivating stories, ever written.  Reading was the source of my desire and, to a great extent, my ability to be a writer.             

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

PH: The first draft!  I often start a scene or chapter or book without a clear plan for how all the pieces will fall together.  The whole only takes shape as I write, so I have to keep making that leap of faith and start writing without necessarily knowing what will develop—how the plot will unfold, what the characters will do.  The fear is that nothing will develop, but fortunately that is almost never the case.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

PH: Publishing my first book did change my writing process for the next book but I don’t know that it’s made any permanent changes.  After my first book, Dear Jane Austen, was published, I was approached by Paula Munier, an editor at Adams Media, and asked to write 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Jane Austen.  I started working under a tight deadline on a book that required a lot of research and I knew the only way I would make the deadline was to give myself a daily word quota.  The pressure to meet these self-imposed quotas was intense and I would sometimes go for days without leaving my apartment or getting much sleep.  I also didn’t have the luxury of endless revision.  With my next book, a still-unpublished novel, I returned to writing at a less manic pace.          

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

PH: Not a whole book (thank goodness) but yes, I see things here and there in all my books that I would change if I could.  I won’t be specific, though, since I don’t want to point out my lapses to readers who might have missed them.

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

PH: I’m happy to say I’ve received many wonderful reviews in newspapers, on blogs, on Amazon, and in other places.  I applaud the excellent judgment shown by the wise authors of such brilliant commentary on my work.  It would be hard to single out one of those reviews as the best.  Naturally, a few bad reviews stand out in my mind.

Although 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen was generally well received, one Amazon reviewer was disappointed by the misleading title and pointed out that my book did not, in fact, contain 101 entirely new, hitherto unknown facts about Jane Austen.  (My book was part of the 101 Things You Didn’t Know About _____ series, in which I suspect all the titles are similarly deficient.)

Another reviewer highly praised the content of the book but took off two stars because she didn’t like its physical dimensions (more or less square) or the fact that there were no illustrations.

The Books Editor of one newspaper trashed Dear Jane Austen on principle (there were too many books about Jane Austen published that year) while admitting he hadn’t read it and wouldn’t bother to.  I in turn was so offended by his savaging of a book he refused even to open that I called him at the paper and left a voicemail message.  He called back and we talked, eventually making peace.  He acknowledged that it was in fact possible to create a good book that took as its starting point the work of another author.

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

PH: To name just a few: to the grave of William Butler Yeats in Drumcliffe Churchyard, County Sligo, “Joyce’s Tower” in Sandycove, and Mulligan’s pub, also in Dublin.  Staying with Dublin, to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was dean and where he is buried.  I adore Dickens so The Dickens Museum in London was a must (along with, of course, Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey).  On a trip to Rome I visited the house where Keats died (The Keats-Shelley House).  Ten years ago I was invited to attend the Jane Austen’s Regency World Awards dinner, organized by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.  101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen had been nominated for an award.  (It won!)  While in Bath I visited many places associated with Jane Austen and her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.  On the same trip I spent three days in Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a seaside resort Jane Austen had visited, also the setting of a key scene in Persuasion.  I absolutely loved Lyme, particularly the romantic seawall known as the Cobb, famous not only for its role in Persuasion but also in John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  There are many more places, particularly in London, Dublin, and of course New York City, where I live.    

MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?

PH: People who don’t know me might be surprised to learn that I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  It was my favorite book when I was a teenager but I hadn’t reread it for many years when I learned of the planned film adaptation.  I read it again at that time to see if, after studying and teaching the greatest literature I would still love and admire this work of fantasy from my youth.  I certainly did!  I was inspired to write an essay about Tolkien’s masterpiece [read it here:].

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

PH: I can’t think of one.  

MR: What are you currently reading?

PH: I just started reading The Green Man by Kingsley Amis.  I picked up a copy at a used book sale decades ago.  Last year I finally read Lucky Jim and thought it was one of the funniest novels I’d ever read so when I spotted The Green Man in my bookcase last week I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m enjoying it very much.



Death Cleaning

Death Cleaning



It's been a month since dad died. And today I finished reading The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. Coincidence? No. The timing of it all is what attracted me to the title in the first place, the reason being that I've been on a mission to declutter for quite some time now, even before my dad ever truly passed away. This obsession began when he was still dying. Call it a coping mechanism, a distraction. Plus clutter gives me anxiety and boy, do we have a lot of clutter, and boy, do I have a lot of anxiety. So there is that. In general, I'm good at seeking out distractions (I refreshed my Facebook feed three time since opening this template), so the trouble lies in the fact that I don't get very far in my attempts to declutter whenever I go on these binges. Maybe it's the aforementioned need for eternal distractions. Maybe we just have too much clutter here. Much like with my weight and my ever evasive goal of losing some-I don't like what I see, but I also don't have enough steam in me to make the necessary dent to order to truly make a difference. It's like I want to, but I also don't. Or at least not hard enough. So I turned to Margareta Magnusson for guidance.

This isn't a how-to book. There are no pretty pictures of all your belongings neatly organized like in an IKEA catalogue. On the contrary, Ms. Magnusson gives very little instruction, per se. This is, first and foremost, a book about personal responsibility. Her bottom line seems to be, "it's not the responsibility of others to sort through your crap after you die so declutter as you go along, downsize before it's too late." Sure, she gives pointers here and there: photos and letters are the hardest to get rid of due to our understandable emotional attachment to them, so save those for later and start with clothes, cutlery, furniture, what have you. The goal is to simplify your life while you still can so as not to stick your loved ones with the task. Sounds reasonable. I'm game. I knew I loved all things Swedish.

Luckily, since my mom lives in my house and there is no need for her to downsize, we haven't had to do much death cleaning after dad's passing. The only things we immediately disposed of were  medications and supplies simply because they were too painful to still have around. His clothes are still in the closet, his shoes are still by the door. His tools are still in a messy shed, his gadgets are still all over the living room. I don't know if it's healthy, but it is what it is. Mom is not ready even though dad had not been his real self for weeks and weeks before his eventual passing and hadn't worn those pants in months, hadn't used that tablet in weeks. It should be easy enough to get rid of these things now. They are things he hadn't touched in so long, what emotional attachment? Still, we are not ready. But while dad's shirts are still on hangers, I've been inspired to begin to let go on my own level. It's not necessarily that I'm confronted with thoughts of my own mortality (I'm too much of an escapist to fathom the finality of own existence), but between the need for distraction, the anxiety that living among piles of books, magazines, toys, and bills creates within me, and this newfound craving to declutter as if to detox in the name of personal responsibility, I need to do something.

I haven't made very much progress yet. But the good intent is there, that sense of purpose. That's a start, right?

Author Interview Series-Kristina Rienzi

Kristina Rienzi


Kristina Rienzi

Kristina Rienzi

Kristina Rienzi is a Jersey Shore suspense author, and the President of Sisters in Crime-Central Jersey. A dreamer and hopeful future Oahu resident, Kristina encourages others to embrace the unknown through her writing. When she's not writing, Kristina is sipping delicious wine, spoiling her pups, watching The Twilight Zone, singing (and dancing) to Yacht Rock Radio or rooting for the West Virginia Mountaineers. She believes in all things paranormal, a closet full of designer bags, manicures, the Law of Attraction, aliens, angels, and the value of a graduate degree in psychology.

Marina Raydun: Why do you write?

Kristina Rienzi: Simply put, writing brings me joy, and the silence I need as an INFJ. Yes, I masquerade as an extrovert. But in those dark places, it’s all about my alone time. On a deeper level, it gives me the liberty to force growth in my characters, and hopefully in my readers, too.

MR: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

KR: It’s absolutely a gift! Stories give us a unique perspective on this journey we call life. I’m so grateful to be able to share mine with the world.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

KR: To start, getting professionally edited gave me a crash course in craft. It changed the way I wrote all of my future books. Pre-editing became part of my process…and so did plotting. After publishing CHOOSING EVIL with Frost Books Group, I graduated from writer to author and one published book wasn’t good enough anymore. I needed to write more. Publishing a book metamorphosed from a goal to a lifestyle and a career path.

MR: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

KR: Study the craft, then write as much as you can, as often as you can. Writing a novel would have gone much smoother for me the first time around if I didn’t let life get in the way for so many years.  

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

KR: Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about this because I don’t base my characters on real people. It conveniently saves me the trouble of explaining myself to family and friends!

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

KR: Actually, I find it much easier to write men than women. I’m not sure why, but I seem to get into my male characters’ psyche much easier. I’m a glitter-loving, high-heel wearing, girly-girl on the outside. However, my personality tends toward more masculine traits. I’m sure that has something to do with it.

MR: How do you select names of your characters?

KR: My main characters come to me with a name. However, there are some ground rules. I try to mix up the alphabet in the story, and only use a name once between stories. It can get confusing fast, and I like to keep the details simple so readers can focus on the story. 

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

KR: Yikes. Not sure. I try not to read reviews. I don’t want to get too excited, or too upset. I want to keep writing, after all!

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

KR: Too many to name! But, one in particular is not only one of my best friends and soul sisters, but a truly inspiring person: Christine Clemetson, psychological thriller author. Christine encourages me, joins me on my writing adventures (from meetings to road trips to conferences), and talks story with me whenever she has the chance. We write with a Twitter group most mornings (@5amwritersclub) and check in on Twitter with its hashtag of the same name - #5amwritersclub. Discipline makes all the difference. Having an accountability partner you admire is key to persevering through all of the ups and downs in this business. Writing friends are life!

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of one of your books, who would play your characters?

KR: All writers think of this, don’t we? Well, for my latest book (not yet published), AMONG US---a government conspiracy thriller pitting a conflicted English Professor against a clandestine security agency ---Jennifer Lawrence is my perfect heroine, Marci Simon. Jennifer could easily transform from a conservative educator to a fierce bada** on a mission to expose the truth, or die trying. Pierce Austin, the security agent after Marci, must be Ian Somerhalder. He has perfected the art of being a mysterious and manipulative, yet likeable, adversary. They’d be perfect in the push/pull of conflict in AMONG US. 

Connect with Kristina here:

·      Website

·      VIP Newsletter

·      Facebook

·      Rebels Reader Group

·      Twitter  & Instagram @KristinaRienzi

·      YouTube

·      Amazon

·      Goodreads



Author Interview Series-Jacqueline Colette Prosper

Jacqueline Colette Prosper


Jacqueline Colette Prosper

Jacqueline Colette Prosper

Jacqueline Colette Prosper is a Brooklynite, social media editor, and pop culture obsessive.  Former pop culture writer at and Univision Networks. She has also contributed articles to New York Magazine, Time Out New York, and Subscribe to her Monday newsletter, featuring vignettes, doodles, and short stories:


Marina Raydun: What is the first book that made you cry?

Jacqueline Colette Prosper: The first book that comes to mind is Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, but it could also have been Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I was 13 at the time, bursting with bubbling hormones, and always ready for a good cry -- those books were tearjearking AF. The last book that made me cry could have been Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki -- she definitely strikes a nerve in the heart of any parent as they prepare to toilet train their toddler.

MR: Is there a book you’ve read over and over again?

JCP: As a kid I loved Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and I have read it numerous times. I'm really looking forward to sharing it with my four-year-old sometime soon. From Fudge's toddler antics to Peter's hilarious infuriation with his baby brother, it's the funniest book I've ever read.

MR: Was there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

JCP: As the youngest child in household filled with adults, I was pretty much ignored, and mostly free to do whatever I wanted. I felt pretty naughty reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis around age 12 though, and if my parents were paying attention, they probably would’ve confiscated it.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

JCP: Elia Kazan: A Life. It’s a fantastic memoir! I bought it not really knowing anything about the late director, after someone recommended it to me. Kazan wasn’t the greatest man that ever lived, and he knew it. He cheated on his wife way too many times to count, and he is infamous for having ‘named names’ to House Un-American Activities Committee, which lead to the destruction of the careers of many people including playwright Clifford Odets. However, he successfully crafted a deeply personal autobiography that’s beautifully written and highly self-reflective.

MR: What are your literary pet peeves?

JCP: Writing anything takes a lot of bravery and discipline. If there’s a work that I don’t like I can’t say I wasn't feeling it in that moment because of any personal pet peeve. I'm in awe of anyone that writes and keeps at it. But when it comes to MY writing, I tend to edit myself too much, and I hate that.  I long to let my thoughts fly, and to allow myself to freely write without frequently pressing the backspace button. Daily writing sprints have helped me to stay on the right track. 

MR: Who is your literary crush?

JCP: I think I have a crush on the author Emma Straub. I really enjoyed reading Modern Lovers earlier this year, and I recently visited her incredible bookstore Books Are Magic in Carroll Gardens. Perhaps opening her store was inspired by Ann Patchett’s Nashville bookstore, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, it’s amazing! There’s even a great kids’ room with a gorgeous tufted leather sofa, and a poetry vending machine. All of the design elements in the store are Instagram snap-inducing

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

JCP: I’m currently working on a short story that is hard to write, and making me cringe -- could be brilliant, could be a disaster, jury is still out. I want it to be a hilarious and biting story. However, I tend to write too much detail, and in this instance my strong characters need a stronger plot. I’m working on it, and looking forward to that ah-ha moment when all the right pieces come together to finally make the story POP.

MR: Is there a book you wish you had written?

JCP: There are a few books that I wished I wrote: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Affliction by Russell Banks, Journey to the End of the Night by L.F Celine, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, and Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Those are stories built to last that I often think about, and still come up in conversation. It’s my dream to create literary works that transcend time, worming its way forever into someone’s subconscious like a pop song.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

JCP: I’m fortunate to have met many different authors while living in New York, and working in media. Stephanie Laterza is a wonderful friend and author. I greatly admire her storytelling abilities and discipline. I’m also a part of a monthly writers’ workshop in Crown Heights that has also greatly influenced my creative work for the better.

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be?

JCP: Issa Rae! She’s awkward. I’m awkward. I’d love to be her friend, and I’d love to collaborate on projects with her.

Author Interview Series-Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas, who grew up in a Los Angeles suburb, studied history and law in New York City before deciding to put his legal career on hold in order to pursue his true passion: listening to, researching, and writing about Hip Hop music and culture.  In addition to writing published articles about rap giants like Tupac Shakur, Kendrick Lamar, and N.W.A, Michael has also edited a coffee table book about Ronald "Riskie" Brent, an artist who designed the cover artwork for a number of classic rap albums.  Michael is nearly finished writing volume one of Lost in the Whirlwind, a comprehensive guide to Tupac's music and life.

You can follow Michael at his website (, on Twitter (@mikeaveli2682), and on Reddit ( 


Marina Raydun: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

Michael Namikas: It’s hard for me to recall the specific incident where I first learned that important lesson.  If I had to guess, it would probably be a time when my older sister obeyed one of my parents’ “commands.”

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

MN: My favorite genre would have to be non-fiction.  Is that a genre?  It seems pretty broad.  The history of World War II, if I had to be more specific.

MR: What are you currently reading?

MN: I’m currently reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell.  Because I no longer get to read as often as I would like, I have to be pretty selective.  Lucky for me, both books are excellent so far.  I frequently find that when I’m discouraged or frustrated with my own writing, reading the work of great authors inspires me to continue working.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

MN: I mostly read non-fiction so it’s difficult for me to think of a novel that is underappreciated.  When I do read them, I tend to either read ones that have already been accepted as “classics” or more recent ones, like Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which have won awards or received great reviews.  I’m not an ideal person to answer this question, unfortunately.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

MN: I don’t have many expectations for success.  All I really want is a decent return on the time that I’ve invested.  More important than money, however, is that people read, learn from, and enjoy what I’ve written.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

MN: Two things.  The first is the discipline required to get up, sit at my desk, and write every day without a boss or a firm deadline in front of me.  The second is the will that I need to resist the urge to pointlessly edit something that I’ve already written.  I really enjoy editing, probably more than writing, and it can be a challenge to keep myself from continuously tinkering.

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

MN: It would have to be Tupac Shakur, the subject of my upcoming book.  I have a lot of questions that only he could answer.  He was such a complicated person.  Although he only lived for twenty-five years, each of those years was so full.  He led an endlessly fascinating life that I hope to help illuminate.

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

MN: I can’t think of any topic that I would never write about, although I admit that it would be more difficult for me to write about things that I have no personal experience with unless I did a lot of research beforehand. 

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

MN: Not many, although I have visited parts of Las Vegas that are important to Tupac’s death.  Recently, I’ve visited the hotel that Tupac was staying at the night that he was murdered, the nightclub that he was driving to when he was gunned down, and the traffic intersection where the drive-by shooting that took his life occurred. 

MR: What literary character is most like you?

MN: I’ve never really thought about that because I don’t think about myself when I read.  I want to learn about the experiences of others, not make connections between my own experiences and the characters or people I am reading about.   That’s one thing I’ve noticed about myself that differs from a lot of people who I talk to, particularly when the subject is music.  Many people become fans of artists who they feel they can relate to on a personal level.  I tend to favor artists whose lives have been very different than my own.  Any personal connection that I have to them or the characters they depict is on a very basic level, involving emotions that almost anyone can empathize with. 





Author Interview Series-Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein is a children's book author. Her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON illustrated by Scott Magoon (Simon and Schuster/ Paula Wiseman Books) is available now. Her upcoming chapter book series, WARREN AND DRAGON, illustrated by Mike Malbrough (Viking Children's) will be released Summer 2018. You can find more about Ariel at, and on Twitter and Instagram at @ArielBBooks.

Marina Raydun: Rumor has it, you have quite a few favorite children’s books. Is there one you can single out as an absolute childhood favorite?

Ariel Bernstein: If I have to pick one, it’s probably THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin. When I was younger, I identified with the character of Turtle and loved seeing the story through the chapters from her point of view. When I read it again as an adult, I appreciated how Raskin made all of the character personalities so distinct and layered. Plus, with every read I discover clues I’d missed before.

MR: What is the first book that made you cry?

AB: I don’t often cry when reading books. I imagine if I had cried when reading a book, it was when I read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, knowing what had happened afterwards.

MR: As a parent, what do you look for in a children’s book?

AB: I look for re-readability. If I take a book out of a library or buy one, I want a story that my kids will enjoy multiple readings of, and one that I will be okay reading multiple times!

MR: Do your test drive your ideas on your kids?

AB: I don’t. It’s hard to explain to my kids what my book will ultimately be about when I first start writing, as I often figure out a plot as I write.

MR: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

AB: Sometimes when writing I get stuck figuring out what should come next. Taking a break and reading a few pages from another book usually help.

MR: Any unusual writing quirks?

AB: I don’t think this is so unusual, but I often get my best ideas when I’m out taking a walk.

MR: One of the most prominent features of children's literature is illustration. Do your characters, as they are drawn, match the portraits you must have had in your mind’s eye while you were writing them?

AB: Actually, I rarely have a visual idea of what my books will look like! When I write a picture book, I know the illustrations will be completely up to the illustrator and editor, so I don’t need to figure out what it should look like. When I’m writing chapter books, I don’t know which images or scenes the illustrator will choose to draw. I don’t really write with that in mind.

MR: I Have a Balloon is marketed as a book for ages 4 to 8. That’s a bit of a range in kid years, I would say. Which age, have you found, has the most to say about the book at readings?

AB: I’ve read the book to kids ages two through ten, and luckily I’ve had great experiences reading to all ages. All of the kids end up having questions, no matter their age, so I can’t really say one age group over another responds to it more.

MR: What subject would you never write about as an author?

AB: I’ve never thought to rule any subject matter out, but there are plenty I just haven’t imagined writing about.

MR: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?

AB: What does it feel like to have had such a long career as a children’s book author? (Obviously I need to write a lot more books if I want to be asked this question one day!)

I Have a Balloon is available here:


Author Interview Series-Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza


Stephanie Laterza is the author of the feminist legal thriller, The Boulevard Trial. Her short fiction has appeared in The Nottingham Review, Writing Raw, Literary Mama, and Akashic Books. Her poetry has been published in Newtown Literary, San Francisco Peace and Hope, Literary Mama, and Meniscus Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

Marina Raydun: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

Stephanie Laterza: I probably first recognized the power of language and its resonance while reading Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein as a child. I was around eight years old when my cousin gave me a copy of the book for Christmas and never before had I read a collection of poems that was so irreverent yet familiar and lyrical in a way I hadn’t experienced up to that point. I love reading the book again, this time with my Kindergarten-aged son. I realize how much Shel’s work likely influenced my own writing and understanding of the power of language to reach and give voice to the human experience in all its tragedy and comedy.   

MR: If you could do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

SL: Reading is inextricably linked with writing, so I would have read a wider, more eclectic selection of books overall, despite considering myself an avid reader as a child. I enjoyed Nancy Drew books along with the novels I inherited from my older sister. But while I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I never read any of Tolkien’s work, for example. It wasn’t until high school that I even heard of The Lord of the Rings and I felt I was missing out on something other kids my age loved. I often wonder whether Tolkien’s trilogy would have inspired me to write fantasy one day. Maybe there’s still hope for me in that regard. As a teenager, it would have been invaluable to me as a young writer to have read the work of my favorite Latina authors as part of my high school curriculum, like Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, or Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I had to wait until college to read those and other books by Latina authors I admire. As a side note, Isabel Allende is visiting the Brooklyn Public Library on November 7th, so I am ecstatic to say the least.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

SL: Having readers learn something valuable from my writing, in particular about the intersectionality of class and multi-ethnic identity in America. It would be nice to eventually buy a house by the Adriatic Sea too. I can dream, can’t I?

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

SL: With respect to the heroes or generally kind characters, a balance between sensitivity and authenticity. With respect to illustrating villains, although I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I refuse to be censored. As Anne Lamott wisely said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

SL: I think writing male privilege has been a challenge for me in terms of first-person narration. Could I write a Holden Caulfield-esque male protagonist? I guess to do it effectively, I’d have to put myself into the head of some of the guys I dated in and after college. But seriously, although on the one hand I might be concerned with maintaining authenticity in writing from a so-called “male” perspective, I think the fact that most of the characters I write, male or female, end up being amalgams inspired by different people would help me to create a third-dimensional male protagonist rather than a mere stereotype. In terms of narrative structure, when my male protagonists differ substantially from my personality or direct experience, I’ve sometimes illustrated them through third person narration. Another helpful approach is to start from sources of conflict, which, on the one hand might be influenced by gender, but on the other, are ultimately universal and identifiable to anyone, however they identify. In my short story, The Weight of Figs (The Nottingham Review, 2016), for example, my protagonist is a middle-aged man coming to terms with the decline of his mother’s memory as his father denies his wife’s condition. Although my protagonist isn’t a cis female writer like myself, and I didn’t go through that particular struggle, I can certainly feel the pain of his internal and external conflicts, as anyone could. Pain is part of what unites us as human beings. I suppose we read to know we aren’t alone in that regard.

MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

SL: Interpreter of Maladies, the Pulitzer-Prize winning short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri. She paints existential loneliness and the fleetingness of human interactions with both technical precision and emotional abandon in a way I had never seen before reading her book. The only book that came close to creating that feeling for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which still remains my favorite novel of all time. When I read Interpreter of Maladies, and Lahiri’s subsequent collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I identified with her characters’ profound sense of loneliness and loss on a personal and universal level. I also felt challenged to delve that deeply into my own characters when writing my stories. After reading Lahiri’s work, I realized how much reading inspires writers to take chances with technique, perspective and character development with respect to their own work. Of course, every writer will do this differently, influenced by their personal experience, worldview, and training, if any. It’s just nice to know we’re allowed to traverse the complex terrain of the human psyche because great writers before us have done it.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do you help each other become better writers?

SL: Besides having the pleasure of getting to know my gracious interviewer over the past several years, I’ve been buddies since college with writer Jack Lugo, who is a James Bond aficionado and podcast co-host. Jack and I read and critiqued each other’s short fiction and poetry as English majors at Fordham and I’m psyched to see that Jack is still great at his craft. In recent years, I’ve become good friends with poet Sandra Proto, with whom I’ve shared featured readings in Queens. Also, my dear freelance writer friend, Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, and I have supported each other’s creative writing for many years. It especially rocks that we both live in Brooklyn now. Showing up for our fellow writers is crucial, whether at readings, book festivals or workshops. We’re in this together, and that means a lot.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

SL: It led me to explore the power of narrative structure and forced me to edit on a larger scale. I always say I appreciate structuralism much more now than I did as an English major in college. So there’s a reason The Boulevard Trial begins with third-person narration of the young attorney Helena’s predicament and ends with her speaking for herself. I actually approached the narration surrounding the defendant Francesca and the prosecutor Alexandra in a similar way, but, as readers soon discover, one lives while the other dies by the end of the book. The trial scene is also an exercise in form as social commentary. Despite the fact that it’s somewhat in court transcript form, it’s narrated from the perspective of the court reporter, whose subjectivity comes through despite the seeming objectivity of the scene’s format. Another lesson publishing my first book taught me was the importance of revising multiple times before being comfortable with a finished product because, as Hemingway put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I don’t worry too much about the quality of my first draft (or my thirtieth) anymore since I know I’ll be spending a lot of time refining the book to become something awesome. I also learned the importance of a good editor in connection with subsequent work I’ve written.

MR: What did you edit out of The Boulevard Trial?

SL: The Memorial Day office party where Helena confides her violent secret concerning her ex-fiancé to her unscrupulous colleagues, one of whom betrays her confidence to her law firm partner boss, thereby setting the book in motion. I enjoyed writing that scene, and it even had some karaoke in it, but ultimately I felt it was better to start the book the following week when Helena gets called into the Partner’s office.

MR: What are you currently reading?

SL: Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende.


To learn more about Stephanie Laterza and her works, please visit:

The Boulevard Trial on Amazon

Facebook author page:


Short Fiction Link from Stephanie Laterza's Wordpress Blog


To learn more about Sandra Pronto, please visit:


To learn more about Jack Lugo, please visit:


To learn more about Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, please visit:


On Being Read To

I don't read anymore.

No, seriously. I don't read anymore. I haven't read a paperback or an electronic book in roughly a year. I don't have the time. Recently, I picked up a copy of The Mountain Between Us at a book fair and have progressed about 55 pages in a month. Given my lifestyle, reading a single book takes me an embarrassing amount of months. This is unacceptable, of course. Writing and reading are desperately intertwined, and depriving myself of fiction is not a viable option if I want to continue to write. So I bit and downloaded Audible last January. It was the same old classic story: you preview a book, you use that credit to buy it and finish it, and the rest is history-you're hooked. At least I am.

Of course, I understand that this is not the same thing as reading: using your ears vs your eyes is a whole other animal when it comes to processing information.  I haven't been tested on reading comprehension since taking the SATs (the second time), so naturally, I was apprehensive to give this thing a try. But, as I saw it, I had no choice: if I wanted to continue to experience fiction, I had to do something. I can't exactly manufacture a 25th hour and there are books to be read out there!

So Audible turned out to be a lifesaver.  And fast! I very quickly fell in love with being read to. In character! And with accents! I spend a chunk of my day behind the wheel and it's nice to have a trained voiceover actor talk to me. Or, rather, at me.

Now, to be completely honest, I'm not sure I appreciate language to the fullest experiencing it this way, but I find that experiencing the actual plot and the story is easier for me this way. It becomes almost like a play, a movie, even. There's no visual, of course, but that's why we have imaginary casting.

Rarely without a pet-peeve, I have to admit that, sometimes, for me, the narrator does affect the story in a way that possibly wasn't intended. Sometimes accents are too put on, sometimes you can't help but think that you'd read a particular line differently. But this aspect too comes with a benefit of its own: as a writer, you never know how your words will be interpreted once they are out there in the world and this serves as an illustration of just that. Every person will literally read the same passage differently. And that's ok. 

My review of "books on tape"? 4.5 stars. Depending on how you process information, and how sensitive you are to having narrators impose their voice onto something you would've potentially read differently were you actually reading, I'd highly recommend it.