Tuesday, November 28, 2023



Ah, well. The challenge of telling stories set in other countries includes how to tell their tellings in English, and what to do with foreign words.


An article on this can be read here.


I faced it with my published novel, THE VOICE OF THUNDER. My solution was to use standard English and where a foreign (i.e., Hebrew) word was used, I followed it immediately with the English equivalent. Because I was writing for young readers, I felt there was no place to send them searching, to footnotes, or a glossary.  I have seen others use glossaries in similarly-set stories for children, and it didn't feel right. Young readers should experience the pleasure of a story. Footnotes and glossaries are for academics.


Above all, the flow of reading must not be bumpy and hence interrupted by the foreignness of the setting. It's challenging enough to meet and envisage another place or time. Let the characters speak plainly and clearly. Save the layering to their ideas and let the flow ride the twists of plot.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023



Maybe it was fortuitous, but I happened upon this blog post one day after reflecting on the conduct of an artist who I’m close to. The post is a reflection on the various ways some of us sabotage ourselves without having the slightest clue we are doing it.


I think this applies to all human endeavors. The crux of it is that because it sounds an illogical thing to do, we refuse to see it. Competing with insufficient or no preparation, spending time in useless activities that do not so much as bring us joy, spewing unkind words born of frustrations at the people who love us most and could help— all examples of self-sabotage. All lend themselves to easy explanations to self that disguise the drive behind them: I do not deserve success.


In one way, no one deserves anything. But striving to do something that adds value and having it recognized is a worthwhile way to go through life. Thus, if we just remove the notion of “deserving,” maybe we’ll also withdraw our third invisible foot that somehow, against reason, we have placed right where we step. Maybe this will prevent the next tripping up. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023



Wistful: A sadness tinged with longing, often having a hint of sweetness.


Fall is an odd time because (like its name) it evokes decline/demise and closure of life’s affirmations, so redolent in spring and fully manifested in summer.


It’s also a romantic time, because light becomes less harsh and the unforgiving cracks and wrinkles brightness exposes are softened.


The natural world of which we are a part shifts to a lower, slower gear. Slow is comforting, but also sad.


Fall is an awesome mixture. The trek of life, always marching toward death and rebirth, sings its swansong.


Do go gently into winter.

©Photo Rachel Breen

Tuesday, November 7, 2023



There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask writers to help your writing journey. I learned the hard way, making most of the usual mistakes.


A good post on this is here.


But despite the above linked post, my experience is that the right way is to not ask anything of a writer who is barely an acquaintance. Even more so if the writer is a complete stranger. Published writers, especially successfully published writers, don’t have the time to wade through the writing of others as they get many (repeat: MANY) such requests.


The bottom line is that unless you are close personal friends, or the writer offers without solicitation (rare, but happens. It happened to me 馃槉) they can’t blurb (which would mean also reading your work) and any general advice they give can be found on the Internet.


If you are real friends in real life (Facebook doesn’t count. Not ever) or taking a course with a writer, which includes feedback to your writing, other writers farther along on the path are our inspiration for aspirations, not personal assistants.


Enjoy meeting authors without asking them to bear your burdens.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Un-power of TIK-TOK

On the eve of the camp horror-show that is Halloween, I am thinking of a different but also pseudo-horror our legislator have taken to sound alarm to.

You might be tempted to divide humanity not by nations, races, genders or whatever else. Instead, think of the TIK TOK app, and do it this way:


1.      The billion who love it

2.      The billion who see it as dangerous

3.      The billions who don’t know what it is and why others make such a fuss.


Call me old (you wouldn’t be wrong) and put me in the third category. Neither the charm nor the existential calamity of Tik- Tok manage to reach my consciousness.


Data sharing? All the tech apps and the companies behind them already do that. This includes this platform, Blogger, owned by Google. It seems no one does it better than Google, and who they sell it to is not an open book.


I wonder if this brouhaha isn’t a way of distracting Americans from real issues, only one of them having to do with China as a menace. These issues include but are not exclusive to our right to privacy, which (big news) is long gone.


The wild world of the Interwebs and smartphones have changed everything. We gave them this power. Tik-Tok is but a dot in a vast international matrix.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023



Some months back, my trusty old computer stopped functioning. I learned that I shouldn’t trust a machine, which had the audacity to take with it much of the functionalities I had built in to suit the way I work, and many of my contacts.


I didn’t lose any work, because I had my files and photos backed up on a USB drive. Setting a second computer properly took time and this computer is not yet up to the one that was.


I can look back now, and see that I survived. There are (much) worse things.


But, at that time, I felt so lost and disconnected that I lamented to DD how I long for the innocent days of my childhood, when connecting meant seeing someone in person or writing a snail mail letter.


Her response, pasted here from Messenger (my phone worked):

“…Do you miss your boyhood in surrey, romping with your school chums in the fens and spinneys?

And then she sent this link:



It’s a brilliant section from an old episode of Frasier, a TV show we used to watch when she was but a youth. Her comment was a quotation from one of the characters in it, and her pointed reflection on the uselessness of nostalgia for “simpler times.”


I laughed. It made a difference.


Eventually, we laugh at so many things we had experienced as important.

There’s no point in lamenting what isn’t anymore.


Meanwhile, back up your computers, everyone.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue



爪ֶ֥讚ֶ拽 爪ֶ֖讚ֶ拽 转ִּ专ְ讚ֹּ֑祝 诇ְ诪ַ֤注ַ谉 转ִּֽ讞ְ讬ֶ讛֙ 讜ְ讬ָ专ַ砖ְׁ转ָּ֣ 讗ֶ转־讛ָ讗ָ֔专ֶ抓 讗ֲ砖ֶׁ专־讬ְ讛ֹ讜ָ֥讛 讗ֱ诇ֹ讛ֶ֖讬讱ָ 谞ֹ转ֵ֥谉 诇ָֽ讱ְ׃


“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that your God 讬讛讜讛 is giving you.”

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9


I find it impossible at the moment not to repeat this injunction as I watch the horrors once again visited upon the middle east.


A time will come, when we can contemplate mercy. Justice without mercy (such as Hamas clearly demonstrated) is hell on earth. But mercy without justice is suicidal.


That is all I’m able to put out at this moment. I hope to return to gentler contemplations on the writing life and life in general, which, for me, are one and the same.

Just like the dove who signaled to Noah— after the great flood— the return of life on earth with a single olive branch, we await her once again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023



Many (many!) years ago, in a land far away, I discovered The Little Prince.


He was a curious creature, born of fantasy. His journey was metaphorical. Even then, I knew his various stops on many small planets with their curious inhabitants were not to be taken as realistic.


On his own planet, the Little Prince spoke of Baobab trees. The sound of that, BA-OH-BAB, made them creatures of fancy, not real things to be found in our world.

Turned out I was wrong. Baobabs are real. They grow in Madagascar, where my son served in the United States Peace Corps until a short time ago. I told him I would value a photo of him near one of these.


Before leaving Madagascar, right after his close of service, my son made a point to travel to where the oldest Baobab in all of Madagascar stands proud. The locals claim it’s a thousand years old, while arborists say it’s likely seven to eight hundred. Old enough, either way.

My son bequeathed his smart phone to a local individual, because he knew it would be useful to his Malagasy friend. What my son took with him on the pilgrimage to the old Baobab was a not-very-smart borrowed phone that could only manage poor photos. But you can imagine that, regardless of quality, the photo is one I value. It holds a special meaning, joining one of the circles of my life.


My little Prince communed with a Baobab.


Here he is with the Old Tree of Mahajanga~

Life continues to be magical even as it is ever real. Maybe especially then.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Story ARC, Story Conventions


How-to writing books and literary analysis courses have distilled storytelling conventions this way:

Inciting incident > Main Character accepts the challenge >Three attempts in increasing intensity at resolution > Climax/crisis> Resolution.

The most amusing pithy presentation on story ARCs is this mini joyride of a presentation by Kurt Vonnegut here, well worth the seventeen minutes it takes.

There are posts online that show simple graphs of story ARCs, such as this:

This is the tried and true. No argument there.

But then, ever so rarely, someone challenges these conventions and (even rarer) succeeds in making something new and wonderful. I was intrigued to read a post on this here.


When I began writing, I knew less about writing conventions and I did in fact write less conventionally. By now the story-ARC  rules are so ingrained in me that I wonder if I even could, or dare, to set them aside.


But it’s food for writerly thought.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023



It’s been some years since we observed a variation of Sukkot, the holiday where Jews are advised to dwell in huts as our ancestors did while on the way to the promised land.


Contemplating this year’s upcoming Sukkot and whether I have the energy to make a Sukkah again, I happened to come upon an old photo. It reminded me of a feline family friend who has left this earth long ago. Clyde was not our cat. He lived next door. When his family moved a mile away up the hill, he kept returning. Not to his old home, but to ours.


We even found him sleeping in our makeshift Sukkah. We always returned him to his new home, and he continued to make his way back to ours.

One of these trips may have cost him his life. He was found dead, possibly injured. I tried to answer one of my kids as to whether cats have souls and go to heaven by writing about him:



©By Mirka M. G. Breen


            Clyde is climbing a great green hill.

            The grass under his paws is as soft as fur. It’s tingly wet, and smells of catnip.

            The light is soft blue, no sun yet.

Clyde passes every mouse he ever ate. The mice wave at him.

Birds he had watched, fly over and wink.

Squirrels he had chased puff their tails

No time to think. Up Clyde must go.

Yes, this is so.

Clyde still climbs the green hill.

The grass is deeper, the hill steeper. But the higher he climbs, the lighter his steps.

He’s not hot; he’s not cold. Light’s turning gold.

A purple butterfly flutters before him. Clyde’s trotting, then pouncing.

One butterfly soars, and then a hundred more-

In every color, with spots and dots

In a ribbon-dance the butterflies flow.

Yes, this is so.


Clyde is bounding up the glistening green.

When the moss grows dark, a cloud heavy with steel gray covers the light.

Clyde slows. What to do? He squints, then pulls through.

A line of pure silver is guiding him on. The cloud turns to vapor.

The blue of the air, gentle light everywhere-

Give power from nose to tail.

Clyde faces toward the glow.

Yes, this is so.

Clyde climbs some more, the hill, green as hope.

The air caressing his ears with gentle fluffing strokes. Cat music is sounding.

His mother and father are mewing above

Clyde turns his head back one last time.

 The people he loves look at him with wet eyes: they are wise.

Balls of yarn left below, adventures above.

Clyde has to go

We think this is so.


Sukkot this year falls on September 29-October 6


Tuesday, September 19, 2023



{Skip if you're in a solemn mood}

Clever Definitions


A body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.

Mud with the juice squeezed out.

Someone who is usually me-deep in conversation.

Cold Storage.

Cutting money in half without damaging the paper.

An insect that makes you like flies better.

A story you tell to one person at a time.

The pain that drives you to extraction.

One of the greatest labour saving devices of today.

An honest opinion openly expressed.

Something other people have....similar to my character lines.


Tuesday, September 12, 2023



For most, the Gregorian calendar is their year-counter.

The number changes, and with it come the New Year’s Resolutions, the taking-account of last year’s hits and misses, and the sense of a new beginning.


For me the year begins September first.


The Jewish New Year is somewhat responsible for this conditioning, but more than Rosh Hashanah (sometime in September) it is the start of a new school year where I grew up.


Later, my kids’ school year signified all the projects I have promised myself I’d tackle once I had my weekday mornings to plan as I wish.


September first had become the start of writing a new novel, first draft to be done before the Gregorian calendar chimes a new number. (The rest of the year until June will include at least five drafts, with a few short stories during breaks between them.)


So here I am, deep in, and feeling both the exhilaration and terror of draft #1, praying the muse will not leave before the clock chimes midnight on December 31st


Happy New Year

Tuesday, September 5, 2023



There are vigorous discussions on (what else) the Interwebs regarding the replacement of creative wordsmiths (what we aspire to be) with artificial intelligence.


Someday, soon, even yesterday, we will be obsolete, the writers and poets say, trembling. Look at the amazing results AI had spawned so far: can you tell which was written by an individual human and which was spawned from the bank of many human contributors in the past by artificial Intelligence algorithms?


For the most mundane texts, it’s not easy to discern. AI is (still? maybe always?) not quite up to the marvels of human creativity when it comes to the upper ends of the never-before imagined.


The other day, I resorted to using Chat GPT* for a task many writers dread: finding comparable titles to the one we are submitting for agents/editors’ consideration. This new requirement in standard submission forms had left many of us even more despondent than writing synopses. Synopses already felt like a cruel denigration of long and layered works.

This request for comparables, “Comps” for short, never feels right. After all, we like to think of our work as unique, one of a kind, none other quite like it. 馃槒


Adding injury to insult, the requirement is supposed to be for 2-3 recent tiles, published less than three years before by major publishers. Say what? How many novels are we expected to read while crafting our own?


And this brings me to Chat GPT*. This article here is an almost perfect use of this tool. Of course, once it brought titles to my specified search, I realized I needed to refine it. But then, the comps were not only appropriate but led me to read a couple of the titles because they were too wonderful sounding not to. This tool turns out to be an effective marketer to boot.

©Josh Gosfield

When Chat GPT* replaces the older search models, it is akin to a better factory machine. These machines can never make a handmade object, but they sure save on the more tedious tasks that human labor will gladly give up.

It still requires a final inspection by a real live human.

*Bing's chat feature will do this adequately also and is in some ways more up to date. It doesn't require a sign-in or charge. Google's Bard, which I haven't checked yet, is rated lower by most, but it aspires to eventually match Bing's chat.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023



If you’ve heard the term, you might have wondered what it is. There’s a good post on Upmarket Fiction here.


But this post is about what it is to me, personally.


Upmarket, the sort of fiction that holds supreme commercial potential while also manages to be literary, is what I aim for every time I sit down to write.


Upmarket is what most agents want to represent.


Upmarket is most publishers’ dream: strong sales potential while also gaining the prestige of literary awards and bragging rights of association.


Upmarket is this magical straddler that has one foot in the rarified and another in the common.


Upmarket may be the tallest order of them all.


I continue to work on it— never quite there on either mountain top, but not for lack of striving.


Let’s face it: upmarket must be simple linguistically (commercial) while elegant (literary). Plots must move in rapid clip (commercial) while layered (literary). Themes must be basic (commercial) while holding philosophical heft (literary).


Try climbing two mountains at once this way, one foot on either. It’s mechanically impossible.



But the word “impossible” is another to forget, because here I go again, always trying.

©Toni McCorkle

Tuesday, August 22, 2023



I accept with gratitude


I have been following a blog of a folk artist and her home improvement specialist husband for a few years. These can-do folks also have two glorious cats and a lovely old dog. The pictorial tales of how and what they do to make their already near perfect home become pristinely perfect, is a spot of bright light in what otherwise could be a drab world.


Lorraine doesn’t call herself a folk artist, but I could call her nothing else. Her painted-rocks hobby and sometimes business, which she named I’VE GOT ROCKS IN MY HEAD, bespeaks of golden hands and a big heart.


One day, out of the blue, I got a text from Lorraine asking for my home address. We only know each other from the blogosphere and she wanted to send me a rock.


Why? And why me? I certainly had done nothing to earn it.


The gesture made me happy. Perhaps especially because it was unearned.

A few days later, this brilliant hand painted treasure joined my rock collection, made of much more humble painted stones left by the side of the road over the last three years.

During the pandemic, when we were admonished to stay inside and go out only if we had a dog to walk, (I don’t) folks around my neighborhood took to placing painted stones with signs like “take one” for passersby. These were testaments of compassion for the existence forced on us and the wish to connect even if not in person. Sometimes one of the stones touched me in some way and I’d bring it home. But for the most part, I left them there for another who had greater need for a pick-me up.


Lorraine’s gift now sits as a glowing tiara over the memories of those lonely walks. They make me feel remembered, touched, and that in the end— connectedness is the real gift.


You can see more of Lorraine’s work (as well as other glimpse into her life) here:


Tuesday, August 15, 2023



Many years ago, in a land far away, I had two cats who grew up as brothers.


One, named Kitten, was no kitten but a hefty oversized gray tiger cat. The other, named Blue Boy, had a more apt name because he was a Blue-point Siamese with the bluest eyes.


Here they are in an old photograph—

These brothers, no genetic connection, got along well. They even devised plots together to fool their parent, which was yours truly.


You see, they were put on special diets because of health (Blue Boy) and heft (Kitten) issues. They were not supposed to have the same food. They agreed on this point, but not on which food was for each. No matter how carefully and cheerfully offered, the moment I turned my back I’d sense them sleekly sneaking their way, each to the other’s food bowl.


My stern look and vocal admonition would quickly make them reverse course back to their assigned places. But then, if I looked away again, there they went doing their switcheroo.


This got me thinking about the human aspect of coveting what others have. In some instinctive way we share this with animals.


There’s a reason it’s one of the Ten Commandments. (Number ten, to be exact: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”)


My cats told me it is basic, instinctive, and not rational in the least. 

A reminder when bringing fictional characters to life that reason does not rule them.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023



I grew up in Israel before every home had air conditioning, and the month of August was a challenge even for the august and robust among us.


Memory #1: the heat so suffocating, my best friend and I lay splayed on cool tile floors and as soon as the tile underneath warmed from our boiling bodies, we crawled to the next not-yet warmed tiles.


Memory #2: Getting yelled at for sticking my face in the refrigerator and keeping its door open. I wanted to step inside and stay there.


Memory #3: Volunteering to go to the supermarket for the daily grocery shopping only to open its freezer case and pretend to be undecided as to which ice-cream I was about to put in my grocery basket. Getting yelled at there also, only this time it was the store manager.


Memory #4: Mothers setting a large washbasin with cold water on the front porch. My best friend and I dunking ourselves in. This stopped as we got older and our cold bathing began to draw a small crowd of onlookers.


Is it any wonder I chose to live on the Northern California coast, where, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the coldest winter is the summer”?


As the earth heats, I wish y’all working air-conditioners and robust ice-dispensing fridges.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023


I was a president once.

For one whole year, I was the president of The Jerusalem Chapter of the Barbie Club.


This claim of life achievement would rightly strike most as dubious. But oh, what a glorious year that was.

I returned from a stay in Paris with two new Barbie dolls, one for me and a second for my best friend. The dolls included a form to send to Mattel, the dolls’ maker, to form a club. I sent it with my mother’s help (it was in English) and thought about it no more until…


A large box appeared a month later, with six membership cards, a book with instructions on how to form the club, and suggestions for activities.


At just about that time, Barbies made their appearance in the one “fancy” toy store in Jerusalem. But very few kids had them. I forged ahead and formed the club with the handful of classmates who succeeded in persuading their parents to purchase these dolls.


We met periodically at each other’s apartments, played with the dolls and made accessories for them.

I remember two “scandals” associated with our club. The first was when our homeroom teacher called me for a meeting to say our club was exclusionary because not everyone could join. I stood my ground. I told her anyone with a Barbie doll could join. It was The Barbie Club, after all.

Our teacher was not happy, but she didn’t have a good answer for that.


The second “scandal” occurred when we were busy making mini-Christmas trees for our Barbies, per the easy instructions from Mattel’s Club book. The parent in whose house we met to make these asked why we are making Christmas trees and not Hannukka menorahs.

My answer (very presidential): “Because Barbie is Christian, not Jewish.”


And that no-no was the end of our club and my presidency.


It was long ago.


 Pink Barbie and her Ken are now gracing the silver screen to record ticket sales.

No, I haven't seen the newly released feature film. Not yet, and likely never.

I grew up, and in my mind, I hoped Barbie did also. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023



You may have heard a variation of the phrase two people equals three opinions.


This phrase purports the notion that each pair of eyes sees a variation of an image, each pair of ears registers sounds as variations on a theme, and each person’s mind colors the same set of facts with a different hue.


I am reminded of this miracle every week, when my online picture book critique group gives feedback to a single manuscript. We share a group email thread so everyone can read others’ take.


I am usually the first or second to respond, and I give it all I’ve got. But when others’ feedback comes in I’m astounded at the points I missed, the typo I didn’t mark (less about that, because I’m Ms. Typo myself) and the essential fixes I never saw a need for when I read.


Conventional wisdom is to revise if more than one person highlights the same flaw. To be sure, there are matters most of us will note even as the offered fixes vary.

But it’s the singular opinions that strike me every time. Once pointed out, they pulsate in neon as so obvious I wonder how I missed such in my feedback.



Which is my way of appreciating the dynamic and usefulness of a good group.

©Image by Diane Kress Hower


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Tuesday, July 11, 2023



Language is a living organism.

When I learned English (starting in fifth grade) my teachers, all of them, would have dinged me for referring to a single individual as “they” or “them.”


But it’s more than the new pronouns. I learned that generation Zers use the word interesting as a negative, when you don’t want to say someone or something is peculiar in a negative way. To me, interesting is one of the highest compliments.


I learned that ending a text* with a period may be grammatically correct, but Zers find it negative and admonishing.

*Speaking of texts, lol and lmao


I learned that referring to another as being on the same wavelength is a radio reference that makes me a hundred years old.


I learned that rad, short for radical, is high praise. Not being empathetic to radicalism, this feels wrong. Sue me.

(Speaking of, “sue me” is also very baby-boomerish.)


Yikes is an expletive/interjection only grandmas use.


Bad used to mean bad. Then it became good, as in very good. It’s back to being bad again, depending on the community.


Ms., once a neutral replacement to Miss/Mrs., is moving towards Mx. and replaces Mr. also.


Language is a living thing, and that’s cool.


At least cool, which replaced warmly wonderful, has stuck around since the 1950s.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023



For some, 'tis travel time. The other day I discovered yet another ranking list, one I would never have thought of.


It’s the ranking of passports. See here, and also here.


These rankings have to do with how many countries do not require a visa from the passport holder. The more, the “better” the passport, as in allowing its holder greater travel freedom.


Only about a third of Americans have a valid passport at any time, and the feeling of belonging to a good or “best” country has little to do with how many other nations approve of ours. But a good passport is no trifle.


I say this, because I know two people who are in the process they hope will eventually give them a US passport, and loving what the country stands for is less than half their impetus to undergo this lengthy and expensive course.


Their number one reason is to have a passport that makes travelling easier.


From birth I held (or was entitled to hold) two passports. One is ranked 4th in passports, the other 17th. (Some differences depending on which ranking, but the disparity is the same.) My love for both countries is real. But, trust me, in the days I travelled more the passport ranking did make a difference.  


We take so much for granted. Being part of a strong country is yet another thing to appreciate when it comes to life’s fortunes, which in my case I hadn’t had to struggle for.


Americans are fortunate in many ways. This is just one more to be grateful for.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023



*First, do away with the word “aspiring.”

If you are writing you are already a writer, not an aspiring writer. The aspirants are the folks who say they will write someday when the stars align just right, as in when the moon is in the seventh skies and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

(Dates me, doesn’t it. The words for The Age of Aquarius from the musical Hair.)


When beginning a writer’s journey, the biggest trap is losing oneself to the notion that this is about the market, not self-discovery.


Conversely, the second biggest trap is to lose direction believing it’s about oneself only, and not the market.


Holding both truths at once, seemingly contradictory, is how to not fall into writerly traps.


Writing begins and forever remains a journey of self-discovery. But it must recognize fueling stations that take account of the market. It is about communicating these discoveries, and the market is the vehicle.


I instinctively understood the first but took a few years to acknowledge the second. Now I know I write for myself first, and to communicate to others a close second.