A writer confesses, Book reviews

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid–sort of Graham Greene-ish

I took a break from Runaway, a manuscript I am reading for a writing friend, last night and devoted my reading hour(s) to finishing The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.  I had to.  Fundamentalist was a library book and it was soon coming due.  Not that I haven’t ever been guilty of 1. returning a book before finishing it or 2. returning a book after its due date.  But when a book is so excellently written, it would be a sin not to finish it.  How else can excellent writing be cultivated if it is not read?

Funda was sort of Graham Greene-ish.  It features a young, principled man trying to make his Horatio Algiered way in the world.  Changez possesses a sharp, steel-trap mind, a soccer player’s agile body, and oceans of politeness.  He hails from Pakistan, yes, but he is the right kind of foreigner.  Not the kind to embarrass.  You can bring him home to mom and dad.  He can represent your company’s “face of diversity.”

But what happens to such a hero after hijackers of roughly his skin color, subscribing to his religion and from, approximately, his part of the world, suicide crash planes into the World Trade Center? How does he change? How does the cosmos of faces around him  change? Is he still the guy you want to represent your company’s “face of diversity”? Really? What about if he starts sporting a beard? Are you sure you’re still on board with that? And are you quite sure you want to partake of that drink he just poured for you? Oh, that’s better.  He took a sip.  It must be fine.

My big confession about Hamid’s book? It’s “spin” ending.  It caught me by my U.S. of A. centric, white-biased views and sent me skidding.  Conclusion: it’s awfully difficult not to have my so-called open-minded view of the world biased by standard issue, U.S. of A. assumptions and presumptions.  Maybe it’s impossible?

Fortunately books like Hamid’s are out there.  I can at least check where I’m at and challenge myself to keep growing.

Hamid’s book was also of interest to me in another regard: Fundamentalist worked as a sort of measuring stick against which to compare my own delve into post-911 politics with Traveling to Palestine.


A writer confesses

Oh, Grammar, will I ever know you?


Pilgrimage to the Poetree.  Writer Katz asks: are Poetree and Grammar friends, frenemies, or enemies?

Dear Neighbors,

Work on T to Pal continues, aided muchly by the inspiring work of Ibtisam Barakat.  I encourage you to check out her memoirs about growing up in the West Bank.  She writes with much heart, in an unpretentious poetical style.  Meanwhile, a writing friend and I  are having trouble deciding whose relationship with Grammar is more tortured.  Who takes the “ungrammar prize,” she or I.

Oh, grammary graham-crackery Grammar, will I ever know you? You continue to vex and torment me. I try to capture you in my butterfly net, but you wriggle free or fly off, one-winged.

Shouldn’t I have you down by now?

I want to know once and for all when to use your colons and semi-colons, how to bridge your dashes and hyphens, build pyramids with your question marks and quotation marks, and fly to outer space with your paragraph breaks and dot dot dots.


A writer confesses

I will not write about Traveling to Palestine

Pocketing the nettle

Nettles? Maybe this is another thing K might write about.

Dear Neighbors Northers,

I know.  Strange, isn’t it.  No posts in months, then two in one week? All these months you haven’t heard boo from me, I’ve been working on Traveling to Palestine, a novel I first-drafted ages ago in the Obama era.  The political event–disaster?–of Nov. 9, 2016 compelled me to take T to Pal out of the drawer.  T to Pal is about a young woman navigating an America she didn’t think was after her father is deported back to Iraq.  Her story intersects with three other young women impacted by war: Rachel Corrie, Jessica Lynch, and Lynndie England.  Below are musings on how the writing work is going.  Think of it as my most recent confession.

I will not write about Traveling to Palestine

For this hour I will not write of Traveling to Palestine.

I will write of other things.  Or nothing.

How my ink fades on the page.  Maybe I will write of that.

I will write of rhubarb, blindness, and the young men in sharkskin suits who shake their legs while tapping laptops.

I will write of people who go to jail for protesting wars, people who cut through chain link fencing and spill vials of their own blood.

It seems like I have so much time, when I don’t.

And I am not sure I will solve the problems in Traveling to Palestine.  Perhaps I will not.  Perhaps I will be dragged down by them and never come back up.

A writer confesses

Writing with Bravery


Don’t listen to the clown.  Write with bravery!


Hello Neighbors Northers,

Story generation continues on Emma Mulberry Whole Story.  No additional comments on that today.  Instead, I bring you another colleague’s conundrum.

The Literary Thriller writer alerted us that he wouldn’t be at group Monday.  The Thrillist was hammering out how to change chapter 1 so that all would like.

No.  Wrong! the Confessing Writer said. You can’t write that way! Wrong objective.  Writing with the objective to please all is death to your story.  Writing to please all is story killer numero Eins.  Trust yourself.  Stop listening to us.  Our cacophony of opinions will lead you in circles.

Don’t listen to us pelt you with our 2 cents, nickels, quarters, and Susan B. Anthony’s.  Step away from the Pub table.

We are all just frustrated novelists, poets, short story and screen play writers aching to be heard, raising our voices and opinions ever louder, “shoulding” your story to death.  We descend into nit picks as to whether your inciting incident is catchy and hooky enough.  Like we’re qualified! Half of us missed the whole inciting incident, whole cloth kit and caboodle.

Now we’re backtracking, muddying the ground, stepping all over ourselves, saying everything except what we should be saying, which is Oops! Our bad.  We were careless.  We read right over your exquisitely embedded line about the communication tower melting.  Instead of disqualifying ourselves from the pool of commentators, we blathered on.

Stop us.  Stop us now.  Say “enough.”  Banish us from your writing sanctuary.  Make us atone and prove ourselves worthy before you listen to one iota more of our advising.

A writer confesses

The Beta Read Hash-out Confab

Sheldon's home base

Sheldon the Owl, wise beta reader

To think that I was going to forego the beta read.  I almost chose not to submit Emma Mulberry’s Whole Story to my writing group’s pool of beta readers.  That would have been an incalculable loss.  The beta read hash-out confab two weeks ago ranks among the best experiences I’ve had as a writer.

Yes, it was great hearing my beta readers’ takes on EMWS, what they thought the strong points were as well as where they thought the weak points were.  My beta readers were an opinionated bunch.  But also, it was just plain gratifying that they had read EMWS and were willing to devote an evening to its discussion.

Below is the low-down on what my betas thought about Emma Mulberry’s Whole Story.

They liked that I got in Emma’s head, but sometimes felt this came at the expense of getting to know the other characters.  They got that Dad was passive, but wanted more of him so they could “get him” better.  They saw a parallel between the mom’s hunger for love and attention from her father and her kids’ longing for love and attention from their dad.

They saw the character reversal—Emma becoming hard and Mom becoming soft—but thought it was too abrupt.

They thought Mom was mean and were glad when she died.

Some wondered if Jim was a pimp.  Others thought he didn’t fight for Petra enough in the Del Monico’s scene.  All seemed to think the Del Monico’s scene was key to Petra’s trajectory, but thought the scene was rushed and could be slowed down.

The betas liked the passion Emma displayed with regard to agate collecting, but wanted to know what else she was passionate about.

Some loved the Holiday Island section.  Others found it too long.

The betas wanted more on Liza.  Maybe one more scene.  They wanted more on the pregnancy thing.  They were getting Emma’s response to it but wanted more on the other family members’ response.

Several thought opening EMWS with the funeral scene gave away too much.

A writer confesses

Looking for Agent X

The blue sweater was repaired eventually

Writer Katz asks: Is this outfit business-cadge?

The Pub Group and other “Friends of Emma” are reading Emma Mulberry’s Whole Story.  The Emma confab hash out is scheduled for June 14.  In the meanwhile, Writer Katz has been working up her query and synopsis.  She wanted both in tip-top shape so she’d be ready to pitch Emma at the big writing conference the end of July.

She was supposed to be a finalist in the conference’s lit contest.  As a finalist she would parade around  with the “Finalist” ribbon pinned to the lapel of her business cadge.  She would gush witticisms; bubble over with charm.  She’d wave and wink to the other conference goers.  She’d breeze down hallways, opening doors; in a rush not to miss the next symposium, workshop, or master class.  At the pitch block sessions, agents and editors would be mesmerized.  She would promise them to have the manuscript in the mail first thing Mon. morning.  One particularly eager agent would cajole Katz into letting her read it even more ASAP.  Writer Katz would hand her the manuscript Friday evening.  Eager Agent X would stay up all night reading, becoming more enchanted with each page turn.  Saturday a.m. the other agents would get wind of Agent X’s end run.  A bidding war would ensue for the right to represent Writer Katz.  Saturday afternoon she would sign on with Agent X to an unprecedented seven figure deal.  Champagne would be poured.  Writer Katz would laugh when it splashed on her business-cadge.

Only the readers for the contest didn’t choose Writer Katz.  They claimed her synopsis had no plot or story line.  They docked her for poor comma usage.  Did she not understand  one placed commas between items of a list? One did not write “fingers legs arms butts shoulders boobs toes heads;” one wrote “fingers, legs, arms.”

It was recommended she keep at it.  Maybe she could look into taking a writing course that covered grammar and character arc/through-line.

Perhaps it is just as well Writer Katz isn’t a finalist.  Her wardrobe is pretty lacking when it comes to business cadge.

A writer confesses

Not all bad news

What the heck? What’s McMullen doing now? What’s with the negativity? Spin the header around.  Come on, give us the upbeat already.

You shall have it, Dear Reader.  In due time.


Sheldon the Owl weighs in on “Target Audience” question.

I couldn’t let the “target audience” question rest.  I went on line.  Read up on “writing for YA,” what is YA,” “considering writing for YA?” etc.  I found out some key bits.

YA= 12-18 year old demographic.  YA is not a genre.  Adults also read YA.  Adults often make up greater percentage of YA market than 12-18 year olds do.

I also read up on a YA sub-category: Middle Grade Fiction.  (I know.  It doesn’t get any less exciting sounding than that.)  Middle-Grade Fic is also not a genre, but a demographic: 9-11 year olds.

Middle Grade Fiction tops out at 50K words, typically.  YA for 12-18 year olds, at 90K.

YA is allowed to talk about gritty topics, just like in Fiction for Grownups.  One caveat: ending should not be completely bleak.  Give reader a glimmer of hope.

So far what I was reading was giving me hope.  So far Emma was ticking off all the boxes.  Now came the killer.  In YA, the protagonist is typically a few years older than her target audience.

Uh oh.  Big trouble now.  Emma is 11.  My target readership is a nine-year-old? Definitely not going to work.  9-year-olds are still struggling to make it through paragraphs.  Dick and Jane books, sure.  Box Car Kids, Little House on Prairie–also yes.  But anything more complex? No.

I deliver the bad news to the Mon. p.m. writing group.  I’m just about to tell them “Ditch it.  Scrap reading the EMWS manuscript.  Don’t bother returning.  Stick the pages in your recycle bin.  The whole Emma thing is over.  Done.”

M, our group leader, raises her hand.  “Four words.”  She crooks her fingers, one at a time.  “To.  Kill.  A.  Mockingbird.”

Oh.  Scout.  Her.  Also an 11-year-old.  Also telling a story about racism, bigotry, families; the traps we get into and our struggles to get out of them.

The writer soldiers on.