I write stories derived from my family’s history. Researching them fills in the foggy areas of my memory and the blank spaces of my family tree. Writing them is painstaking documentary and intimate connection with people four generations away. I discover patterns of emotions, attitudes, and behavior that help me understand myself. I explore grief, loss and anger, sibling rivalries, love and estrangement, and the various forms of love – of children, parents, spouse and friends. When I write, I try to put myself behind their eyes, to see and feel the world as they saw and felt theirs. By telling their stories, I hope my readers and listeners will better understand their own.

Contest: Love Note to a Nazi

Posted by Mark on June 25th, 2014

If you knew someone was going to rob your safe deposit box, and you could leave a little love note for the robber, what would you write?

In my novel, I have a scene in Nazi-occupied Trieste (1944)  involving the character Umberto opening the safe deposit boxes of Jews under orders of the Gestapo (my grandfather Umberto really did this).  I decided to have some fun with it, so when he opens a particular safe deposit box, he finds a short letter.   The owner of the box had a bookstore in Trieste and closed the store (and emptied his safe deposit box) before escaping to Argentina.  Suspecting that his safe deposit box would be robbed, he wrote a short message of condemnation.

This bookstore owner is a secular Jew, well educated, speaks and reads in multiple languages.  Put yourself in his position.  What would you write — short, pithy and elegant — that would deliver a powerful condemnation to the person who ordered the robbery of your safe deposit box?  But you can’t be too subtle.  Your target is a low-level Fascist bureaucrat or SS officer, anti-Semitic, a nationalist and greedy.  Neither Mussolini’s nor Hitler’s goons were particularly bright.  You are addressing a bully.  You have to rattle him.

Here’s one I adapted from comedian Bill Hicks:  “Kill yourself.  It’s the only way you can save your soul.”

Winner will be widely acknowledged here and listed in the Acknowledgments section of the published novel.  Have fun!

Bellevue Reading

Posted by Mark on June 5th, 2014

Great fun doing a reading last night at the Bellevue Arts Museum for the Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation.

Providing some background

Thank you Lorenzo Giancani for inviting me and providing these photos.  Wow does that profile make me look like my Nonno Berto!

 

Reading an excerpt

 

Italian Scientists and Scholars

Posted by Mark on May 28th, 2014

Next Wednesday, June 4, I will speak at a gathering of the Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation.  My topic will be the challenges of creating a historical novel set in Trieste.  Bellevue Art Museum, 5:30, all welcome.

Amedeo, Chapter 1

Posted by Mark on May 14th, 2014

May 6, 1945
Yugoslav-occupied Trieste, Italy
About 8 pm

The dark cellar stank of urine and rust, and Amedeo Nassutti knew enough butchers to know that wasn’t rust.  His back hurt where the young Partisan had prodded him with his rifle as he shoved him through the creaking iron door.     He wanted to sit, but there was no chair, and the floor felt strangely sticky on his shoes.

 

Through two small, narrow windows tucked under the vaulted brick ceiling, flickers of light came from a fire in a barrel in the courtyard outside.  Across from the villa above him, a wall of rough limestone blocks rose into the dark to a slope once terraced with vineyards, now a neighborhood of elegant homes with views of Trieste, neighboring Istria and the northern reaches of the Adriatic Sea.  Amedeo’s brother Umberto lived up there, and Umberto had enjoyed that view.  At least until he got arrested too.

 

Amedeo leaned against the wall opposite the windows.  He focused his mind on the Partisan commissar who had questioned him.  Every accusation. Every answer.  Every threat.  To calm himself, he walked.  Four steps this way, pivot, four steps back, each step a squish in the thick sticky substance covering the floor.

 

After half an hour, he heard a bang in the hallway and a shout that sounded like a curse.  Two sets of footsteps approached.  Are they coming for me, Amedeo wondered.

 

Keys clanged and the door swung open to reveal Umberto, prodded by the same rifle-toting Partisan.  The door swung shut and the lock clicked.

 

Amedeo studied his brother.  Umberto stared right back. Despite the hostility he could sense, Amedeo suddenly felt a quiet excitement and forgot his terror, at least for a few moments.  He desperately wanted to know Umberto, and be known by him, a result of one simple fact:  Umberto had refused to speak to him for 20 years.

 

Loud voices interrupted his thoughts.  As he looked up, five soldiers hustled two men out the villa’s front door and shoved them up against the courtyard wall.  There was a shout, a crash of rifle fire and the thumps of the bodies falling to the cobbles.

 

“We’re lucky,” Amedeo said. “The fact that they haven’t dragged us out there is very, very good news.”

 

Umberto looked tall and straight at 58, and without thinking, Amedeo squared himself.  Then Umberto, still looking out the window, broke his silence.  “The Americans will make them stop.”

 

Amedeo shook his head.  Porca miseria!  Your supposedly angelic Americans.  What,” he shouted, pointing at Umberto’s chest, “could possibly make them care about one stupid banker?  One really idiot banker, a flag-waving Fascist, an Italian nationalist, a Nazi collaborator, and too stupid to go into hiding even when warned!?”

 

Umberto looked at Amedeo with a sneer.  “My dealings with the Germans were strictly financial.  You’re the historian. When has a banker ever been held accountable for what his clients do with their money?”

“These people are Communists, Umberto!  Communists have no use for bankers!”  Amedeo shook his head, then his arms, trying to get control of himself, reminded of their angry debates before World War I, each of them firmly convinced that his point of view was the only rational one.

 

Amedeo had an inkling that their survival would depend on breaking that pattern. 

 

Two hours earlier, Umberto slammed his front door in Amedeo’s face without letting him speak. Amedeo had come to warn him, to direct him to safety. 

 

I was stupid, he thought. I risk my life and scare my wife for this stronzo, this jerk.  I’m finished.

 

As he walked away from Umberto’s door, Amedeo whispered a good luck wish: “In bocca al’lupo.” “In the mouth of the wolf.”  But there are two parts to that wish, and to work its magic, it needs two people.  The first person says, “In bocca al’lupo.”  The second replies, “Che crepi il lupo.”

 

As Amedeo stepped out Umberto’s gate, a Partisan patrol arrested him.  Then they arrested Umberto.

 

If you’re in the mouth of the wolf, may the wolf choke on you and die.

 

(c) Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.

What’s on your nightstand?

Posted by Mark on May 8th, 2014

 What book(s) sit on your nightstand?  I’ve got a pile of six best sellers right now:  Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” Gabriele D’Annunzio’s “Pleasure,” Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient,” Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives, Vol 1.”  On my Kindle, I recently finished Andy Weir’s first novel “The Martian” and Daniel Brown’s nonfiction book, “The Boys in the Boat.”

OK, some of those are research for my own novel.

First Prize:  I started “The Martian” after bogging down on the others and totally blew through it, two nights in a row staying up well past midnight.  Many times I laughed out loud at the wry humor or shook my head in wonder at the hero’s creative problem solving.  Even more times I felt myself holding my breath wondering how the protagonist – Mark Watney, an astronaut left for dead after an accident on Mars – would survive the newest disaster.  Many kudos to first-time author Mr. Weir, and I highly recommend the book.

What’s on your nightstand?  I need another contemporary novel to read for fun.  What do you suggest?

As for the others:  D’Annunzio’s book is part of the research for my work-in-progress novel.  My novel’s antagonist appears incredibly strict and disciplined, but he uses that discipline to keep a lid on passions inflamed by D’Annunzio, channeling that passion primarily into politics aligned with D’Annunzio and occasional attempts at romantic poetry written for his wife.

I tried to read “Pleasure” in Italian (“Il Piacere”) a year ago and became exhausted.  While it’s much easier in English (and I think it’s a pretty faithful translation of D’Annunzio’s flowery and sensual style), I got bogged down just the same.  While there’s suspense in the romance, I can’t connect with the protagonist, Count Andrea Sperelli.  He comes across as an effete dilettante obsessed with the physical beauty of everything from his drapes to the presentation of his food to the women he courts.  He lives in the silk and brocade world of high Roman nobility of the late 19th century, completely disconnected from the real world.

Aside from his incredibly deep knowledge of Italian art, Count Sperelli offers no redeeming qualities – no knowledge, no skills, no education, and no ambition other than to surround himself with the most beautiful things (including people) and get the most pleasure possible out of every moment.

D’Annunzio gets lots of literary credit for radically reshaping how to write about life and passion (and sex).  In “Pleasure,” he writes beautifully, the style reflecting the thoughts and character of his protagonist.  While Sperelli exhibits many of D’Annunzio’s values and life experience, the author – agree or disagree with his politics – had far more substance and I’ve enjoyed his biography, poetry and short stories more than his novels.  From a craft standpoint, this book is masterful, especially in the context of its time and place.  But after 100 pages, I can’t go on.  Back to the shelf it goes.

Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” is also part of my homework.  My novel’s protagonist, Amedeo, is a historian, with some exposure to the classics, and a rationalist.  Amedeo’s thoughts about contemporary politics and economics reflect a deep reading of history, even deeper than mine.  When I discovered “Parallel Lives,” I knew intuitively it would have been a big influence on Amedeo.  So I figured I’d better read it.  But it’s a history; it’s well written narrative, it is at times fascinating, but it doesn’t have the kind of drama of a novel, so I can only read it a little at a time.  But I’ll get through it.

The other non-fiction book I’ve just read is “The Boys in the Boat,” about a University of Washington crew team’s epic quest for Olympic Gold in 1936.  Author Daniel Brown builds his story around one of the young men, Joe Rantz, giving the book a strong narrative arc tracing Rantz’ early life, his experience as a nearly penniless student at UW, and his development as an oarsman.  All leads to a thrilling finish – even though we know the outcome before we even open the book – at the Berlin Olympics as the boys navigate through a series of setbacks and at least two examples of outright cheating.  A great read, and it just might inspire me to try rowing.

Now, “Anna Karenina.”  I listened to an audio version years ago, much of it on a long drive from San Diego to Seattle.  I would sometimes sit in the car at my daily destination just to listen to the rest of the chapter.  A fellow writer suggested I take another look.  The rationale:  I write historical fiction.  Tolstoy writes historical fiction.  Just do what Tolstoy does.  Hah!

I read – well, actually, studied — the first chapter of this massive novel and then stopped.  I figured out I can’t read it in bed and get any craft learning out of it.  I have to study it at my desk. 

Finally, “The English Patient.”  I have very vivid memories of the movie, many of the scenes embedded in my brain and able to be called up instantly, in great detail and with intense emotion.  Perhaps that experience ruined the book for me.  I got in about 100 pages and became frustrated with Ondaatje’s structure.  It jumps around time and place in a way that made it hard for me to keep track.  Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins” (covered in a previous post) does a fair amount of jumping around too, but I never felt lost or frustrated.  Was having seen the movie the difference?

Beautiful Ruins and The March

Posted by Mark on April 8th, 2014

 I’ve been sick for the past three weeks and, after the worst few days, when I could barely manage bare necessities, I was able to read.  Four books went through my hands:  “Beautiful Ruins,” by Jess Walter; “The March,” by E.L. Doctorow; “Unbroken,” by Lauren Hillenbrand; and “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson. Absolute must read:  “Beautiful Ruins.”

Runner up:  “The March.”

What do you suggest I read next?

I couldn’t finish “Unbroken” and “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Great writing, fascinating topics and periods, but ultimately exhausting.  Maybe if I’d been healthier, I’d have stuck with them, but even now, almost back to 80%, my hand just doesn’t want to go to them.

“Beautiful Ruins,” I loved.  Jess Walter is funny.  He brings to life a cast of diverse characters (including a hilarious and extended cameo by Richard Burton, the actor) and narrative threads that come together with both humor and heart.  Most impressive to me was how he came up with distinctive creative voices.  He did the first with a chapter of a novel written by one of the characters.  The second was a handful of songs, monologue and later a play written by another character.  Truly masterful.  Walter can also move backward and forward in time without losing momentum and narrative tension, an example hugely helpful to me as I work out a structure for my work-in-process novel.  Buy it.

In “The March,” E.L. Doctorow fictionalizes Sherman’s Civil War march through Georgia and the Carolinas.  It’s great Civil War history told through the experiences of a dozen or so characters that include freed slaves, more and less ethical Confederate and Union soldiers, a doctor, a photographer, fleeing civilians and Sherman himself.  Doctorow moves easily from story thread to story thread.  While none of the individual characters have a start-to-finish narrative arc, Doctorow manages to bring life to the march itself, meaning the 60,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of freed slaves that follow them.  Together they make a living entity, each human being like a cell in a vast, complex organism, the whole moving across the landscape at 15 to 20 miles per day, raising a cloud of dust, emanating a cacophonous roar and, like a tornado might, leaving a clear path of absolute devastation as it passes.  Buy this one too.

What have you read recently?  What should I read next?

Five First Pages

Posted by Mark on March 8th, 2014

 Below are five different “first pages” for my novel “Amedeo.”  Please let me know how these openings feel to you, what you glean about the overall story and the people involved.  Which do you like best?  Comment below or email mark at marknassutti.com.  Thank you!  Grazie!

 

The Cast  

Amedeo clenched his brother’s sweat-stained leather belt in his teeth when, just as his sister wanted, the answer to her question – “Pelopidas and Marcellus” – took his attention away from what she had to do.  Anna yanked sharply on his left hand, producing a thought-stopping jolt of pain.  He moaned.  Her expert fingers palpated the swollen flesh around his third metatarsal.  With a slight smile, she declared, “Fatto.  Done.  Right back into place.”

Amedeo spat out the belt, the salty residue of Umberto’s alpine adventures sharp on his tongue.  Porca miseria, how am I supposed to work my brake wheel with this hand?”

Umberto released Amedeo’s upper arm and arched his back to stretch.  “That’s the problem with you revolutionaries,” he said in his urbane banker’s provocative pose.  “You always complain about the pain of change, as if it’s the capitalists’ fault.”

“It was your capitalist policeman who knocked me down,” Amedeo said.  “I was just watching a peaceful demonstration against your stupid emperor’s war.”

“The emperor is stupid,” Umberto said, “but let me remind you I prefer an allegiance to Italy’s king.  Now, you have a bigger problem: you abandoned your post at the helm of your trolley.  A captain never leaves his ship.  You’ll be lucky if they let you keep that uniform.”  Then he became Amedeo’s older brother again, long-felt rage barely suppressed.  “You got yourself sacked from the most prestigious insurance company in Trieste, because you felt obliged to protest a co-worker’s treatment.  You finally found work as a…” He paused, adding disgust to his voice, “a trolley driver, and you get your hand stepped on for dereliction of duty.”  He brought his face up close to Amedeo’s.  “Who do you think you are, protesting anything?  How dare you jeopardize our family again?”

Zitti, ragazzi,” Anna said.  “Table it.”  She lifted a curved piece of tin from the clutter of plaster and felt wraps and pads.  “This will reinforce the cast so you can turn that wheel,” she said, then added, nodding to Umberto, “if they take you back.”  She laid the forearm of Amedeo’s injured hand across the book that prompted her question — Plutarch’s Parallel Lives – then instructed Umberto on how to hold the brace against Amedeo’s palm and fingers.

Amedeo’s ears burned from both Umberto’s rebuke and Anna’s tender touch.  Then, as Anna skillfully wrapped and Umberto obediently helped, Amedeo’s mind drifted far from the dining room table, far from calming Plutarch, back to the piazza of the protest and the searching eyes of the woman in black.


Via San Francesco

A metallic bang shattered the warm summer sleep of three children at number 29 Via San Francesco, and a first waking sensation of cool sea breeze vanished amid the tinkling of broken glass and their mother’s cry.

Thirteen-year-old Umberto, an ache behind his eyes, rolled his legs over the side of his bed.  His eight-year-old brother Amedeo sat up across from him, barely catching the book he’d fallen asleep reading as it hurtled toward the floor.  Their father Giovanni’s voice reached them, too loud, too slurred, too angry, too familiar.  “If you hate me so much, why don’t you just hike back up the hill to your mother?”

“If you hadn’t laid your hands on me,” Maria said through exhausted impatience, “I just might be able to do that.  But here I am, with three children!  And a husband too stupid to stay away from a card table!”

Giovanni’s fist smashed a table.  “I made this little fortune!  It’s mine to lose it if I want to, and I can get it back!”

Umberto stepped into the hallway, arms hanging from his tall, narrow frame, shaking his hands as if trying to shake water off after washing. 

“Hah!  Do you even know where your tools are?”

Amedeo followed, his breathing growing shallower with each step.

“Shut up!”  Porcelain exploded against the floor.  Maria yelped a sob.  Giovanni’s voice rose, uncertain, frightened.  “It wasn’t my fault, I tell you!”

Anna, 10, opened her door.  Umberto put a finger to his lips.

“Why,” Maria asked through her tears, “why have you done this to us?  I warned you.  What will we do?”

“It’s not so bad.  We’ll have to move, that’s all.”  Giovanni’s voice softened, almost pleading.  “Until I get things going again.  I’ll buy some new buildings, get us back in a home like this, soon.”  Then angry again.  “Quit your crying, woman!”

Giovanni sensed the children and turned.  “What are you looking at?  Get back to bed!”

Basta, Giovanni,” Maria said, her voice stronger. “They are innocent.”

“Don’t look at me that way,” Giovanni shouted at Umberto.  The boy dropped his head slightly, moved his arms away from his slender body, a young wolf confronting the old alpha male.

“We have to move?” Umberto asked, his voice icy.  “Why?”

“Why?  How dare you ask why!  Because I said so!”

“What did you lose now?  Did you bet the house this time?”

“How….” Giovanni turned to Maria, his anger now mixed with pleading.

“Yes, Umberto,” Maria said.

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Their twenty-year silence ended moments after a thin young Partisan locked a holding cell door behind Umberto and he heard his brother say, “Welcome to Tito’s Communist Party.  Can I get you a drink?”

Umberto flinched at the voice and revulsion filled his chest.  His battered cheek ached with swell, a scrape on his head oozed blood, and his heart raced at the outrage of a very impolite interrogation.  The small room stank of rust and urine.  Adjusting to the low light, he made out his brother: broad shoulders, a sagging wool sport coat, canvas pants and boots, sitting against the opposite wall, barely out of arm’s reach.  Umberto pulled his handkerchief out of his rough canvas gardening pants and dabbed at his head.

A voice shouted out in the courtyard.  A fusillade of rifle shots.  The sound of bodies falling to the cobbles.  Then, a single pistol shot.

“We’re very lucky, you know,” Amedeo said.  “The fact that that’s not us is very, very good news.”

Umberto felt his outrage turn to rage and vibrate inside him.  He went to one of the two small windows that shed the light of a burning trash barrel in the courtyard.  With a corner of handkerchief, he cleaned his glasses.  Two soldiers in Yugoslav uniforms carried a body through a gate.

“You know the Gestapo used this place until last week, right?” Amedeo said.  “Tito’s fuckers liberate us from the Nazis and just take over right where those murderers left off.”

An open-topped car pulled in around the barrel and stopped, idling.  Two soldiers jumped out and yanked a well-dressed couple in handcuffs out of the back seat.

“Why do you have to be so rough with her?” the man asked in Italian, his voice shaky.

One soldier slapped him, then shoved the couple through the villa’s door with an exchange of Serbo-Croatian shouts.  The soldiers came back and drove off.

“They go in.  They come out.  They get shot.  Maybe 15 minutes,” Amedeo said.  “You watch.”

Two hours earlier, Umberto had slammed his front door in Amedeo’s without letting him speak.  Amedeo looked at his brother now – still tall and straight at 58 – and felt both surprised and not surprised, more disappointed than anything.  And a little bit stupid.  I risk my life and scare my wife for this stronzo, he thought.  Well, I’ve done everything I could.  Probably too much.  Walking out the lower gate of Umberto’s villa, he had whispered, “In boca al’ lupo,” the closest thing he could muster to a good luck prayer.  If you’re in the mouth of the wolf, hope the wolf chokes on you and dies.

Via dall’Istria

Amedeo and Miran leaned over the balcony and heard the wave of whispers washing up Via dall’Istria.  The harsh, low-angled sun of morning made the sky a cold pale blue.

“Word is the Germans left three garrisons behind,” Miran said.  “The port, San Giusto hill, and the Palace of Justice.  Poor bastards.”

“Nazis aren’t known for their sentimentality, are they?” Amedeo asked.

On both sides of the road that cut through San Giacomo, the neighborhood that led to the heart of Trieste from the south, people looked out their windows and doorways, waiting, trading information and speculating in quiet tones.  From the café at the corner below, Amedeo heard Radio Londra, something impossibly dangerous just days before, and cause for arrest in Mussolini’s day. Anglo-Americans in Monfalcone, 18 miles north. Tito’s Partisans coming from the opposite direction, Capodistria, 14 miles south. 

In Monfalcone, the war was over.

Amedeo drew his conclusion and stepped back inside. His wife Netti met his eyes.  “No,” he said.  “It won’t be the Anglo-Americani.”  He turned to his friend.  “To the victor, the spoils, Miran. Your Yugoslavs win.”

Porca miseria, they’re not!…”  He paused, then said in a low growl, “Those sons-of-bitches have made a mockery of Marx.  If they get here first, it’s going to get ugly, and by this time tomorrow I suspect even you atheists will be praying ”

Puzza,” Amedeo said.  “It all stinks.”  He waved at the street.  “And look at this.”  Several days of garbage, mule piss and horse manure filled the gutters.  “This never would have happened under the Austrians.”

“Well, that won’t get any worse, for a few days at least,” Miran said.  “With three armies on the march, all the farmers will stay home.  To keep their mules and horses from becoming steaks.” 

A mechanical buzz drew their attention.  Up where Via dall’Istria crossed Largo Pestalozzi, two dozen men on motorcycles crested the hill.  With their rifles slung across their shoulders, they made a jagged line of X’s across the skyline.

“Scouts,” Amedeo said.

They rolled by, squinting against the light and dust. They wore cloth caps with red stars and left behind a thin blue haze of oily exhaust. At every window, at every door, faces stared out.  No one cheered.  No one even smiled.  And then they waited some more.

An hour later, the sound of a crowd moving in the street interrupted Amedeo as he read Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, a favorite and a book that he had learned could provide serenity as well as wisdom.  At first annoyed, he jumped to his feet at the balcony.  Uneven footsteps mingled with the rustling of clothing, the dings of metal containers and low voices. Men with rifles, a few in front at the ready, the rest casually slung over shoulders.  Some men smoked.  Few wore uniforms.  Most wore farmer’s rough pants and smocks, workman’s overalls, even business suits with topcoats hanging open.  They received only stares.

The Demonstration

The shouts reached Amedeo through the din of motors, neighing horses and the anxious and complaining drivers around his gridlocked electric trolley.  A sidewalk café’s diners stood and walked toward the piazza, leaving red tablecloths littered with hastily abandoned plates of bean and sauerkraut stew and crusty bread, flatware askew and glasses of beer half gone.  One ancient patron with two canes and a gray-haired waiter wringing his hands looked toward the piazza.

Resting his sore back against the partition separating his driver’s station and the passenger compartment, Amedeo squinted through the late afternoon sun hanging over Trieste and its bay beyond, then looked at his watch.  He would definitely not reach his turnaround at the train station on time.  It didn’t look like he’d be moving at all anytime soon.

Lucio, his conductor, slid open the window in the partition and leaned out.  “These complainers want to know if they’d be better off walking,” he said.  Lucio intended the implicit question to draw Amedeo out, to get him to reveal a bit more of himself.  His job was to help Amedeo succeed.  With a war on, the trolley company was short of manpower.  So far, Lucio liked this young man.  No other driver jumped down at the train station to help passengers with their luggage.

“I’m worried about the people going to the train,” Amedeo said.

Lucio nodded, pleased, and he too looked ahead, into Piazza della Caserma, named for the enormous Austrian-yellow army barracks compound dominating the piazza.  “Another regiment moving out,” he said, doubtful.

“Still, I’ve never seen it this bad,” Amedeo said.

A teamster on a long, flatbed wagon stacked with crates set his wheel brake and jumped down to walk among his four brown horses, checking their tack and stroking their soft muzzles as they twitched their ears.  A truck driver turned off his engine and lit a cigarette.  His assistant jumped out and began walking toward the piazza.  Other men from other vehicles did the same.  In the opposite lanes of broad Via Carducci, traffic flowed but far thinner than usual.

“We’re boxed in,” Amedeo said.  “Should I shut down?”

“Go ahead.”  Lucio turned back to the compartment.  Mi dispiace, signori e signore, it looks like we’re stuck for a while.”

Amedeo hopped off.  An elegant middle-aged woman in a fine black brocade dress with matching hat accepted his help and came down, favoring one leg.  She thanked him.  “I’d hoped to get a bit closer,” she said, “but I think I can make it from here.  I twisted my ankle, but I wouldn’t miss this.”

Surprised, Amedeo asked, “You know what’s going on?”

Lega delle Donne.  The League of Women.  Protesting the war.”

“The last time I saw a protest, a bunch of people got shot.”

“They won’t shoot women,” she said with the confidence of a combat-hardened general.  She turned and set off with a slight limp, joining a steady stream of men, women and children moving toward the piazza.  Their speculative chatter buzzed by in Triestino, German, Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, English and French, plus two or three other languages Amedeo didn’t recognize.

“Brave woman,” he said to Lucio.  Then, a burning curiosity arose inside Amedeo.  Fully aware that a trolley driver never leaves his ship, he said, “I’ve got to see this,” his tone respectful and not quite asking permission.  “Cover for me?”

Lucio pushed his cap back on his head and leaned against the trolley, studying Amedeo.  “A long trip to the bathroom,” Lucio said.  “That’s all I can do.  And you’ll owe me a couple of beers after work.”

Back to Work

Posted by Mark on December 12th, 2013

Since finishing my manuscript of “Amedeo” back in the summer, I’ve received feedback from several sources that have led me to shelve book 2, “Lidija,” and begin another revision of “Amedeo.”  The feedback was very consistent:  beautiful, polished writing; terrific dialogue; great core story; too much exposition, slowing down the pace of the story; several instances of tension building and then not being resolved; sometimes not enough tension; some preaching.  In general, evidence of sticking too close to actual history, especially the family’s history, to the detriment of a good story.

Among the steps I’m taking is the creation of a detailed outline that includes what I call “tension analysis.”  I’m looking at each chapter and asking “What’s this chapter’s objective?”  I’m looking at each scene and asking “What’s the conflict, and the resulting question from the reader’s point of view?  What’s the action around that conflict?  How is the conflict resolved?  How does this scene contribute to the plot and/or the evolution of these characters?”

I’ve got a lot to learn.  Meanwhile, roll up the sleeves, sharpen the pencils, think everything through, and remember poetic license.

Ann Patchett and Independent Book Stores

Posted by Mark on November 22nd, 2013

Saw Ann Patchett at Seattle’s Town Hall last night, interviewed by Nancy Pearl. I’ve loved her books “Bel Canto” and “Run,” and now I am hugely impressed by her. Smart, funny, doesn’t take herself too seriously, attributes much of her commercial success to luck. Core advice: Write constantly; have a message that comes from a fundamentally good place within yourself; go deep; only write & sell one book at a time; and frequent your local book store. If you’re in Seattle, go to Elliott Bay Books. Ann happens to walk the talk, as part owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville, Parnassus Books.

Why do we teach Catcher in the Rye in high school?

Posted by Mark on November 11th, 2013

As an exercise in craft development, I re-read J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” last week and came away with this assessment: