Riva’s Journey

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883

I can only imagine what my grandmother felt when she first saw Lady Liberty as her ship entered New York Harbor on a spring day in1920. I don’t know if she ever read Emma Lazarus’ words; she couldn’t read English yet, although she was fluent in Yiddish, Polish, and German. But whether or not she ever read these words, she felt them every time she was confronted with anything marvelous and new in her adopted, much-loved, country. “Ay, America!” she’d exclaim, with wonder and appreciation.

Immigrants have very seldom been given the welcome promised by the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.  Each new wave of people has been greeted by prejudice and suspicion, admitted grudgingly. And each new wave of immigrants has contributed mightily to this country. Every person in the United States today is an immigrant, unless they’re descended from Native Americans. Yet as each group of people arrives, many of those who came earlier forget that their ancestors or they themselves were once in need of a safe harbor—safe from wars, poverty, tyranny. Lots of us remember, though, as we must. Maybe someday we can make Ms. Lazarus’ words a fact for everyone who still looks to America as a beacon of light to the future.

As I work on revising and polishing, Riva’s Journey, my Grandma’s story of leaving Europe to make a new life for herself and her children in America, I gain fresh appreciation of her incredible courage and determination. America didn’t exactly welcome her, but they let her in.

Finding Voices

Writing is an art as well as a craft and like all acts of creation, writing a novel is a process of discovery. I’m working on the third revision of my next novel, “A Wonderful Good Morning,” and it’s only with this revision that my characters are finding their voices, because it’s only now that I’m starting to understand who they are.

“A Wonderful Good Morning” began as a little short story, “Happy Travels,” which was published last year in an anthology of short stories titled: “Stranded – a Collection of Stories and Poems from the Writing Journey.” (Available on Amazon). It morphed from this early version into a novel about one man who found himself stuck in a time warp while on a river cruise that was supposed to have been a sort of pre-honeymoon. But even though it had a beginning, middle and end, and most of the loose ends were tied up, it didn’t feel finished. Hence, revision #3.

I’ve been letting it sit for a couple of months while I worked on my next novel, a fictionalized memoir of my grandmother’s life called “Riva’s Journey.” When I opened “A Wonderful Good Morning” about two weeks ago and began at page one, my protagonist, Tim, jumped out at me, and I could hear his voice. Now, all I have to do is write down what he tells me.

As my novel begins to shape itself into a finished work, my excitement builds and I can’t wait to find out how it ends!

A Woman of Valor

Rosy Glow

There’s a curse, erroneously attributed to an old Chinese proverb, that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” I find myself living now, in the last part of my life, in an interesting time, and wishing that things were a bit less interesting. Actually living history is nowhere near as much fun as reading about it. Times of political unrest and instability, pandemic, and economic collapse with their attendant tension and uncertainty is definitely not what I would have wished to experience in my old age. It occurs to me that my grandmother’s life was exactly the opposite of my own in that respect. Thankfully, her old age was peaceful and secure, but much of her life, well into late middle age, was conducted amid just such uncertainty. She lived in very interesting times.

I never quite realized how tumultuous my grandmother’s life was until I started writing her “memoir” a few months ago. Researching my book, Riva’s Journey, has been a fascinating journey of discovery for me. I always loved my grandmother but now I also admire the incredible courage and resilience that got her through her “interesting times” with all her love and humor and compassion intact. She would have said her life was unremarkable, no different from millions of other women who came from the same time and place. In a way, that’s true, but that’s also the point; that’s what makes her a hero in her own way. She just put one foot in front of the other, all the way through. Truly a Woman of Valor. Thanks, Grandma.

Balancing Act

I like to read Heidi Stevens’ column in the Chicago Tribune she titles “Balancing Act.” She writes about the difficulty of managing to make good parenting decisions, pursue a career as a journalist, and balance both of those major areas with the rest of her life. I totally sympathize with her problem, as I’m sure most of us can.

No matter what I’m doing, I always feel like I should really be doing something else. If I’m writing, I should be painting. If I’m painting, I should be practicing the piano. If I’m practicing the piano, I should be working on my book. Of course, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the rest of my life as a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, citizen, etc. I suppose this is a good thing. Still, maybe it would be nice to just sit back and relax in front of the TV once in a while?

Or–maybe not. There’s nothing much on TV, and anyway, at least life lived as an endless teeter-totter isn’t boring!

Turning the Page

I’ve just been working on a sketch of one of my granddaughters from a photo that’s about 18 years old. She was a baby then, bright and smiling and totally gorgeous. She’s still bright and smiling and totally gorgeous, but now she’s a college freshman, looking to the future with confidence, ready to make a difference in her world.

All five of my grandchildren were born at the turn of the century, this new century now entering its third decade. Yet when I think of that term, it conveys an image to me of the turn of the prior century, the period that began more than 100 years ago. For my grandparents, the turn of that century began in Europe and their journeys took them to a world unrecognizable from the one in which they’d started.

I remember my grandmother, Riva. I think of how she came to America in 1921, with two little boys and a teen-age niece, to meet her husband who’d arrived seven years earlier, just as the First World War broke out in Europe. I imagine how terrified and lonely she must have been on that journey, leaving the only home she’d ever known, understanding she could never go back and would never see her loved ones again. Yet she must also have been full of courage in the hope that she could make a new and better life for herself and for her children. She never tired of marveling at her new country. I often heard her exclaim in wonder, “Oy, America!”

I don’t know much of her story. She dropped a few hints here and there, yet basically, the past remained in the past. But I’m the grandmother now, and I remember her with love and I wish I knew more about her life. So I’ve been reading and researching and I’ve decided to fill in the gaps for myself as best I can. In this new year of 2020, I plan to write “Riva’s Journey,” a memoir for someone who’s no longer around to write it for herself.

So as we turn the page into this new decade, may we all be blessed with health and joy, and look forward to the future, while remembering where we came from. Happy New Year!

So What is NANOWRIMO?

Well, I’ll tell you. NANOWRIMO is National Novel Writing Month, which is November of each year. It’s a national challenge for people who write to draft a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. The first time I participated was about 5 years ago, and the effort resulted in my first published mystery novel, Painting Lessons: a Bella Sarver Mystery (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions). I had a great time, and the experience reminded me just how much I love to write. Although I didn’t participate in subsequent years, I did keep on writing, and produced 3 additional books in the Bella Sarver Mystery series: Brush With Death, Paint a Murder, and Death on the Danube (all of which are also available on Amazon).

My good friend Elaine convinced me to give NANOWRIMO another try, so I rejoined the local group this year and have very much enjoyed the preparatory workshops, speakers, and exercises that I’ve attended. I even presented one myself, on How to Write a Mystery Novel. But now November is here, and it’s time to try to meet the challenge again.

So–the working title is Time Warp: a Love Story. It’s an outgrowth of a short story I wrote that will soon be published in an anthology. (More about that in another post.) Like Death on the Danube, the story takes place on a river cruise, this time on the Rhine. I’m not exactly sure what genre it’s going to be, but so far it’s a sort of a combination of paranormal/romance/mystery. (Is that an entirely new genre?) I’ve spent the past 10 days coming up with an outline, doing some research, doing time-line maps and –oh, yes. Writing. Will I make the 50K? Watch this space to find out. About 12000 words so far!

Two Events This Week

Friday, Nov. 1st, 7 to 9:30 – Villa Park Library, 305 S. Ardmore, Villa Park

Saturday, Nov. 2nd, 1 to 4:30 pm. 95th Street Library, 95th & Cedar Glade, Naperville.

I’m really looking forward to participating in the two Local Author Events this week. It will be a wonderful opportunity for me to meet some of my fellow authors and for all of us to meet current and future readers. I’ll be signing copies of my newest novel, Death on the Danube, for purchasers ($12 each), as well as copies of the previous three novels in my Bella Sarver Mystery Series: Painting Lessons, Brush With Death, and Paint a Murder ($10 each). It’s going to be fun, so spread the word!