It’s NaNoWriMo Again!

Say what? That’s National Novel Writing Month, of course! It extends from November 1 to November 30 every year, and over 200,000 people around the world, including me, will be writing a 50,000 word novel in that time span. That’s 1600 words a day-but who’s counting?

Of course it is something of a gimmick, but in past years some of the first drafts written those Novembers have actually ended up as published books, from real publishers. And for those of us who’ve always wanted to write a novel, and never got around to it, it provides a helpful boost, or kick in the pants.

I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo two (or was it three) years ago. I had never heard of this project, but on November first I read something about it, and decided to take the plunge. Of course I was already 1600 words behind. But I signed up at, and off I wrote. The founder of the idea, Chris Baty, has written a supportive book, “No Plot? No Problem! : A Low-Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days,” and I found that my experience was a surprisingly common one. The book is a steal at $1.99 on Kindle!

Since I loved reading murder mysteries (to the puzzlement of my daughters) I decided to write one. And since I knew colleges pretty intimately after eighteen years of education and twenty-five years of employment at a variety of them, that seemed a fitting venue.

Week One: The ideas flow, the word counts mount.

Week Tw: Brain freeze sets in. Ideas dry up. Each day is torture, and eking out the 1600 words daily is painful. Each day I approach the computer with not a single idea of where the story is headed. But I persist.

Week Three: The dam leaks, then crumbles. Suddenly the plot takes shape, the words flow, the characters start to develop, and the plot line takes on a direction. I then managed to lose three days’ work, and recovered in a marathon 6000 word writing frenzy.

Week Four: The end is in sight, the plot wraps up, and the story is finished on November 29th. I upload my manuscript of just over 50,000 words to the NaNoWriMo site, in order to receive my certificate of achievement. I am proud, relieved, and wonder what I will do with all the time on my hands.

The novel that I wrote, “Bad Chemistry,” is a mystery about a number of murders on a small college campus in Maine, told in first person by the college president, Abby Goodman. Wrapped around the murders is the story of daily life on the campus, with the personalities and problems Abby has to deal with, and her life both on and off campus. I intend to self-publish it one day, but feel it needs more description of place, and the characters need to be better fleshed out and disguised, since so far only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

But meanwhile, I am starting on “Tainted Biology” next Friday. It will be a prequel, again told by Abby, about her graduate student days in Israel, and the murders that happened there. Background this time will be life in a research laboratory, fraud in science, and juggling family and research lives. That’s all I know today, but I am really interested to see what develops.

Then I will get back to “Bad Chemistry” for a pre-publication push.

Any novel-writing wannabes out there? Join me at The website now has all sorts of links and encouraging updates from successful authors, such as Neil Gaiman and John Green, as well as projects to support young writers.

And next month I’ll read your novel if you’ll read mine!


Things I Spied II: The Blogs I Read

I don’t read many blogs, in part because I don’t have the time. Recently I’ve even noted that I am devoting less time to my dear New York Times, because I am keeping up with the news on Facebook and Twitter through the writers I follow. But there are a few blogs I follow, some “chick” writ, others of broader interest.

“Head Butler” by Jesse Kornbluth curates books, music, films and interesting “stuff,” like the Anthelios Moisturizing Cream that I am now hooked on. Jesse’s and my tastes in music are somewhat at odds, but some of the books he has recommended, such a “The Beautiful Ruins” are now among my all-time favorites.

“Dooce” was the first blog I began to follow, about six years ago. In turn, Heather Armstrong was one of the first bloggers, since she started blogging over ten years ago. She even had the honor of being fired back then for what she wrote about her boss, an experience now known as being “dooced.” Heather now lives in Utah, is a lapsed Mormon, and one of the most successful of the “mommy bloggers.” While she has a terrific and biting sense of humor, she is serious affected by clinical depression, and writes candidly about that as well. There was a long series (sponsored) on how she and her husband Jon furnished their new house, only to be followed about two years later by news of their separation, and eventual divorce, about which she is highly circumspect, to the dismay of many readers, who feel they have the right to know all the gory details. Many postings feature her children, Leta and Marlo, who are probably more in the public eye than the royals, and I, a cat person, almost bought the calendar featuring her dog, Chuck.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, writes a personal blog on Fridays, mostly about music. He and I have similar tastes, and are both fans of the Canadian group, “Arcade Fire.” I also like his thinking on economics, so I follow his newspaper columns the rest of the week.

“Tikun Olam” is written by Richard Silverstein in Seattle and takes an insider/outsider view on Israeli politics. While my views are not always in alignment with his, Silverstein does real investigative reporting, and he revealed the awful, sad story of “Prisoner X” a failed Mossad agent who was so secretly imprisoned that he had no name on the rolls, and who somehow managed to hang himself while supposedly under observation at all times. Silverstein loves what Israel should be, but not what it often is.

On a lighter note, “The Fabulous Geezersisters” by Ruth Pennebaker tells tales of a liberal woman living in Texas with humor and Southern charm. She has the ability to make me laugh out loud, always welcome after a day of listening to political and foreign affairs reporting, not that she shies away from that as well. She gives me some hope for Texas.

I am trying to broaden my worldview, and not just exist in an echo chamber of people who think like me. At least some of these crack the door open a bit.

The Ghost Bike

There is a ghost bike on our corner. It is painted white and chained to a pole, and commemorates a young girl who was killed there on September 11, 2010. Her name was Jasmine Herron, she was 23, and she was bicycling along busy Atlantic Avenue. A woman who had just parked “doored” her, opening her car door without looking, and knocking her off the bike, into the path of a city bus which crushed her.


You can see these ghost bikes around the city, each commemorating the death of a rider, placed there by Sometimes there is a story on a placard, others just a name and date of death, some just say that a death occurred there. All are sad.

This bike looked forlorn, so I bought some artificial flowers and leaves to add to it. I hate artificial flowers, but real ones would dry up in a day. There is a ring of dried flowers near one of the pedals.

The project started in New York back in 2005, and in 2010 the Sanitation Department announced that it would be removing abandoned bikes found chained to poles and posts, including the ghost bikes. There was a community outcry, and the plan was abandoned.

So now there are 116 ghost bikes around the city, to commemorate the 166 fatalities since 2005.

There is mutual hostility between drivers and bike riders in New York, and maybe in most places. The complaint here is that “professional” riders, such as messengers, who put a premium on fast delivery, blow through stop signs, and even mow down pedestrians. A few years back, in fact, three pedestrians were killed by cyclists, though there have been no pedestrian deaths in the past four years. On the other hand, 21 cyclists were killed last year, with only two prosecutions of the drivers.

One of the positive results of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure (along with the cool sitting plazas in Midtown) has been the increase in the number and ubiquity of bike lanes throughout the city. His last hurrah may be the arrival of rental Citibikes. We have three stations within a five minute walk of our place in Brooklyn. These are something of a mixed blessing, however, as novices who likely haven’t ridden in years go lurching out into traffic, helmetless. Amazingly, there have as yet been no fatalities. Perhaps the bright blue color and the erratic steering alerts the drivers, and that may be to the benefit of all cyclists.


I am still afraid to ride in the city, perhaps because of a longstanding memory of being doored in Boston and landing on the hood of a car, to the applause of some construction workers. But I think I may be back in the saddle in the near future, heading down a bike lane to Prospect Park, where the cars are few and the bikers many.


Up All Night

Sitting in a red plastic chair. Hard on the back, hard on the bottom. No sleep is hard on everywhere. The Emergency Room.

We were advised to head there at ten on Monday evening, assured we would get priority care for our genuine emergency. Six hours later we were still waiting.

We had the relative comfort of an isolation room, but on all sides were the cubicles, separated only by curtains, and there were three additional rooms full of patients as well. Not sure which circle Dante would have labeled it, but to me it clearly looked like a scene from hell.

One patient was surrounded by doctors most of the night. He was the real emergency as judged by triage, a gunshot victim. Invaded by tubes, breathing from a mask, he apparently complained as parts of him were being sewn back together. I could see the doctor pulling up the thread, and heard the reply “We’re just trying to save your life here.” By morning he was gone, taken upstairs to another room, I was told. I hope that isn’t some euphemism.

I caught one or two programs of “ER” on TV, but their ER was a tighty whitey version of mine. In the cubicles people moaned, coughed, slept, and displayed body parts better kept private. The aisles between the rows of cubicles were clogged with EMTs, incoming patients on gurneys and police officers and their charges.

The staff and patients were the New York Rainbow Coalition of diversity in race, age, gender and ability. A night on duty must give a fledgling doc an education worth weeks of textbook learning. At one point the announcement came over the loudspeaker,”Area C, prepare for a stroke.” And they did.

The staff remained calm and moved in a pattern that appeared random throughout the night, but which I assume was ordained by a triage algorithm. When we did interact, I was impressed by the humanity and even warmth we were shown.

The aide who wanted to bring me a more comfortable chair (which I foolishly refused, thinking I would be leaving shortly), said that a major problem was people using the ER as their primary care physician, and coming in with a cold. Makes me wonder if the efforts of the ACA (I prefer Obamacare) to remedy this will reduce that load.

Finally after six on Tuesday morning, attention was paid, and the wheels of care and medical support started to turn. But it wasn’t until Tuesday night after ten that a room came free in the hospital. I won’t speculate on how, at that hour. I had left by then to subway home and sleep prone. Care continues.

I’m OK, You’re OK. Or are you?

One New Year’s Eve when we were living in Canada, Phil and I were out with friends. When my phone rang, I assumed it was our daughter Yael with New Year wishes. Instead, it was our daughter seeking advice. Her boyfriend and she were cooking a festive dinner, and when a dish exploded from heat, he had slashed his big toe on a shard. It was bleeding profusely, you could see the bone, what should they do? We insisted that a visit to the ER was called for. He was resisting, because, an aspiring musician, he had no medical insurance. Our Canadian friends sat there dumbfounded. To them it was inconceivable that someone needing medical care could be calculating whether to seek it, based on the lack of insurance. Because all Canadians have medical insurance, paid for through taxes.

In the end he went. The toe required numerous stitches. And he got a bill for $2000. Good luck with that.

I won’t even mention the bill Jon got a few years later for $30,000 for a five day stay when he awoke paralyzed and the cause could not be found. Because he was still a striving musician on a low income, he qualified eventually for Medicaid, and was relieved of that one.

Most notable for us that first night was the reaction of our Canadian friends. They literally could not comprehend the discussion over whether to go to the ER for a serious injury. In their lives they had never had to worry about whether medical care would be available or how much it would cost or who would pay for it. Like the air or the sun, it was always there for the taking, with no discussion needed. It was a right, not a privilege.

We had our own brush with medical disaster with Yael. After her first year of college, she decided she wanted to change schools and go part time, working part time as well. Of course by then, being 19, she was no longer covered by our health insurance and couldn’t afford her own on her minimum wage salary. I think I held my breath for that entire year.

She returned to college full time the next year and was again covered by insurance. That year she had an emergency appendectomy, and the following one an allergic reaction to an antibiotic that landed her in the hospital for five days. I refuse to think what would have happened to all of us if either of these had hit her during her Year Without Medical Insurance.

If you have insurance in this country, you are at least partially safe, so long as the insurance company agrees to pay the bills. Of course if you have a pre-existing condition, you could be turned down. If your employer wasn’t picking up part of the tab, the monthly cost for the premium could be crippling. And if you are a woman, you are charged more.

Obamacare will not be a panacea. There will be plenty of bumps, and it is not a single payer system such as Canada, Australia and England have. But it will smooth out some of those inequities. And if we had it 13 years ago, Yael would have been covered, and I would have been breathing in deep relief that whole year long.