<![CDATA[                     Julia Gousseva, Ph.D. - Chats with Writers]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:47:37 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[A Chat with Matt Posner]]>Sun, 13 Sep 2015 23:16:29 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-matt-posner REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF MATT POSNER Picture
Matt Posner is a writer and teacher from New York City. Originally from Miami, FL, Matt lives in Queens with Julie, his wife of more than ten years, and works in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Matt is also the Dean of School of the Ages,
America's greatest magic school, located on a secret island in New York Harbor, and is pleased to tell stories about its people in the five-book series School of the Ages, which will be published between 2010 and 2015. As the child of classically trained musicians, Matt is a performing poet and percussionist with The Exploration Project, New York's premier avant-garde multimedia club band.

Matt teaches high school English, with a fondness for special education students, as well as SAT preparation. His interests include magic and the paranormal, literature, movies,
history and culture, visual arts, world music, religion, photography, and professional wrestling history.

Click on the image to learn more about Matt.

Matt's Books

Sara Ghost FAQ with Matt Posner

(This is an altered version  than appears in the book, with changes made for
Dr. Gousseva's class.)

Q. How did this story come about?

A. I read an article called "Darkness Too Visible" from the Wall Street Journal. Written by their children's book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon, the article severely critiqued a trend toward dark themes in contemporary YA fiction. Novels by such authors as Jackie Morse Kessler, Andrew Smith, and Cheryl Rainfield were heavily criticized for dealing with themes of teenage hopelessness, extreme violence, and self-mutilation. I was inclined to agree with Gurdon that this content might be distasteful as presented, and I started to read the comments to see how it could be prevented. I saw claims that one
particular plot element, cutting, is incredibly widespread among American teens. 

"What?" said I. "No one does that at the school where I work."

Asking around, I found that cutting does go on at my school, and realized I was wrong to disregard it. Only one thing to do after that:  write about it myself.

How on earth could cutting fit with School of the Ages, though? Apprentice magicians have too many other options for dealing with their feelings, and no one in my core cast could become a cutter without a radical change of personality.

Hey, Simon, like, I was all mad and I tried to cut myself, but I missed
my own arm and cut Balaram instead.

I'm really kicking your ass for that later, yaar.

My boyfriend is such a dumbass, yo.

No, not happening. So I decided that my core cast would have to
help a non-magician who was a cutter. That's how Sara was

Q. How did you come up with the character of Sara?

A. I sat down in the bathtub with my notebook to start drafting
and Sara pushed her way to the surface. All the decisions were the result of
unplanned creative flow. I like mixed-race characters and I take advantage of
what I know about Indian culture to make my stories distinctive. Those are the
likely reasons that this particular character manifested from my subconscious.
As for her particular psychological condition, even though my upbringing was
totally different, I think I find common ground with her. Anyone can feel
isolated, and I certainly have, often, and those feelings are not different just
because their roots are different. And I've never cut myself, but I do
understand the origins and details of self-destructive

Q. What makes Sara's voice distinctive?  (for Dr. Gousseva's

When I was at Florida State, majoring in creative writing, Prof. Bonnie Braendlin (now retired) told me that I was erring in my way of writing about teenagers because I was unironic. I told teenage stories as if the teenagers had a clear perspective, and she felt that teenagers always have to be shown to be in error and always have to have a learning experience about growing up. I was angry with Bonnie for saying it, but of course I understand now.  The story "A&P" by John Updike is an example of the kind of story she was thinking of. You read and you see that the teen does not fully understand herself.

Some successful teen fiction, such as the Hunger Games series, is un-ironic, and the teenagers are righteous. However, I like the idea of showing a teen who is learning as the audience watches.

Sara embodies a contradiction. She is self-destructive, but full
of vitality at the same time, as Dr. Chatterjee tells her in an earlier scene.
The self-destructiveness is part of her spirit trying to force her to make a
change. Late in the story, she is able to channel that vitality to fight back
against her oppressors, and to make some important realizations about the people
in her life.

Sara's voice reflects the opposing forces within her, as she repeats her negatives like a tape recording at the same time that she moves toward a positive alternative view of herself and her life. Any teenager will feel, as I did in my teenage years, a certain amount of self-doubt and identity crisis, and such a reader will see, through an awareness of Sara's negativity, how unnecessary that negativity is.

Q. How is "Sara Ghost" different from other School of the Ages fiction?

A. It's written in present tense. This is the first time I've ever written in present tense. I was trying to channel  Hunger Games.

Q. Why did you choose the particular School of the Ages characters you

A. I was having difficulty writing my protagonist Simon and had barely touched him for a year. I had lost my ability to write his voice, perhaps because I had raised the stakes so much in his life for the fourth book and because the book was about how he felt he had been found wanting after the previous book in the series. That was a difficult place for me to be in, not liking my protagonist.  I felt I needed to try to get back in touch with him so that I could go on to finish that fourth book. However, you can see if you read the entirety of Sara Ghost that Simon is a bit player, acting mainly behind the scenes, except for a crucial moment at the end.  Instead, I used my series heroine, Goldberry. She is a natural for a story like this, since she appears to be the exact opposite of Sara (elegant vs. sloppy, outgoing vs. misanthropic, confident vs. self-loathing), and bonding between them would not be easy. 

Q. What kind of reactions have you had to Sara Ghost?

A. I think people have been unwilling to read it because of the subject matter. That's probably not the only reason, but the issue of teen girls cutting themselves make strike many as unpleasant, for the same reasons that Gurdon's article pointed out. I didn't help things with my original promotional copy at Amazon which excerpted one of Sara's dark fantasies about self-mutilation. I thought the power of the sample would draw in readers, but it may have made them think I am mentally ill. (Pause for obviously phony

One reader did share with me, though, that she was related to a cutter and that my representation was not incompatible with what their family had gone through. That meant a lot to me.

<![CDATA[A Chat with Brandt Legg]]>Sun, 13 Sep 2015 22:24:56 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-brandt-legg REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF BRANDT LEGG Picture
Brandt Legg is a former child prodigy who turned an interest in stamp collecting into a multi-million dollar empire. 

At eight, Legg's father died suddenly, plunging his family into poverty. Two years later, while suffering from crippling migraines, he started in business. 

National media dubbed him the "Teen Tycoon," but by the time he reached his twenties, the high-flying Legg became ensnarled in the financial whirlwind of the junk bond eighties, lost his entire fortune... and ended up serving time in federal prison for financial improprieties. 

Legg emerged, chastened and wiser, one year later and began anew in retail and real estate. From there his life adventures have led him through magazine publishing, a newspaper column, photography, FM radio, CD production and concert promotion.

Click on the image to learn more about Brandt, his books, and his photography.

Brandt's Books

Questions for Brandt from Julia's students

How do you determine how much dialogue there will be between characters and the extent to which the dialogue reveals latent traits of the characters?

My strength as a writer doesn’t come from a strong academic background, tenth grade English was as far as I got (although I did get a GED). Instead, my writing benefits from my many colorful and diverse experiences. Writing straight prose is more challenging for me than dialogue. So I lean towards the latter when telling a story. I hear the conversations between the characters as they happen in my head. It’s often automatic, as soon as I finish typing what one of them said, the response starts coming. I think the characters are better at telling the story than me. It is their story after all, not mine.

How do you know when to use a dialogue tag and when not to?

I wish I didn’t have to use them at all. If it is two people talking, I try not to use more than one or two at the top (unless it’s a long conversation). If my beta readers write me a note in the margin asking who is talking, I fix it. It’s obviously much more difficult when there are three or more people in the dialogue. I’ll even go so far as to avoid multiple characters conversing if I can. Otherwise, I try to get away with as few as possible and rarely anything more than “_______ said.”

What steps do you take to create a rich dialogue?

I write the dialogue as it comes through without editing. Then, during my first        re-read, I cut anything that isn’t advancing the plot or revealing more about the characters themselves. I also keep an ear out for anything that sounds stilted or unnatural.

When in doubt, I read it aloud; you can always tell when you hear it instead of reading it. Until I get to know a character – that point when they take on a life of their own - I try to picture them as someone I’ve known in real life. That’s where that colorful and diverse experience thing comes in. People we’ve known feed the fictional characters. Along the way, I’ve met presidents and prisoners, tycoons and trash men, famous musicians, drug dealers, salesmen, reporters, CIA, FBI agents, corrupt politicians, psychics, drunks, etc., everyone reminds me of someone. 

<![CDATA[A Chat with Elias Zapple]]>Sat, 30 Aug 2014 15:09:27 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-elias-zapple REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF ELIAS ZAPPLE Picture
Elias Zapple was not born in 1922, as some would have you believe. His date of birth is not really relevant anyway. What is relevant is that he arose out of a tulip that was growing in some old granny's garden in Camberwell. How he got to be in a tulip is not really clear, nor is it clear how he got out of the tulip, and years later wrote the smash hit musical, 'Love, be a Stranger', which was an international flop.

After that success, he went on to work as a 19th century Victorian chimney sweep, when he was inspired to write the acclaimed series of books entitled 'Duke & Michel'. It is believed the fumes from the chimneys did so much damage to Elias, that it was a miracle he ever ate a cupcake again.

Later, he travelled back in time to the present, and went on a series of trips to many foreign and distant lands. During these travels, Elias met and listened to many interesting people, choosing to ignore all of them. He did, however, learn a couple of things: i) the earth is flat; and ii) you should never eat a banana when it's not ripe.

Many questions are often asked by his adoring public. Are you human? How many chimpanzees can fit inside a fridge? What is that thing growing on the side of your head? To which Mr Zapple has always smiled, turned away and swam off into the sunset; having only once been bitten by an unfriendly shark.

Elias Zapple continues to work towards the unification of Korea, and writing children's stories that parents will spend huge sums of money on. He wishes you all to know that every penny made from the books will go straight into his bank account, which he will then spend on a lavish, new tent.

For more Zappleness, please visit Elias Zapple's website at: www.eliaszapple.com

Elias Zapple's Books

From Duke & Michel: The Mysterious Corridor

Chapter Two: The Mysterious Corridor

“Mum! Dad!” Michel yelled and screamed as he was thrown and spun around within the pitch-black, tornado-like vortex. His hair shot up and rocked from side to side as the skin on his face began to move like a wave pool.

What was happening? Was this real? Michel blinked his eyes repeatedly, expecting to wake up in his bedroom at any second. Nothing.

“Help!” Michel screamed.

Was he in some kind of sick dream like that feeling you have that you’re falling out of bed?

“Mum!” Michel shouted as loud as he could.

Suddenly, the lights were turned way up and he landed with a little bump on something soft in a very, very, very long, bright white corridor.


Michel felt his head and body, checking for broken bones. Of course there weren’t any, it was just a dream that he couldn’t wake from. Probably his cousin wasn’t missing either. But the bump felt so real. What kind of dream was this?

“Get off me, you buffoon!” a voice shouted from beneath Michel.

Michel jumped up and turned around in shock. His eyebrows met his hairline 
and his jaw met the floor. The voice seemingly came from a plump, old Basset Hound 
with big drooping ears that was wearing a British racing green coloured cardigan. 

Michel stared, mouth so wide open that a train could’ve confused it for a tunnel. 

Michel surveyed the area quickly. There was nobody around except him and this dog. 

The voice couldn’t have come from the dog.

“You haven’t died, have you?” the dog asked.Michel was naturally speechless.

“Hello? Another moronic alien, I fear,” the dog said.

Michel rubbed his eyes. The dog was still there and he was still in this corridor. He re-examined his head again. Was he dead? Was this some kind of afterworld? No. It was not possible. Michel touched the white, concrete walls; they were cold. He bent down and felt the floor. It was all so real.

“I say, it is quite rude not to answer when one’s being spoken to. Even ruder not to answer to your cultural superior.”

Michel stared at the dog.

“Deaf as well as imbecilic,” the dog said.

Michel reached out and touched the Basset Hound.

“Hold on there one second! Are you clean? Get your hands off me at once or I shall report you!”

The dog felt real. But a talking dog? Maybe he was hallucinating?

“I must be dreaming or something.” Michel held his head. He was dizzy and sat down against a wall.

“I can bite you if you’d like? I’ve had my tetanus shot,” the dog offered.

Michel’s eyes widened and he quickly moved away as the dog inched his mouth towards Michel.

“Stay away! I don’t know who or what you are or what’s going on but just stay away. Mum? Dad? Someone!”

Michel got up and ran a little down the corridor.

“That’s it, leave me here,” the dog moaned, still sprawled on the white tiled floor. “You just drop on me from out of nowhere, don’t even ask how I am and then run away when I could’ve suffered any number of injuries.”Michel spun around this way and that. 

On each side of the corridor there were doors, illustrated with images and with signs on them. This was insane.‘Toilet World’, ‘Granny Planet’, ‘Spaghetti Universe’. Each door was about ten feet apart and illustrated and labelled with the most peculiar names and images. 

Toilet World had a door covered in pictures of happy-looking toilets, Granny Planet 
had a door covered in pictures of angry, old biddies walking with the aid of walkers 
and threatening people with walking sticks, and Spaghetti… well you get the idea. 
Michel began to sweat profusely. He felt ill. He was ill.

“Spaghetti Universe?” Michel paced back towards the dog.

“Everything made out of spaghetti, I hear,” the dog said.

“Mum! Dad!”

“Where are you from, Scruffy?” the dog asked.

“Please stop talking to me. I don’t wanna get any crazier than I already am.”

Michel put his hand to his forehead. He was burning up. All this couldn’t be 
happening. He steadied himself against the wall then turned to the dog. Suddenly, 
everything went blurry and he collapsed to the floor, next to the dog.

“Hello? Hello…” the dog’s voice trailed off.

Q & A with Elias Zapple


<![CDATA[A Chat with Kristina Ludwig]]>Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:50:32 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-kristina-ludwig REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF KRISTINA LUDWIG Picture
Kristina Ludwig earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and practiced pharmacy for six years before retiring to become a full-time YA fiction author, blogger, and writing coach. She has published 15 eBooks on Amazon, including the best selling Amish Hearts, Amish in College, and Amish Couples Series. She is an avid reader of YA fiction, but will read basically anything in sight!

Kristina lives in California with her husband Antonio, with whom she's launched a new YouTube show, "Business, Publishing, and Life." When she's not dreaming up new stories, you can find Kristina hanging out at the beach, cooking exotic recipes, playing classical piano, journaling, swimming, doing yoga, drawing, shopping, and traveling.

Kristina's Books

From Amish Baker by Kristina Ludwig

Chapter One

It’s a muggy summer day, and the air in Stoltzfus Bakery feels practically as hot as the brick ovens lining its walls. I finish ringing up an exhausting family of Englischers who had been full of questions about the ingredients we use in our Amish baked goods, and place my sweaty forehead in my hands. Right now, I wish for nothing more than a long, cool dip in the brook.

“Mercy,” Hannah calls weakly from her spot in the corner, where she’s mixing up dough for a fresh batch of snickerdoodles. “Do you mind switching places with me?”

One glance at Hannah tells me she’s not looking to shirk her baking duties; the poor girl looks like she’s ready to pass out. Her face is blood-red, covered with beads of perspiration, and she wobbles unsteadily on her feet, reaching out to the counter for support.

“Sit down, Hannah.” Within seconds, I’ve pulled a stool over, helped her into it, and dashed to the back room. 

“What’s going on?” Mrs. Stoltzfus asks when I fling open the door. She’s sitting there doing some bookkeeping, her head propped up on her hand. She glances up with a raised eyebrow, her dark eyes ringed with even darker circles. She looks scary, like the kind of woman that little children run away from. “You know lunch is not for another hour, Mercy.”

Mrs. Stoltzfus owns and runs the bakery, and she uses the back room as an office and break room. I’m jealous of the ever-so-slight breeze that ruffles the curtains on the narrow, high window. I fight the urge to roll my eyes. It figures that she’d be spending her time back here on a day like today, while Hannah and I swelter.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I say, pouring Hannah a tall glass of water from the pitcher on Mrs. Stoltzfus’s desk. “Hannah and I just need a bit of water. I won’t bother you again.”

Mrs. Stoltzfus exhales in a loud hmmmph. “Yah, okay,” she says. “Just see that you don’t.”

I bite back an angry retort as Mrs. Stoltzfus returns to her books, waving me away like a bothersome fly. I race out of the office, muttering under my breath. You’d think that after four whole years of working here, she’d treat me with some respect.

Thankfully, the bakery is free of customers. I can only imagine how grumpy Sourpuss Stoltzfus would get if customers complained about waiting.

I thrust the glass into Hannah’s hands, and she gulps down every last drop of water gratefully.

“Are you okay?” I examine my good friend. She’s sitting a bit straighter, but she still has that wilted-flower look. Her face is no longer flushed; now her skin looks waxy and clammy, almost greenish. Her shiny blond hair, which had been neatly pulled back and covered with her bonnet earlier, falls down from its pins and straggles around her face. For a moment, I wonder if she’s suffering from more than overheating—perhaps she’s sick. There’s nothing worse than a summer fever.

“I think so,” Hannah replies, pressing the cold, empty glass to her forehead. “It was the weirdest thing. I felt like I was going to faint.” She stands up slowly. “I think I’m better now, though.”

“Are you able to stand at the counter, or do you need to sit in the back room for a few minutes? I can tell Mrs. Stoltzfus to come out, you know. She’s only looking at the numbers, and that can wait.”

“No, it’s okay,” Hannah says, her voice coming out fast and almost frantic. She pulls off her bonnet, tidying her hair before she puts it back on. “Please don’t tell Mrs. Stoltzfus. I’ll let you know if I feel weak again, but I’m okay to get the counter for now.”

I cock my head, studying Hannah again. I hadn’t expected this kind of reaction. Why is she so reluctant to tell Mrs. Stoltzfus that she isn’t feeling well?

“After all,” Hannah continues, “I’m going to have nearly eight more months of this. It’ll never do if Mrs. Stoltzfus thinks I can’t carry out my regular duties. Jakob and I need the money now more than ever.”

My eyes widen. Is Hannah saying what I think she’s saying?

Chapter Two

 “Are you—”

“I’m pregnant,” Hannah interrupts, her face breaking into a radiant smile. “Jakob and I just found out. I haven’t had morning sickness, but I do feel a little more tired and weak than usual, especially in this heat.” She lowers her voice, her eyes darting toward Mrs. Stoltzfus’s office. “That’s why I don’t want Mrs. Stoltzfus to know I felt sick today. I don’t want her looking for replacements for me yet. I want to work until the baby is born.”

I stare at Hannah for a moment, speechless. Finally, I choke out, “Congratulations. That’s wunderbar.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Hannah says, her blue eyes sparkling. When she talks about her pregnancy, she literally lights up.

Yah, it is.” I pat her on the shoulder, just as the bell above the front door tinkles and old Mrs. Yoder hobbles in for her usual loaf of bread.

Hannah hurries over to the counter, grabbing a fresh loaf of bread on the way. “Hiya, Mrs. Yoder.”

“Hello, Hannah,” Mrs. Yoder says. “Pardon me for saying, but you look like death warmed over, and I’m sure I don’t look much better. This heat is horrible on my old joints.”

I roll my eyes, molding the dough into snickerdoodles. Old Mrs. Yoder has too much to say, and usually, none of it is good.

 I block out Mrs. Yoder and Hannah’s chatter, my hands and mind busy. I should’ve expected that Hannah would get pregnant. After all, she and Jakob have been married since last November, and they moved into a house of their own this spring. But a small part of me feels annoyed. We work together every day, and she never talked about wanting babies, or planning to have them any time soon.

I also can’t deny that a sick pang of jealousy ripples through my stomach like a rock thrown into a pond. It seems like everyone is moving on in life except me. I’ve worked at the bakery ever since I graduated eighth grade. My twin sister Rebekah worked here for years, until she decided to go to college and study pre-veterinary medicine with her Englischer boyfriend, Braeden. Hannah took Rebekah’s place, and now she’ll be leaving soon, to start a life with her new family. Only I am stuck here, with Sourpuss Stoltzfus.

I grind the little dough balls into the cinnamon-sugar mixture, slapping them onto the cookie sheet. Usually, I take pleasure in baking, making something beautiful and sweet from scratch. But today, nothing here holds any joy for me.

It’s odd that I’m jealous of Rebekah and Hannah, since I don’t want to live their lives—I just want to feel like I’m moving somewhere in my own. I don’t want to go to college, and I don’t want babies yet, either—which is a gut thing. Samuel and I have talked about getting married, but we certainly haven’t set a wedding date.

Mrs. Yoder finishes paying for her bread, counting out the pennies one at a time, and the way the change jingles as Hannah tosses it into the cash register reminds me of something. I’m not stuck here forever. I have been saving money to open my own bakery for over a year now, and last winter Samuel and I talked about starting a combination bakery/general store. He plans to sell produce from his family’s farm, while I can sell my homemade candy and baked goods. The farm has been doing much better with the new marketing techniques Samuel learned in college, and he’s been putting away some money to make this dream come true. I know that both of us have healthy little accounts at the local bank. 

Now, all we have to do is use them, the sooner the better.

Chapter Three

 That night, Samuel picks me up for a buggy ride. It’s a perfect summer evening; the sultry August day has cooled off, and Samuel has opened the top of the buggy. The sky above is clear and star-studded, while fireflies flicker their golden bellies right in front of us. It’s as if Herr Gott has used nature to light up the night just for us.

I notice the tentative way that Samuel reaches for my hand as he tightens the reins and urges the horses to a trot. He’s been trying hard lately to prove his love to me. This spring, he was so preoccupied with his schoolwork and farm duties that he forgot my birthday. I broke up with him the next day. I was not about to stand for a boy forgetting my birthday—especially not one who claimed he loved me.

But Samuel is a determined man. Last week, he showed up at my house with a beautiful bouquet of fresh-picked wildflowers. They’ve long since wilted, but I did pick a few of the prettiest ones, pressing them between the pages of a book to preserve them forever. Samuel apologized that day, and told me he would make things right if I would just give him another chance. And I love him so much that I agreed.

Now, I squeeze his large, callused hand reassuringly, and he smiles over at me.

“How was your day?” he asks.

Gut.” I hesitate for a moment, wondering whether I should tell him about Hannah’s news. He is a fairly close friend of Jakob’s, after all, and I’m sure he’ll find out soon enough.

So, I lean closer to Samuel and say, “I found out something new today.”

Samuel laughs. “More gossip, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I reply with a giggle. “But I think this might be the gossip of the year. Guess what?”

“I couldn’t possibly guess. At least give me a hint.”

“It’s about Hannah.”

Samuel shrugs. “That’s not a lot to go on.” He glances over at me, his brown eyes bright with amusement. “Come on, tell me.”

“Hannah is pregnant,” I say, relishing the way Samuel’s mouth drops open in surprise. I love watching people’s reactions to a good piece of gossip. “She almost passed out from the heat today, and then she swore me to secrecy.”

Samuel chuckles. “I can tell you’re doing a gut job of that so far. Swearing you to secrecy was her first mistake.”

I cross my arms over my chest. “Hey, you’re the first person I’ve told—and the only person, by the way. It just wouldn’t be right otherwise.”

“Don’t be angry, Mercy. I was only joking. I’m excited for Hannah and Jakob. They’ll be wunderlich parents, don’t you think?”

“Of course,” I say, releasing my arms back to my sides. “I’m excited for them, but at the same time I’m sad. I like working with Hannah, and now she’ll be leaving, just like Rebekah did. I realized that I’ve been working there for so long—too long. I almost can’t stand it any more.”

Samuel winks at me. “Luckily, you won’t have to. Crops have been selling well this summer, and John and I, and even Vadder, have talked about opening the store soon. So you won’t have to work at the bakery much longer—you’ll have one of your own. The Englischers will love it, and since it’ll be part of the store, Mrs. Stoltzfus won’t be able to say you’re stealing her business.”

I grin at him. This news truly is the best I’ve heard all day.

Q & A with Kristina Ludwig

How did you get interested in the Amish?

I became interested in the Amish while growing up in Pennsylvania. When I took my SATs, an Amish girl took the test right across the room from me. I was struck by the fact that she was taking this test and probably planning for college despite only having a formal eighth grade education! This inspired me years later to create the character Rebekah, who attends college to study veterinary medicine.

How long have you been writing? How did you start?

I've enjoyed a lifelong love of creative writing, and wrote my first story about a zoo in kindergarten. I started writing professionally last year, when I retired from my career as a pharmacist and focused 100 % on my passion.

What do you do to improve your writing skills?

I attend writing conferences and am an avid reader of blogs, writing books, magazines like Writers' Digest, and fiction. Before I took the plunge into writing professionally, I took several advanced online novel-writing courses through the Institute of Children's Literature to hone my skills, and one of my teachers is still my editor today.

<![CDATA[A Chat with L.J. Martin]]>Fri, 14 Mar 2014 17:50:47 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-lj-martin REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF L.J. MARTIN Picture
L. J. Martin is the author of 37 book length works (westerns, historicals, mysteries, thrillers, and non-ficiton), and has written a number of screenplays, one of which was optioned by a major NBC approved producer.

His five non-fiction books include: KILLING CANCER (he's a two time cancer survivor), WRITE COMPELLING FICTION, an instructional work for aspiring authors, MYRTLE MAE & THE CREW, a book of cartoons, FROM THE PEA PATCH, a conservative political series of essays, COOKING WILD & WONDERFUL, a cookbook with story content, the CALIFORNIA COCINA, a historical cookbook, BUILDING A GREENHOUSE, a how to book He also does manuscript acquisition for Wolfpack Publishing, which has many other writers featured on it's publication and sales site.

 L. J. and his wife Kat live in Montana in the Spring, Summer, and Fall and on the California coast in the Winter. His wife, Kat Martin, is a NYT bestsellling, internationally published, romantic suspense and historical romance author published in over a dozen foreign languages and in 2 dozen countries.

 When not writing, L. J. is cooking and developing recipes for his webpage www.wolfpackranch.com, hunting, fishing, or hauling his cameras around the high country, or promoting their careers. He has two dozen novels and non-fiction works listed on Amazon and Kindle. Join him on facebook on his author page L. J. Martin, his cooking page The Kitchen at Wolfpack Ranch, and his personal page Larry J. Martin. Search youtube for ljmartinwolfpack to view one of the one hundred twenty five videos he has posted.

Books by L.J. Martin

Q&A with L.J.Martin

What is the best way to hook a reader? What strategies are effective for opening a story? Can you give us an example from one of your books?

The opening of Nemesis:

It's been fifteen years since I've killed a man.

At least a man against whom I held a grudge, the recent unpleasantries excluded, as in the smoke and haze of battle you seldom saw the face of a man you dispatched. And that whole affair seemed President Lincoln's grudge and only my duty as a sworn soldier. Not that the taste in your mouth is any sweeter for the small difference. After all, killing is killing. But that man fifteen years ago, when I was a younger of only fifteen years, came against my family, and he was well known to me and mine.

I have now carefully cleaned and sighted my weapons again, and cast a few bullets, as I have a task before me. 

What do we learn from this opening?  He's been around, having killed a man fifteen years before.  He fought in the Civil War.  He has a task, a quest, before him.  We know his age, as fifteen years ago, when he was fifteen...something of his character, the time and place, and that he's setting out to do something that causes him displeasure.  That fact alone, displeasure, gives you a look at his character.  This is easy to do the cheap way, looking in a mirror, having a third party describe, but hard in first person.

Do you have any mantras, rules, or guidelines for yourself as a writer?

Over the top of my computer, along the edges of bookshelves just over eye-high, I have taped the following reminders:

Filter all description though point of view!

Problem, Purpose, Conflict, Goal—Active Voice!

Hear, See, Taste, Touch, and Smell!

There is no scene without conflict!

Check for As, That, Was!

Each of these has been taped there at various times throughout my writing career. And I still glance at them regularly, and they are still crucial to good writing. Other writers, I’m sure, have dozens of other reminders, but these work for me.

Can you talk more about conflict?

Conflict can be man against man, man against the elements, man against animal, man against woman, or man against himself. Your story is about your hero overcoming one or all of them in your story. No one wants to read about a pleasant cattle drive across grass-filled plains dotted with water holes in wonderful weather where everyone gets along famously. Or, to be more succinct, where nothing happens! Boring!

Conflict and its resolution make compelling reading.

Every scene must have conflict of some kind or it shouldn't be in your story. If there's no conflict, then it's only a transition, getting your story from one place or another or from one time to another, and a transition deserves no more than a paragraph, usually at the beginning or ending of a scene.

We often hear writers use the word "scene." What is it?

A scene is an action sequence containing conflict. By action, I mean where something that moves the plot forward or shows characterization happens. It doesn't have to be a fist fight or a chase, it can be the hero having a conversation about going to the box social with the heroine and it can be in her P.O.V. or in his, or you can change P.O.V. in the middle of the scene—I don't recommend it, but you can. Except for scenes that dramatically reveal characterization, there's a rule—the scene's primary ingredient is conflict. If it doesn't have conflict, it's not a scene and should be trashed. 

Your heroine tells your hero she would prefer he didn't bid on her basket, he says it's a free world. Besides, she makes the best apple pie in town. That's conflict. Not the most exciting conflict, but it will make a scene. If they talk about going to the box social and there's no conflict, it's one sentence of another scene or a transition.

Ethan took Maggie's hand and told her he would see her at the social.

That's a narrative sentence out of a scene or a transition. We can talk about transitions later.

How long is a scene? How long does it take? You can have one scene to a chapter or several scenes. You can break chapters in the middle of a scene (a Louis L'Amour trick). It makes for compelling reading because many readers put a novel down only when they've finished a chapter. It's hard to do in the middle of some kind of conflict, even if the chapter has ended. Louis L'Amour was a master of chapter endings and beginnings. He ended his chapters with a question many times, a question the reader wanted answered, so the reader read on. When the reader finished, he told his friend he couldn't put Louie's novel down. 

One of the best writing tips I can give you, the one that will help make your writing more compelling, is to enter a scene late and leave a scene early. This is so important to good pacing, I'm again going to set it out in bold print, if I could put it in hundred point type, I would:

Enter late and leave early!

No one gives a damn if your characters greet each other! "Hello, how are you?" generally adds nothing to a scene. Neither does "goodbye." Enter the scene just before the conflict, or during the conflict, and leave the scene during or just after the conflict.

Now that you've decided how many main characters you're going to have, what P.O.V. you're going to use, and what constitutes a scene, charge forward.

That's my advice, charge forward, particularly for a first novel. Writing the novel will present you with those hard to anticipate questions we may have or may not have discussed. But you can't find the answers until you know the questions. Once you know the questions (which will raise their fuzzy little heads as problems when you write), you'll be able to find the answers.

How would you define theme? It can be a difficult concept to grasp for beginning writers. Is there an easy way to explain it?

Editors and readers want your novel to have a theme— and so do you. 

Good triumphs over evil is probably the most common. 

You can't keep a good man down. 

A good woman is hard to find. 

As ye sew, so shall ye reap. 

Cheat me once, you're a fool; cheat me twice, I'm a fool. 

Themes. It helps you plot your novel if you have a theme. It helps you sell your novel if you have a theme. It helps drive you throughout the novel; it's the road map that gets you where you're going, to The End. Stay with it throughout the story, and prove it with what you write.
<![CDATA[A Chat with Sonya C. Dodd]]>Sun, 22 Dec 2013 16:37:54 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-sonyacdodd REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF SONYA C. DODD Picture
Sonya C. Dodd was born near Norwich in Norfolk, England in 1967. She worked in a bank for many years, before turning to teaching English as a career. She recently gave up a full-time job to look after her two children.

Living in North Elmham, Norfolk whilst writing in her spare time and for pleasure, Sonya began creating her stories in 1996, but did not become published until 2013 when she became a self-published author with Amazon.

With a range of genres including: historical romance, thriller and the supernatural, Sonya hopes her books will appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

Brass Buttons, a romance set against the background of the First World War was Sonya's debut novel, followed swiftly by the thriller: The Root of All Evil. 

Siren Call and its sequel: Echo of a Siren brought a supernatural flavour to Sonya's writing and the trilogy was completed with: Affirmation of the Sirens.

A Whisper in the Wind, a Georgian romance and its sequel: Harbour of Dreams are also available and take Sonya's writing back to the field of romance.

Sonya has also completed two further romances: Dear Mother and With Hindsight, a modern romance set against the backdrop of Oxford university life and political manoeuvring.

Recently Sonya also released two volumes of her short stories: 2000 Words and No Man is an Island.

Currently, Sonya is working on a novel set on her beloved North Norfolk coast.

Sonya Dodd's books

Giant Sentinels

(From  No Man is an Island and Other Short Stories)
Who’d have thought it would all have begun on my birthday: 17th June 2047? I’d given up hoping for decent weather for my celebrations; it might be summer but another storm was brewing with heavy, dark clouds hanging over the distant mountains.

The air was still and sticky. It was as if the world was waiting for something to happen. Even the birds had stopped singing so they could listen more easily to the looming silence.

Although I was leaving my teens behind me, Mum had still made me a birthday cake. At least she’d left off the candles but I came downstairs that morning to see the dining table covered in brightly wrapped presents and cards, the cake there as the centre-piece to disguise the fact the number of gifts was beginning to dwindle. In the old days when my brother, Jack and I had been kids, there had been presents over-flowing on the carpet.

Now the items were spread across the wooden table with tell-tale gaps of pine showing between the prettily wrapped parcels.

A chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ began as I got to the foot of the stairs, followed by kisses from Mum and Dad and a ruffle of my hair from Jack. I pushed him away, embarrassed by the attention and picked up an envelope to tear open.

“You’ll need a lift into town tonight,” Dad commented whilst they all watched me open each item. “Looks like this one will be pretty ferocious,” he added, glancing towards the large window which showed the large, flat, empty plains leading towards the mountains.

They weren’t quite empty, although the wind turbines had been part of the view for so long now I just seemed to look right through them, forgetting their presence.

There’d been a huge fuss when they first went up which was kind of ironic as our house was the only one within sight of them and none of us actually minded them. People in town kicked up a bit of a stink for a while, even with the increasing evidence for us needing to produce energy from natural resources.

The giant sentinels, that’s how I thought of them, were silent statues as their sails turned slowly. From a distance it was possible to imagine they were no taller than a house but as you got closer to them, they loomed and gave off a quiet buzz, the only evidence of the life inside them.

Today their sails were still, I noticed, as I stood my cards on the windowsill. I hoped the bad weather would hold off until after my trip into town. My plan was to meet up with friends at the local steakhouse before we went along to the only nightclub for some dancing. It couldn’t be a late night. Dad insisted on picking me up and I didn’t like to ask him to come and collect me too late.

The day stretched out ahead of me. I’d taken the day off from my job at the bank, not because I had any special plans; I just didn’t fancy having the routine of work on my birthday.

Pixie, our cocker spaniel, was fussing around my ankles. “Okay, I get the hint,” I sighed, stroking his head and reaching for my jacket.

“I’m taking the dog for a walk,” I called through to my mum in the kitchen and headed out onto the front door step. Feeling the humidity, I threw my jacket down onto the bench and followed Pixie as he wove a path across the front yard, sniffing at anything which dared to move.

Strolling slowly to prevent myself becoming too sweaty, my feet led me in the direction of the mountains. I wouldn’t go far, it was too hot and Pixie was easily pleased by just getting out of the house.

Following the dog’s wagging tail, moving through the scrub and rocks like a periscope, seemingly detached from the invisible body below, my thoughts wandered until I suddenly realised I was almost at the first of the wind turbines.

Pausing I looked up at the huge structure and then glanced at the ominous clouds above the mountains. They were swirling as though in anger and occasionally a flash of colour seemed to travel through them. The effect was strange; it couldn’t be lightning because there was no thunder, yet it was as if the storm had already begun.

I shuddered and gazed up at the wind turbine again. Then I realised what had made me hesitate; there was no buzz. The turbine was silent, just like the apparent storm going on inside the clouds without thunder or rain.

Feeling wary, I turned and hurried homewards, eager to return to some normality. I don’t know what spooked me and I guess I should have trusted my instinct that something was amiss. However, as I neared the house, my thoughts returned to the evening ahead and I began thinking about what I should wear.

The evening was long but great. Everyone turned up who had heard about it and after a raucous meal, we invaded the club. The rain had started to fall as we walked from one place to the other, only a few large splashes but it was clear the downpour was going to increase rapidly.

By the time I went outside to look for Dad’s car, the rain was falling in sheets making it difficult to see very far. I heard the beep of a car horn and then spotted a pair of flashing headlights. With my jacket held over my head I dashed across the empty, dark road and jumped gratefully into the passenger seat.

“My feet are soaked,” I cried in disgust, looking down at my sodden strappy sandals which were now dappled in mud, as were my feet. There was a squelching sound as I wriggled my toes.

Dad smiled at me and laughed. “You had a good time though?” he asked as he pulled out onto the road.

“Great, thanks,” I replied, rubbing my forearms dry with the inside of my jacket. Settling back into my seat I looked through the windscreen but there was little to see with just raindrops dancing in the beam of the headlights.

“This is awful,” I sighed, glancing out of the side window but seeing just darkness.

“There’s gonna be plenty of flooding,” Dad commented, leaning forward to see where the road was; it was difficult to see the road markings with such heavy rain as we crawled along.

I was desperate for my bed but knew this journey was going to take some time. Glad to be under my Dad’s protection, rather than in a taxi, I sighed and let my eyelids close as the effects of the wine I’d been drinking began to make my head spin.

The rain thundered on the car roof, creating a deafening noise. It seemed impossible that it could get any heavier but still the intensity appeared to creep up.

As the car jerked I opened my eyes and glanced at Dad. He was concentrating; there was a deep furrow across his forehead and his mouth was pulled tight.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“I’m gonna have to pull over,” he replied, as the car came to a standstill. “Can’t see a bloody thing.”

I pulled myself upright, knowing I wasn’t being much use. “I’ll help you watch the road,” I suggested.

He looked across at me. “Don’t worry; this has got to lighten up, better to be safe than sorry.”

My eyes closed once more. At least I could grab a bit of sleep whilst we waited, I thought.

I don’t know how much time passed; it was possible I’d drifted off to the rhythm of the driving rain. A sharp jolt woke me with a start and my eyes opened in a flash.

Shivering in the cold darkness, I looked across at my father who was looking out of his side window. “What was that?” I asked nervously. My voice sounded like a whisper against the rain.

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I’m gonna take a look,” he said, doing up the zip of his jacket.

“Don’t go far,” I told him as he opened the door. A gust of wind nearly pulled the door from his grip as he eased himself out.

The door closed and he disappeared from view. Beginning to shiver, I slipped my arms into the sleeves of my damp jacket and peered out into the darkness, trying to see any sign of my dad.

It was a long stretch of road which linked our house to the town which was unlit and at night it was impossible to detect how far there was still to travel until the familiar sight of our post box and gate appeared. Because of the rain we’d been going pretty slowly so I guessed we still had some distance to go.

The sound of the rain above my head seemed to become a little less heavy and I quietly cursed Dad for getting out. I let out a heavy sigh; I could either stay put or go and see what was keeping him.

The car clock told me it was almost two. I was desperate for a glass of water. Annoyed I released the door handle and the door flew open. With the car rocking from the force still, I stepped out onto the roadside verge, my feet instantly disappearing into a thick layer of mud.

“Bloody hell!” I exclaimed in anger. I drew a foot up slowly until it looked as though I was wearing slippers made of the sticky, brown sludge.

“Dad!” I yelled. The wind grabbed my words, snatching them away in an instant. I walked slowly round the car keeping one hand on the cold metal for security as I battled against the strong gale. My clothes were drenched and stuck uncomfortably to my skin.

The rain might have eased slightly but the wind was vicious and the darkness dense. My senses were back on full alert and there were butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

On the driver’s side of the car I scanned the empty road, hoping to see my dad come into view. But it was like an abyss.

Hopelessly I called out again. Reaching the bonnet, I stopped in surprise. The outline of the leg of a wind turbine was visible straight ahead of me. It was impossible we had travelled as far as the turbines since leaving town but the evidence was in front of me, the only thing to be seen in any direction.

My blood ran cold. It was too close to the road. The huge structures were at least half a mile from the main road and I could have reached out and touched this one.

I could feel my legs trembling. Where was my father when I needed him? Was his disappearance linked to this phenomenon?

I considered getting back in the car but knew I’d be vulnerable inside the shell of the vehicle. Although I couldn’t see anything out here, at least I knew it was all open, empty space and somewhere nearby was my family and home.

Moving slowly back round the car to put a shield between myself and the turbine, which had become threatening in my mind, I realised I could hear a loud buzzing. With the reduction in the sound of the rain, the buzz had gradually increased in volume without me noticing.

 My mind raced. I could risk starting the car and driving myself but I’d be like a sitting duck, easy to spot. If I headed out across the open countryside I might eventually make it home but it could take until dawn.

There was an almighty creaking sound of metal followed by a rumble like thunder before the ground shook and I was convinced it must be an earthquake. However, when I looked back towards the turbine I saw with horror that there were now two of them standing side by side.

I wanted someone to shake me and wake me from my slumber but as another sound of creaking metal rocked the air I knew I was very awake.

The foot of a turbine smashed through the roof of the car and I was grateful my fear had caused me to hesitate. Now only one option remained open to me and I made a dash for the edge of the road, rolling myself down the embankment which I knew lay just beyond the road’s edge.

I came to a stop and scrambled to my feet, trying to get my bearings. Another enormous vibration rocked the ground and I only just managed to remain upright.

This was the stuff of nightmares. The wind turbines appeared to be on the move. If someone had told me this was how my evening would end, I would have told them they were crazy. Maybe I was hallucinating and I would wake up in the morning to find myself back in the warmth and comfort of my own bed.

The sound of something flying at great velocity through the air made me turn my head in the direction of the noise as an almighty explosion lit up the sky around me. Some kind of missile must have left one of the turbines because by the glow of the fire I could see the fields behind me were filled with the giant sentinels.

The way to my home was clear but it was the direction from which these creatures of fantasy had come. What would I discover? There was only one way to find out and with the aid of the light from the remaining fire, I began hurrying in the direction of the house, leaving the wreckage of the car and my father behind me, hoping he would also head for home.


Those were scary times which marked a change in our way of life. When I reached what remained of the house, which was nothing more than a burnt out shell, there was no sign of my parents but I discovered Jack hiding in the outbuilding, clearly terrified too.

Glad not to be alone any longer, we waited until the necessity for food drove us towards civilisation. What we discovered was our worst fear. There was little evidence remaining that the town had ever existed. It looked as though the turbines had passed through the place, destroying all evidence of human life.

It’s been almost a year now since that fateful night. The armed forces have joined together to try and minimise damage. The turbines have so far proved indestructible. We are not the only country affected by these monsters; it is a worldwide crisis and who knows how long it will take for someone to discover a way of putting an end to this nightmare? All we can do is live in hope.


Q & A with Sonya C. Dodd

Can you give us any tips on character development?

Character development in short stories is very difficult as you have limited words, so I find it is more important to get the character's personality across to the reader rather than wasting time with what they look like. Clearly sometimes certain details about appearance are needed but focus on what kind of person they are and a lot of that comes from how they react to what happens to them and what is going on around them.

So in this story you find out how important family is to the main character and how brave she is from her reaction to the plot.

Is this story a metaphor?

The story isn't really a metaphor. I find wind turbines fascinating, like gentle giants which made me imagine a futuristic world where they might grow in intelligence and move.

Do you base all of your stories in the UK?

I don't base all my stories in the UK. Some are set overseas although there is clearly less requirement for research if you set a story in your own country. I have one novel where some of the plot takes place in Mexico and a short story set in Brazil. For both of those I felt under pressure to ensure they were believable even though I have not visited either country.

Why did you pick the first person point of view?

My answer to this question ties in with the first question. In a short story when you have fewer words and you need to get to the heart of the plot, I find it is often easier to write from the first person because it gives you an opportunity 'to feel' what the main character is experiencing which allows you to write more succinctly.

When I write, I always see the plot like a film playing in my head. So if I am the main character, I can feel my reaction to events a lot more strongly than if I was trying to imagine it happening to someone else.

<![CDATA[A Chat with S.R. Mallery]]>Mon, 28 Oct 2013 20:55:02 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-sr-mallery REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF S.R. MALLERY Picture
S. R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life.  Starting out as a classical/pop singer/composer, she worked in clubs and churches while composing
for educational filmstrips.  From there, she moved on to having her own calligraphy company, a twenty-year quilting and craft business, and teaching
English as a Second Language/Reading.  Finally, she tried her hand at fiction writing and it was like an all-consuming drug.  She's been happily writing ever

 She has had eleven short fiction pieces published in "descant 2008," "Snowy Egret," "Transcendent Visions," "The Storyteller," and "Down In The Dirt". 
Several of her stories have appeared in different anthologies through Scars  Publications.  Before that, she had articles published in "Traditional Quiltworks" by Chitra Publications, and "Quilt World" by House of White Birches when she was a professional quilt artist/quilt teacher.

Click on the image to visit S.R. Mallery's Amazon.com author page or visit her website to read her flash fiction: http://www.srmallery.com/

S.R. Mallery's Books

Sewing Can Be Dangerous

(From Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads)
As the subway train lurched to a spark-grinding stop, the steam, billowy white from the cold October day, temporarily blocked the neon letter forms scrawled across the station signs.

            On the train, Susan turned to her companion. “This is us, Mom,” she announced.

             Dressed in varying shades of black, the two women rose from their metal seats, quickly exited before the doors could close on them, and gingerly made their way down the rickety platform steps. Yet down at street level, they both froze, mesmerized by the view. Hundreds of tombstones and mausoleums spread out before them on either side, and with the grey stones gradating up into a grey sky, it resembled more of an architectural painting than a backdrop to the oldest Jewish cemetery in New York City. 

              Mourning relatives huddled around the two newcomers, offering each one silent hugs and wet cheeks. Then, wending her way over to the family plot, Susan tried hard to avoid stepping on any hallowed ground as she passed row after row of Siegelmans, Strausses, Brodskys, Kandelbergs, and Steins.

            But it was the incongruous array of headstones that impressed her the most—faded names butted up against trendy 1990 tombstones with faces photo-transferred onto their slick, dark green surfaces. Just imagine, she mused, how a heavy downpour would look, splashing against their faces, beating tears down all those shiny cheeks.

            Oh, that’s Great Aunt Ada, she thought, focusing on their family plot’s fanciest headstone. I remember hearing about her. And there’s little David, run over by a trolley car. How awful it must have been for her grandmother as a girl, to be told something so tragic about her own brother.

            Closing her eyes, she could still hear her bubby’s voice in her head, imitating all the deep wails emanating from the family parlor the night of the boy’s death. Now, even as her Uncle Jacob eulogized, her mind kept drifting, conjuring up emotions she herself had suppressed for months.

            After the service, still taking in the family tombstones, she zeroed in on an unfamiliar name and stepped in closer to get a better look.


“Herein lies Sasha Rosoff

Born in Russia, 1895

Died New York City, 1911

A short life in America—

A large soul in Heaven.”


            Susan’s interest was tweaked. Who was this mysterious Sasha Rosoff and more importantly, what had caused her to die so young? She swiveled around to ask one of her older cousins, but thought better of it. Later would be a more appropriate time for questions.

            Later turned out to be at Uncle Jacob’s house in Queens, where the laughter, tears, and reminiscences intermingled with tray after tray of Jewish delicacies. By evening, when a secondary wave of people arrived to extend their noisy condolences, the tiny white wood and plaster house with the black roof swelled and vibrated.

            Finally, Susan couldn’t contain herself any longer. Approaching a four-foot-tall, four-foot-wide silver-haired woman, she rested her arm around one of her favorite relative’s shoulders. “Cousin Yetta, I am dying to know something—who is Sasha Rosoff?”

            The twitch of surprise was palpable. “There are a few things we just don’t talk about around here. But if you have to know, ask your Great Uncle Jacob, he might tell you,” she added as she folded and unfolded her cocktail napkin.

            Uncle Jacob’s duty as memorial host was to keep afloat just long enough to see the last guest leave. Sitting on the sofa, the lower section of his shirt half-opened, an unbuckled belt releasing his enormous belly, he was drawing slow, deliberate breaths as Susan sat down beside him. Her fingertips were the lightest of touches on his tired arm. “Uncle Jacob, are you all right?”

            He smiled at her concern. “Susan, my sweet one. How are you? I didn’t even ask. How’s the job? Your mom told me you’re so upset.”

            “I am, but that’s not what I want to ask you.” She paused, measuring her words carefully. “When we were all at the cemetery, I noticed a tombstone marked Sasha Rosoff. Who was she? Why did she die so young?”

             Uncle Jacob’s unexpected tears startled them both. For all his bulk and composure, his vulnerability made Susan instantly regret having brought it up.

            “That poor girl never had a chance,” he murmured. “So terrible to die that way…” He ended with his head resting on his right palm.

            Susan leaned forward and stroked his shoulder. “Please, Uncle Jacob, tell me what happened, please?”

            He sat up, pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and first wiping his eyes and blowing his nose, let out a heavy sigh. “What happened? Ah, well…”


            Sasha couldn’t believe how miserable the boat trip had been coming across the Atlantic. People shoved up against each other, buffering the elements; howling babies in the arms of frantic mothers trying to pacify them, and always the inevitable nausea that forced everyone to gag or lean over the railings and vomit.

            Torrential rain and wind drove the ragged ship, listing it back and forth over the fierce waves and scattering passengers into dark cubbyholes. Throughout, prayers provided the only strong haven, and for Sasha and her family, they prayed every free moment they got that New York’s harbor would appear before their vessel broke into wooden fragments floating in the angry sea. From the lower levels, third-class shawled women, hatless men, and grimy-faced children kept gathering up on deck, straining to catch sight of the Statue of Liberty, the ultimate Lady of Hope.

“Anytime now, it’ll be there,” they were assured by the crew, but all they kept seeing were endless miles of a relentless ocean.

            Below deck, gathered around the family’s makeshift table, Sasha’s father Moshe held court. “Ven ve come to New York, ve vill go to our cousins, the Brodskys on Hester Street. Ve will all act vit respect, and ve von’t give dem any trouble, vill ve? Is dis understoot, Sasha?”

            Sasha clenched her teeth, her green eyes hard. Being treated like a second-class citizen in Russia because she was Jewish seemed a cruel and mystifying enough punishment, but to be viewed as a third-class citizen by her own father simply because she was female was more than she could bear.

            Ignoring her set jaw, Moshe and beamed at his young son. “David, balibt, my beloved one, I know you vill behave vell, and ve vill find you goot job. Dis is land of opportunity, and you can do anythink you vant. No Cossacks to shoot you down, no pogroms here. Dis is America.”

            “Papa, vat about me?” Sasha struggled to steady the tremor in her voice.

            “Hush, girl! You vill do vat you are told! Ve vill look for somethink dat girls are meant to do. Now, hush! Sasha!”

            Sasha’s mother Raisa bowed her head and sighed. Twenty years of living with her husband had taught her not to argue; in the end, the price was always too high. But Sasha was young, herspirit still intact, and as the ship pressed forward, she made a silent vow to herself. She would someday live her life the way God intended her to do.

            By the time the boat entered the Upper New York Bay, people had scrambled over to the main deck railing, bobbing and positioning themselves to get their first glimpse of the famous statue. There she was. None of the photos or paintings had done her justice. Up close, the sheer magnitude of her green-bronzed body with the one arm reaching up towards the cloudy sky, grasping a torch while her crowned head held a steady gaze towards America, brought tears to the Rosoff’s eyes. Without speaking, each of them was silently acknowledging her significance. To Moshe, she represented the respect he felt he had always deserved; to Raisa, if her husband received more respect, he might soften towards others; to David, she evoked new, exciting adventures, and to Sasha, just landing on American soil symbolized independence.

            As the ship maneuvered into New York Harbor, the sudden horn blast and swollen plumes of smoke bursting from its huge black fennels caused everyone to first jump, then shriek with delight.

            Their new lives were just beginning.

            But the high-paid jobs for Moshe and David never materialized, and after degrading medical examinations on Ellis Island, consisting of harsh finger probes, sneers, and humiliating positions, they both resigned themselves to sweeping garbage off the floor of a local saloon for a pittance. Interestingly enough, despite Moshe’s predictions, the only family member who managed to get a better paying job was Sasha.

            The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, inside the Asch building was located on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in the lower east end of Manhattan. The owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, prided themselves on mass-producing new fashioned shirtwaists for American women and in the process, becoming extremely rich men by hiring young Yiddish, German, and Italian seamstresses, desperate for work.

            The Rosoffs were thrilled at her steady pay, but Sasha’s heart sank. She found out soon enough what working conditions were really like: sixteen hour days, six days-a-week, hunched over cumbersome black iron industrial sewing machines in dense, almost airtight conditions that had her breaking out in streams of sweat on hot summer days, and teeth chattering shivers in the dead of winter.

            Harris and Blanck were true believers of the new industrial age. It never occurred to them to offer decent factory conditions to their hard-working employees when they could just as easily squeeze the same amount of work out of these naïve immigrant girls. So for Sasha, each day was filled with crippling, repetitive motions that left her neck, back, and arms sore for days at a time. The fifteen minute allotment for lunch passed so quickly that some of the slower girls only had time to pull out their lunch boxes and take a couple of bites of food washed down by two or three swigs of liquid before the whistle blew, signaling them back to work. There were no other breaks and no time to socialize.

            Lint particles sifted steadily throughout, settling into every conceivable surface. Microscopic fibers clogged mechanisms and filled nostrils with a dust so fine, after two hours it became difficult to breathe. Oil soaked rags, used for greasing the mechanisms, radiated their own heat that could be slightly comforting in winter for those workers near the large bins where they were dumped, but toxic in spring and summer for everyone else.

            America, Land of the Free. Such a joke, such a schpas, Sasha grumbled as she hobbled home one evening, later than usual. Entering their cramped, walk-up apartment, she appeared to be alone, and grateful for the stillness, stretched out across their daybed/sofa, relishing a soundless room without the constant clatter of industrial sewing machines. She tried relaxing her throbbing back by closing her eyes and pretending she was far away in distant lands, but within minutes, she could hear Jacob Brodsky trudging up the hallway stairs from his after school job. Eyes still closed, she smiled in spite of her exhaustion and pain.

            Her little cousin Jacob had become the one and only shining light in her life. He adored her and she him. Somehow, the two found solace in each other’s company and without him, Sasha knew she might not have the strength to continue. More shuffling on the vestibule steps announced her Uncle Samuel, tired but excited about all the tips he had made that day waiting on tables.

            The Brodskys were fortunate. They had all gotten jobs in a local Jewish delicatessen, preparing the food, waiting on tables, and dishwashing. Delighted with their work and its decent pay, they still commiserated with Moshe and his family on their lowly positions and grueling schedules. ‘Remember, this is America,’ they would repeat on cue. ‘Land of opportunity. Just wait and see—have a little patience, have a little geduld.’

            But as time went on and still no changes, Moshe’s increasing bitterness garnered a single target: his daughter. “Girl, vere ist your money for veek?” he would lash out. “I told you, you give it to me right vay. Don’t tink to keep it for yourself! You vouldn’t know vat to do with it, anyvay. Except for sewing, you no good! Give it! Gebin!” Most times, he would end by shoving his hand roughly out towards her, palm up, waiting for total compliance.

            Tonight, still lying on their couch and watching the Brodskys prepare dinner, Sasha could feel herself drifting off into a much- needed doze. Earlier that day, her shift had been particularly exhausting. Rainy spring days brought foul, rancid smells into the factory, and with little to no air, the combined odors had proved unbearable. At lunch break, she had nearly fainted from the stench, and when she had dared ask for a lunch extension, her answer came in the form of a broom handle, poking her in the ribs.

            “Gebn, meidl! Give girl!” Shaken awake, she saw her father looming over her, his heavy breathing hammering her in angry waves. Moshe’s day had been bad as well, culminating in his employers deliberately stomping across the area of floor where he had been carefully mopping, tracking fresh mud in from the street. In an instant, all the months of swallowed pride surfaced. Flinging his mop down, he stormed out, pushing bills and sustenance far from his mind.

            Out on the street, however, his anger quickly morphed into silent desperation and by the time he had reached their apartment, he was looking for the only satisfaction he knew he could get—attacking Sasha.

            “Can’t I keep a little money, Papa? At least let me do somethink else. I hurt all over. Ich schatn…” Her voice cracked.

            That did it. Cursing in Yiddish, he grabbed a wooden ruler and started hitting her shoulders and outstretched hands, ignoring all her feeble attempts at self-protection. Finally, with palms the color of raw meat and raised welts rubbing against the rough fabric of her dress, she cowered on the floor in the corner of their kitchen and sobbed.

            Jacob, kneeling down beside her, started stroking her hair.

            Just then, her Aunt Deborah entered. Her reserve this past year as she had watched her cousin’s behavior with his only daughter had been based on a laissez-faire philosophy. But enough was enough. Genug is genug. Shoving her cousin up against the wall, she snarled, “Shame on you! How dare you treat your daughter like that! Vitout her money, you vould be notink, do you hear me, Moshe Rosoff? Notink!”

             Moshe slowly lowered his arm, dropping the ruler onto the floor beside him. Suddenly the apartment stilled, with only the tick…tick…tick of the wall clock, echoing Sasha’s soft whimpers.

            A half hour later, dinner was placed on the cracked oak table as if nothing had happened, and with Raisa home, Moshe talked fervently to everyone about how things would be soon looking up, his pink face flushed with a renewed energy. Seduced by his good mood, Deborah, Raisa, Jacob, and David listened attentively while Sasha ate in silence.


            Saturday, March 25, 1911 started out like so many other days. Sasha woke up in the dark, got dressed with cold, numb fingers, splashed water on her face from the porcelain pitcher and bowl set out on the kitchen table, gently kissed a sleeping Jacob, grabbed a piece of bread she had covered with jam, and let herself out the door. Feeling her way down the pitch black hallway by running her fingers over the embossed plaster patterns, she almost stumbled on a nail peeking out of a floorboard just before reaching the front door. The gas light in the vestibule had been out for weeks, and their landlord had refused to fix it. She felt tired and depressed, but as bad as conditions were at Triangle Shirtwaist, nothing could compare with being around Moshe, and so taking a deep breath, she gratefully made her way through lower Manhattan to the sewing factory for a day of overtime and its slightly higher pay.

            On the sidewalk outside the factory, she caught up with many of the girls with whom she usually worked—three hundred Italian, German, and Yiddish girls, their thread-worn dresses hanging over muddied petticoats and eyes as dark-circled as hers. Trudging up the path, they were all met at the front entrance by Joe Zitto, one of the elevator operators.

            “Okay girls, okay. Let’s get goin’. The rest of the building ain’t opened today, so I’m gonna take ya’s up to the 8th, 9th and 10th floors only. Don’t try to go anywheres else for lunch. The doors to the other floors are locked mostly. I guess Old Man Harris don’t want no burglars comin’ in.  So, c’mon girls, let’s go.”

            Bending over her assigned sewing machine was excruciating. Her entire body ached from the previous day’s abuse; still, she kept working until lunchtime. She was in no mood to socialize—making idle chit-chat was the last thing she wanted to do, but when she retreated to a corner of the factory floor by herself, two of her closest co-workers, Gladie Moskovitz and Irma Delacina, came over to sit beside her.  

            “What’sa matter wid you today, Sasha?” Irma peered at her friend as she bit down hard on a piece of Italian bread, some crust flipping out of her mouth and onto the floor.

            “Yah, you look different. Is evertink all right at home?” Gladie was more privy to Sasha’s problem with Moshe than Irma was.

            “I don’t vant to talk about it—sometink did happen, but I not say…” Sasha feared once she started talking, there would be no stopping. Better to keep mute.

            In what seemed like a merefive minutes, the whistle blew, followed by numerous deep sighs and groans. Irma threw an arm around Sasha’s shoulder on the way back to their sewing machines, and handing her a delicate-looking locket from around her own neck, told her, “Here, taka dis to wear. It’s a good luck charm necklace. I got it in Italy. If you wear it, maybe you getta good luck from now on.” She leaned over and gave her friend a little kiss on the cheek.

            Touched by Irma’s gesture, Sasha instinctively pulled off a little pinkie ring of her own—a small, silver Jewish star pattern with a pink stone in the center. Uncle Samuel had bought it for her the week before at a local flea market, telling her, “Remember, Sashelah,you’re American now, but always, you are a Jewish girl. Never forget the Torah, my child.”

            Irma’s mouth curved into a huge grin as she placed the ring on her pinkie finger. Then the two girls gave each other a quick hug before returning to their stations.

            The afternoon dragged on. Sasha found that by concentrating only on the rhythm of the sewing machines, she could block out her misery for a while. Closing her eyes and listening intently, she could almost hear the tapping of a marching band: click, click, slam-slam-slam, whoosh-whoosh, rattle-rattle went the machines. Soon, the entire factory room pulsed.

            By 4:45 p.m., the whistle blew as if by magic, signaling the end of the workday and going home to face another round with Moshe. Turning off her machine, Sasha stood up, took a deep breath, and steeling herself, tried to remember the good people in her life, like Irma and Gladie, and of course, little Jacob.

            Three steps forward, she smelled smoke.

            Girls on the opposite end of the floor next to the windows were beginning to scream in a panicked chorus, and suddenly streaking past her, someone shouted, “Fire! Fire!” Still, she remained paralyzed, her arms and legs like lead, her mouth filled with a bitter, chalky taste. Then the adrenaline hit her and she broke into a dead run.

            Dark gray swirls of smoke were seeping in from under the doorway cracks while dozens of girls stampeded past the sewing room, heading towards the elevator shafts or stairwells and ending up crushed together against the in-going only doorways. Hysteria rendered each girl strong. No matter how hard she tried, Sasha couldn’t push her way through the group of flailing arms and legs, so she about-faced to explore other escape routes.

            Outside on the street, a man walking by pointed upward and shouted, “Look at the smoke coming out of the Triangle building!”

            “Yeah, it looks like it’s comin’ from the top floors! What’s that coming outa the windows? Looks like bolts of fabric! Old Man Blanck must really want to save his precious cloth!” a woman chimed in.

            “Yeah. Wait! Wait a minute!” the man continued. “That’s not bolts of fabric—they’re—they’re—oh, God in Heaven!”

            The cynical woman let out a blood-curdling shriek.

            As a large crowd gathered, all eyes were glued towards the 9th and 10th floors in time to see several blackened girls in smoldering dresses hurling themselves towards the ground to join the six bodies already strewn across the sidewalk, limp, broken.

             Engine Company 72 clanged around the corner and ground to a halt, but the mounting piles of corpses made it impossible for the hose wagon to get close enough to be effective. Desperate firemen started handing out bucket after filled water bucket to the foreman, some male tailors, and anyone else available, so they could run back into the building to douse out the flames. When all twenty-seven buckets were emptied, it became all too painfully obvious; the fire was completely out of control.

            A few soot-streaked firemen tried to stretch out a safety net to catch one girl’s fall, but before all four corners were taut enough, three more girls had jumped seconds behind her, the weight of all four ripping the net as they landed hard against the pavement. The stunned men grabbed a nearby horse blanket to try to cushion the fall of another girl, but she, too, flew down with such force, her charred body split the blanket in two, hitting the cement with a loud thud.

            Up on the tenth floor, more and more girls were desperately trying to scramble down the fire escapes. Gripping the iron ladders, terror made them ignore the steam hissing out between their fingers until suddenly, yelping in pain, they let go, gliding like flying squirrels towards the ground.

            Inside the building was pandemonium. Clouds of thick, bulbous smoke blinded Sasha, stinging her eyes and rendering her throat raw until she got down on her hands and knees and managed to crawl towards the elevator shaft, praying both Joe Zitto and Joe Gaspar might still be on duty. Sure enough, the elevator was working, but it kept stopping on the eighth floor below her. She could hear Joe Zitto frantically working the metal levers, shouting up to anyone within earshot, “I can only get to the eighth floor! The ninth and tenth floors are blocked off! Get to the eighth floor and I’ll take ya’s down.”

            She managed to get to the eighth floor using one of the few stairwell exit doors not engulfed in flames, but once there, found too many crazed girls jammed together, calling out for the elevator. Joe Gaspar came up next, but could only squeeze in twelve to fifteen girls at a time. Between the two men, they made fifteen to twenty trips each, but with each trip, the girls’ clutches and cries weakened as their coughing from all the smoke inhalation overwhelmed them.

             “Come on, Sasha, come wid me to da westa door. We can getta through dere!”She recognized Irma Delacina by voice only. The girl covered in head-to-toe soot and sizzling clothes standing next to her, looked nothing like the kind, smiling girl she had hugged just hours before. She attempted to reach out and grab her, but Irma was already halfway across the hallway, heading toward a door that Sasha knew to be locked. She called out after her friend, but Irma either wasn’t listening or couldn’t hear over the din of howls. 

            Careening around the corner from Great Jones Street, Engine Company 33 shuddered to a full stop in front of the burning building, drawing hurrahs from a crowd that naturally assumed any back-up would bring miracles. But their cheers soon turned to cries of horror when everyone realized the hoses could only reach the seventh floor, leaving the upper floors of the factory engulfed in flames.

            Back on the tenth floor, Sasha viewed her options. She could see three male cutters across the room running towards an open window, and decided to go with them. She didn’t get far. Oxidation from the fire had turned the tenth floor into a time bomb, and as bolts of fabric imploded into popping blazes, she was knocked off her feet and onto the floor.

            Dazed, she tried to get up, then fell back, unable to move.

            Two minutes later, a roar erupted from the huge crowd as they witnessed three male cutters forming a human chain from the roof of the factory to an adjacent building. Slowly, one at a time, several of the girls carefully inched across the backs of the men to safety, eliciting cheers and applause each time someone made it. But the strain on their hands and fingers were too much for the cutters; someone lost their grip, and all three men plummeted eighty feet to their death.

            The sudden stillness overwhelmed the crowd already in mourning. In the thousands, they remained in shock until a man finally found his voice. “Look at the roof!”

            All eyes pointed upward. There, over a hundred girls, in their cumbersome dresses and singed petticoats, were wriggling across a ladder held down by New York University law students who had hatched an escape route between the adjacent buildings.

            By nightfall the fire had subsided, leaving glowing embers and assuring the firemen of an end in sight. But along with their relief came the dreaded job of scouting for more girls inside the building, and as the searchlights crisscrossed up towards the hollowed floors, an even more gruesome sight was revealed: scores of burned bodies, cradled by ropes, were being slowly lowered by firemen, then gently lined up on the cobblestones to be carted away for family identification.

            Nearby, hysterical relatives had descended on the Mercer Street Police station, clamoring with questions in broken English and praying their loved ones had managed to survive. Italian families wedged up tight against German families, who melded into Russian-Yiddish families, all waiting as a unit for any news.

            Soon, an official shuffled into the room, his face impassive, mouth straight-lined. With his legs in riot stance, he stared at the families for several seconds before indicating a map on the south wall. “Go to the Bellevue Morgue on 26th Street,” he informed them. “You can either identify your loved ones there, or obtain more information about any missing girl.” Then he about-faced and marched out, as detached as when he had come in.

            Moshe, Samuel, and Raisa wasted no time. Before anyone else could leave the room, they had already begun their race over to the designated morgue. Once there, the thought of waiting in another endless line was out of the question for Raisa. She stormed across the waiting room to the main registry, leaned over the green institutional counter and demanded, “Ver ist da girls?” The inexperienced secretary flinched backwards then pointed a shaky finger towards the pier, a few yards away.

            Approaching the area, the smell of burned flesh overtook them, and as Raisa started to faint, Moshe quickly stepped up to hold her.

            “Be brave, be brave for our little girl,” he muttered repeatedly.

            All the years of repressed anger in Raisa suddenly exploded.  “You—you—you did dis to her!” she screamed. “She had nottink to say—you made her verk there! I never forgive you, never! Kein mol nit!”

            Jerking herself free, she chargedthrough the warehouse to the identification room, ignoring all officials, ready for any confrontation. But in the main room, she did a double-take. On the floor were dozens of bodies, burned beyond recognition. Walking up and down the rows, she scrutinized each cadaver, but it was no use; she couldn’t make out anything. Then suddenly from out of nowhere, she let out an agonized sob and collapsed. Samuelrushed over to support her, cradling her as if she were Sasha herself. After a minute of rocking back and forth, he focused on something himself and cried out sharply.

            “Vat, vat is it?” Moshe implored.

            Samuel pointed to a charred body, unidentifiable like all the others except for one slight detail. On the right hand was a little pinkie ring, a Jewish star ring with a tiny pink stone in its center.

            “It’s the ring I bought for her,” Samuel moaned, his choked voice almost unintelligible.

            Later that night, after Moshe and Samuel had put a catatonic Raisa to bed, Moshe turned to his relative. “Samuel, come sit vit me—ve need to talk.”

            As soon as they were in the front room, he began. “There was something dat bother me about Sasha’s body tonight. Sasha always haf frizzy hair, but dis girl haf wavy hair. Wha’ kut dat mean?”       

“I don’t know, Moshe. But the ring, I know that ring. I’m sure it’s her. It’s our little girl…” He finally broke down, releasing all the pent-up emotions from an exceptionally long day.


“It turned out to be one of the worst disasters in the history of modern industrialization, and because of it, a commission was set up to study more effective labor practices. Dozens of witnesses and family members testified, and when details of what happened came out, it was far more horrific than anyone could have imagined. A turbulent trial ensued, with the owners never receiving convictions. How-ever, we do end this program on a hopeful note. Conditions today in the work environment are far better than they’ve ever been, partly due to the tragedy that happened at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911. This is Peter Manning, signing off for ‘Investigations On the Air.’”


            Susan stared at the TV a few seconds before switching it off. Suddenly, the unlit screen brought reflectionson her own job, the recent memos she had seen, and the disturbing trends she could no longer ignore. Her mother had warned her not to make waves. After all, landing a buyer’s position in a celebrity’s clothing firm was not to be taken for granted. Count your blessings.

            But that night, Susan slept fitfully. Fire and smoke-filled dreams starring a faceless girl desperately trying to slap out flames on her long skirt startled her awake every few hours. By morning, although it took three cups of coffee to get there, she came to a major decision. She was going to read the testimonies and try and get inside her cousin’s world at the factory that day.

            Letting Uncle Jacob in on her plan one night after dinner, she was surprised to see him disappear into the bedroom and return with Sasha’s diary. “I don’t know if this will be helpful, but I have always kept this. She meant so much to me.” Biting his lip, he sighed, and handed over the thin, worn, leather-bound volume.

            Sasha was certainly no Anne Frank, Susan mused as she skimmed through the book, but it was touching, none-the-less. Ambivalent about her own boss, she was drawn to this girl, obviously so trapped by her father and her situation. Throughout it all, Uncle Jacob appeared to be the girl’s one shining star, and that made Susan feel even closer to him. The other two names that kept cropping up were Irma Delacina and Gladie Moskovitz. Obviously she had considered them to be friends, or at the very least, comrades in misery, but other than that, there was nothing too eye-opening about the factory conditions, only that she ached all the time.                   

            The next step was the New York Public Library.  Microfiching through a mountain of testimonials, she skimmed through most of the commission’s report until something caught her eye. She clicked pause and started reading. 

            One of the testimonies given was by a Marco Delacina. He stated that he was quite distraught because they had never truly been able to identify their daughter, Irma; she was presumed to be one of the group of girls who had actually melted against a locked door, yet the family had remained skeptical. Where was her good luck locket that she always wore? It must have melted, the Delacinas had been advised. It was not enough to lose one’s daughter, he further testified, but to have to endure being glossed over by public officials was an outrage. Besides the personal loss, the loss of income was devastating to their family. What were they to do now?

            Susan’s dreams turned violent that night. Eerie, ash-coated shapes lumbered after her as she tried to escape through the blocked passageway. Clawing at the door, her fingers and nails, sticky with blood, she kept stroking a little locket around her neck.

            At 4:23 a.m., she bolted upright in a sweat. Oh, my God—maybe the girls had switched jewelry!

            She kept remembering Moshe’s testimony during the hearings, how everyone assumed it was his Sasha, but then why was the hair different? And what about the Delacinas never truly believing they had found their girl. Maybe Sasha had never been found, not Irma!

            Back to the library. She poured through dozens of articles, searching for anything that had to do with young teenage girls in New York. Nothing on Sasha, but there was an interesting article about the Delacina family doing very well financially several years after the tragedy. According to a certain interview, they kept receiving an anonymous donation each month, undoubtedly through the Sons of Italy, and it had changed their lives. Because of that, they had been able to move to Queens and were living the American middle-class dream.

            Watching her night after night, the librarian couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer and finally approached. After hearing the story, she suggested, “Why does it have to be New York? After all, if the girl didn’t want to return to her family, why would she want to stay in New York all these years?”

            Susan smiled. Of course. So she plunged in again, expanding her geographical area of interest, and focusing on a 1922 article written from the Pennsylvania News Terminal, about a homeless, Russian Jewish girl making good, setting up her own bridal sewing shop, and people raving about her work, her moxy, etc., etc. Her name: Sarah Mijss. What an odd name. A faded, vintage photo of the seamstress displayed a rather plain girl with frizzy hair.

            After the name was jotted down, Susan took some notes on the article, and hugged the librarian before going home for the night. Frazzled, all she wanted to do was to pour herself a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and tube out. She channel-surfed for a minute or two before deciding on Rosemary’s Baby, playing on one of the movie networks. She had seen it numerous times before, but for some reason that night, was in the mood for the bizarre. Snuggling up against her overstuffed Saks Fifth Avenue pillows, she settled down. Two-thirds of the way into the movie, she started glancing at her pad of paper on the coffee table, unable to stop her ruminations. Casually picking up the pad, she studied the notes, including the odd name. Mijss. Weird…

            Just then, one of the most crucial scenes in the movie appeared, when the leading character, Rosemary, was told by the companion of a recently deceased friend that the answer to the problem lay in an anagram. Getting out her scrabble letters, the heroine moved the pieces around and came up with the name of the satanic leader of a cult who happened to be living next door to her. With the music swelling ominously, it was one of the high points of the film. 

            Susan stared down at her pad again. Mijss. Mijss. M-I-J-S-S. Oh my God!

J stands for Jacob, I is for? S is for Sasha, M is for Moshe, and S is for Samuel! I—I—I is for Irma? Yes, it would work! It definitely could be her! Maybe she’s still alive and living in Pennsylvania!

            The next Saturday, she purchased a railroad ticket to the little town in Pennsylvania and after booking herself into a hotel for the weekend, spent the rest of the afternoon asking around about Sarah Mijss. It seemed everyone knew of her. “Sure, Sarah, she’s the town character, ninety-five and still going strong.” Susan fell asleep easily that night, looking forward to the next day.

            On Sunday, Susan paused just outside Sasha’s door. Oh, dear, I hope this isn’t too much for her, she thought. I mean, what if it is her and she has a heart attack and dies? She took a deep breath before pushing down the tarnished brass knocker twice. Nothing. She tried again. Soon, she could hear shuffling on the other side of the door and a “Coming, coming,” echoed by an old, yet surprisingly firm voice.

            The door opened. “Hello, dear. May I help you?” the elderly woman stood waiting.

            Susan was afraid to proceed. “Ah—you don’t know me, Ms. Mijss, but I’m here to talk to you about something that happened a very long time ago.” There was a lull while she checked for a reaction. There wasn’t any.

            “May I come in?” she continued. “I don’t really want to say what I have to say out here.”

            The woman locked her knees and drew herself up.  “My dear, whatever you have to say to me, you can say it in the doorway.”

            Here goes, Susan thought. “Have you ever heard of a little boy by the name of Jacob Brodsky?”

            It was as if the woman had been slapped. Her eyes watered instantly and stumbling back, she caught herself on the doorknob before lowering her head and sinking to the ground.

            Susan knelt down beside her. “I’m so sorry to do this to you. Are you all right?”

            Sasha Rosoff turned to her, whispering, “Someone found me at last. I can’t believe it—after all these years...”

            Later, over tea and homemade cookies, it all came out. The switched jewelry identities, the escape across the unfortunate cutters’ backs, the despair of losing her friend Irma, and the realization that she could start a whole new life without her dominating father.

            “But the Delacinas ended up doing okay. I guess they got an anonymous donation from some Italian organization because they moved to...” Then Susan caught the corner edges of Sasha’s lips curling.

            Her elderly cousin nodded slowly. “After all, a life for a life, I always say. She saved mine, so the very least I could do was to save her family’s.”

             Rounding the table to hug her new-found relative, Susan could sense beneath the old woman’s frail shoulders, the toughness that had served her well all these years. Yet, as they clung to each other, Sasha started to cry. “I suppose everything has come full circle,” she murmured.

            Wiping away her own tears, Susan shook her head. “Not quite. There’s just one more thing I’ve got to do to make things right, and I need you to be with me...”


            Cameras flashed as Susan’s boss, the well-known actress-turned-clothing-guru, entered the room. Marching defiantly past Susan with her team of lawyers, she put on her most dazzling smile for the press. The steady flux of voices in the hearing room buzzed like a swarm of locusts as the gavel came down hard on the judge’s podium.

            Seconds before Susan got up to testify about unfair, dangerous labor practices in her boss’ overseas factories, she gave her cousin’s hand a nervous squeeze, and even up on the mahogany stand, the blood draining from her tight face, she needed to look over at Sasha one more time for another infusion of courage.

            The skin on the ninety-five-year-old was shriveled, her shoulders hunched over like the letter ‘C’, but just watching Susan begin her deposition, the seamstress sat bolt upright for the first time in many years.


Questions for S.R. Mallery from Julia's students

What was writing the middle of the story like? Did you ever find yourself at a loss for ways to develop your plot?

Usually, by the time I am writing the middle of my stories, I have already made some sort of general outline to help guide me so I have at least a vague idea the direction in which I want to go.  However, little plot twists can come to me at various, unexpected times---the shower works well for me, doing the dishes, walking on the treadmill and watching a movie that may be about a completely different subject, yet sparks an idea for my characters in my story.

As for a loss of ways in developing my plot, if that does happen, I simply walk away and do something entirely different, to clear my brain—perhaps a physical activity, going outside to get some negative ions, you name it.  Yet I do admit, devising plots is not usually my problem.  I can watch an ant crawl across my bathroom floor and come up with a story about that (and actually did once).  Just seems to happen for me.  Working out the details and subplots comes later and that can take a lot more time and garner frustration!

How long does brainstorming a plot take you?  Or do you just go with it as the story goes on?

I can’t really estimate the actual amount of time brainstorming a plot takes for me.  It might flow nonstop, or it might filter into my mind in bits and pieces; it all depends on the subject matter and whatever state of mind I am in.

I have learned about myself that when an idea for a story triggers, I don’t necessarily know where it is going to end up, but that’s all right.  I just allow myself to get lost in that particular historical event, either by reading material, or watching a documentary/YouTube and that morphs into primary plots, secondary plots, and an ending, which is very important for me.  Whenever I come up with an ending, I inwardly go, “Ahhhhh!  Now I can relax!”

 What is your writing process like?


I have a slightly different writing process than a lot of writers.  Probably because I was a professional quilt designer for over twenty years, my brain works well with little, fragmented pieces.  For example, let’s say I already know what I am basically going to write about.  I then dive into the researching of it, either by Internet, books, documentaries, YouTube, etc.  I scribble little notes everywhere--page numbers and sources where I found various interesting facts, ambiance, plot ideas, characters, etc. and then store those little slips of paper in a big envelope.  When I get to actually writing down a more detailed outline, I tape those little notes onto a spiral notepad with my outline, so I can remind myself of the details. 

Iwill then type up my actual prose on the computer, double-spaced, go until my brain has stalled (I have learned to recognize that quite well now!), print it out, edit it with pencil and then retype that before continuing on with my story.  Obviously, I personally need the tactile process of handling paper—either the holding of it, or the physical writing on it, as well as typing on a computer screen.  All three elements are important to me.

 Do you have personal ties to the Triangle Factory Fire?

Many years ago, my father told me about this fire and how important it was, not only to New Yorkers, but to the entire world as well.  It was so shocking to see and hear about those poor girls falling to their death.  Perhaps because I had made my living as a sewer as well as being an ex-New Yorker, this story drew me in.  There is a little plaque on the outside of one of New York University’s buildings, commemorating the brave NYU law students who helped some of the girls escape. The first time I saw it, I burst into tears....

THANK YOU, Sarah, for answering our questions!!!

Now that you know about S.R. Mallery and her writing process, enjoy the book trailer for S.R. Mallery's novel Unexpected Gifts (see below).

<![CDATA[A Chat with Paula Rose Michelson]]>Mon, 09 Sep 2013 02:30:32 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-paula-rose-michelson REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF PAULA ROSE MICHELSON
As a writer of faith stories, I love looking back on my journey because  little did I know that interning in a dually diagnosed psychiatric unit at Woodview-Calabasas Hospital, at the age of forty would lead me to give my life to Messiah (Jesus Christ).  I had no idea that attending a church would lead me to offer to help some women and end up meeting with Pastor Hurt to explain what the Lord had begun and have Pastor pronounce me The Women's Lay Councilor for Freemont Community Church, in Freemont, CA and place me under his authority. 

This was the beginning of LAMB (Life Affirming Messages from the Bible) Ministries which helps women recover from trauma and abuse through the effective use of Scripture, and prayer.

Click on the image to learn more about Paula Rose Michelson and her books.

Casa de Naomi Book One trailer

Paula Rose Michelson's books

Questions for Paula Rose Michelson from Julia's students

PAULA ROSE MICHELSON: Before I answer your questions, I want to Dr. Julia Gousseva for using my work once again in her class. I have read student comments and, as they warmed my heart, I hope my answers will affirm your desire to write, for creative writing is done when one answer’s their own heart call.

How long did it take you to write this novel? 

I wrote what later became Casa de Naomi: The House of Blessing, Books One and Two in a year. Since my husband’s work schedule was the opposite of mine, and I worked from home, I would begin writing at 3PM, taking short breaks for dinner and a walk, and stop writing when he came home at 10:30PM unless Naomi had more to tell me.  On average, I wrote seven hours per day five days per week. Rewriting and many edits to get the book where it was ready to be sent out took another year. Editing the first chapter took three months, and I must share that an author friend of mine helped me understand what was needed for the opening scene to grab the reader so they would choose my book.

Did you visit the locations that are referenced in the book for inspiration? 

No, I have never been to any of these locals, do not speak or write Spanish, and have never been friends with those who spoke Spanish as their first and primary language. However, none of these things mattered because while researching and writing a character sketch for Naomi, she began telling me her story. I now know that this is what writers of fiction long for, but at the time all I knew was that I, like each of you, was captivated by this heroic teenager’s story and had to know more!

I see the date was March 20, 1952. Did this have any specific reason, or something historical behind it? 

At the onset of writing anything, we are taught to write a synopsis, which I did for the story I had planned to write about two women who meet while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the third one (Naomi) whom they would meet at a reunion. Since dating that story wasn’t necessary, I didn’t think it important to date this one until I realized that with Naomi coming from Spain where a fascist dictator had been in power, and Chaz’s being American placed him in a country where both the first and second World Wars impacted everyone, I needed the reader to feel grounded. It was then that I discovered that every story needs factual details so the reader doesn’t have to guess them thus taking their focus away from your book and possibly into another authors work. 

Furthermore, after speaking with a small publisher who’d read what became the two books, I knew I was writing a saga, and having begun with a historical event (the Inquisition) I knew that history would play a part in all of my books. 

But to better answer your question, though a lot went on historically before and after the date I chose, I selected this date because there wasn’t anything historically noteworthy occurring when Naomi’s journey begins. 

Prior to submitting this manuscript, I’d written five of the six Naomi books. I now knew that Naomi’s story began in 1952 and ended in 1978 and I’d found the historical issues of this span of time to be incredibly relevant to both my heroine and hero. 

What made you interested in the Spanish culture and more specifically immigration? Does your family have a connection to it? 

Bravo! After years of answering wonderfully amazing questions, this one is new to me! 

To answer the first part of your question, I was interested in writing about the hidden Jews. I have already researched two other groups one in India the other in…since that’s not germane to our discussion, let me share that I will continue to write about the hidden Jews long after the Naomi book are published. 

As far as Ellis Island is concerned, all my grandparents and my great aunts and uncles immigrated to America through Ellis Island. I was fifteen when my father was having preliminary meetings in Washington D.C. with that branch of government responsible to choosing the company that would build the Gemini Fuel Cell. When my great aunt, Dora, who shared my bedroom with me before she wed, realized dad would be close to Ellis Island (it was several states away but closer than anyone else had been), she asked him to find her records so she could prove to the government that she was old enough to get her Social Security because she wanted to retire. We were all surprised to hear this and discovered that, wanting to marry, and fearing her age a hindrance, she would say she was younger than she was and continued to subtract years the older she got. Too assure that she would not be found out, she tucked her immigration documents away so well that she no longer had them, and arriving here as a teenager, she could not remember the name of the boat she’d been on or the date she arrived.

This is not a unique story as many Jewish immigrants, planning to never leave the safety of America, tossed documents they would someday need. What is interesting is that it took dad and an Ellis Island official a week to find her entry information. We understand that must have been quite the norm for the man that helped dad assured him that he had been hired and trained to do what Dora and others needed. When dad informed, Dora that she was many years older than Uncle Nate was they both rejoiced because she was now able to file for her Social Security Benefits, which was a financial blessing that allowed them to fix up the place they rented and have their car overhauled from top to bottom.

Living frugally, this was a blessing neither one of them had ever expected. Since they had no children, and I was the only child my aunt ever helped rear, and I often forgot and called her grandma, I was the heir of her estate since my Uncle Nate died before she did. With her frugal ways the money Dora bequeathed to me paid for my cosmetology education and helped me set up our first apartment before my husband and I wed.

<![CDATA[A Chat with Christoph Fischer]]>Sun, 01 Sep 2013 20:11:44 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-christoph-fischerREPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF CHRISTOPH FISCHER
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today. 'The Luck of The Weissensteiners' is his first published work. "Sebastian" has been released in May 2013. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalization.

Click on the image to learn more about Christoph and his books.

Christoph's Books

Questions for Christoph from Julia's students

After we read and discuss the first chapter of Christoph Fischer's novel "The Luck of the Weisssensteiners," we will invite Christoph to answer a few questions.

<![CDATA[A Chat with Sameer Ketkar]]>Sat, 24 Aug 2013 20:12:06 GMThttp://juliagousseva.com/chats-with-writers/a-chat-with-sameer-ketkarREPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF SAMEER KETKAR
Sameer Ketkar wrote his second novel, "Bodies:  Book #1:  Staged Fright" in the summer of 2013, and plans to keep the story going as a series.

He published his first novel, "Entanglement," about two star-crossed lovers who can't seem to unentangle themselves from one another.  It was published in
January of 2011.

Mr. Ketkar received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, and has written one feature film, Backwaters. He has written dozens of unproduced screenplays and TV pilots, and has written and directed numerous short films and commercials.  Mr. Ketkar likes to play guitar and draw pictures in his free time.

Click on the image to learn more about Sameer.

Sameer's Books