Writing intimacy

Lots of readers are drawn to this blog by my posts related to literary craft - either out of interest in purely technical side of a book creation, or from appetite for private, or intimate details of a (however insignificant) writer’s life. One of the returning questions asked by these readers is: Why not make this blog more personal, or more literary?

I suspect that such exhibitionism is needed by those artists who do not express themselves in their published works, or who are hungry for more opportunities to share themselves than is afforded by public, but faceless, display of their works - publication. See, there’s a large degree of acting involved in writing, but a writer is an actor who performs for a faceless audience. For some that is enough, for others it is not. The latter feel that they need to interact with their audience, to further expose their inner selves, to throw their guts out on the table, whether because they were not able to get that fix through their work, or whether because they did not go far enough. I fancy myself of belonging to the former group - my books maybe be hard to follow, they maybe not be understood, they maybe disliked - but, as a writer I am satisfied to the extent of my intimate exposure in my published work, for better or for worse. In the end, though, it’s all a play, and it all boils down to only one significant common denominator - we all perform primarily in front of a mirror - that Nr 1 audience to all actors. And it is that audience that most desires intimate details.


Sad wedding story: Honeymoon in Auschwitz

My grandparents were wed in a Catholic church in Warsaw in the Spring of 1940.

On the way from the church they got caught up in one of those frequent round-ups [1]: German soldiers surrounded an entire city block and scooped up everybody inside it, indiscriminately. In the havoc of the round up, the wedding party got separated and spread out. My grandmother and some others managed to get away, but my grandfather was caught along with some guests and a whole lot of other people.

Instead of going on a honeymoon, the next several months grandpa spent at the Gestapo (secret police) interrogation prison (Aleja Szucha - where such interrogation techniques as severe beating and pulling fingernails were used), then the political prison [2], and finally was sent off to Auschwitz [3]. He spent the next 5 years of WWII in concentration camps. He survived Auschwitz, as he himself said - because his friend from high school was a kapo [4] in the camp, and offered my grandpa the occasional slice of bread, a potato, a blanket, and then some dilapidated shoes for the death march [5] to another concentration camp in Mauthausen-Gusen [6], in Austria. That long walk happened in the middle of a bitter winter, with many prisoners shoeless... Mauthausen, as grandpa often said, was worse than Auschwitz. It was not just a death camp, it was a labour camp with one goal: death through slave labour.

Mauthausen prisoners shortly after liberation:



Explanations from WikiPedia:

[1] Łapanka - round up (wapanka - catching, derived from the verb łapać - to catch) was the Polish name for a German practice in World War II occupied Poland, whereby the SS, Wehrmacht and Gestapo rounded up civilians on the streets of Polish cities.
Most of these prisoners were taken to labour camps (Arbeitslager) in Germany. Some, particularly those without proper documents or carrying contraband, were transported to concentration and death camps; sometimes shot on the spot. Some women ended up in brothels to "service" German troops. The term was also used for the cordoning off of streets at night and the systematic searching of houses. Possession of an identity card (Ausweis) certifying that the holder was employed by a German company or government agency (for example the city utilities or the railways) was the only reliable defense for young men in their 20s and 30s against being taken. As an example many of those taken from cafes and restaurants in Warsaw on 5 December 1940, were subsequently released after checking documentation. According to various estimates, between 1942 and 1944 there were approximately 400 victims of this practice daily in Warsaw alone, with numbers on some days reaching several thousand. For example, on 19 September 1942 close to 3000 men and women were transported by train to Germany, they had been caught in the massive round-ups all over Warsaw the previous two days.

[2] Pawiak was an infamous political prison built in 1835 in Warsaw, Poland. During the World War II German occupation of Poland, it eventually became part of the Warsaw concentration camp. Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 it was turned into a German Gestapo prison and then part of the Warsaw concentration camp. Approximately 100,000 men and 20,000 women passed through the prison, mostly members of the Armia Krajowa, political prisoners and civilians taken as hostages in street round-ups. Approximately 37,000 of them were executed while further 60,000 were sent to German death and concentration camps. The exact number of victims is unknown since the archives were never found.

[3] Auschwitz-Birkenau (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was the largest of Nazi Germany's concentration camps. Its remains are located in Poland approximately 50 kilometers west of Kraków and 286 kilometers south of Warsaw. The camp took its name from the nearby town of Oświęcim. Birkenau, the German translation of Brzezinka, refers to the many birch trees surrounding the complex. Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Oświęcim was annexed by Nazi Germany and renamed Auschwitz, the town's German name.

[4] Kapo was a term used for certain prisoners who worked inside Nazi concentration camps during World War II in various lower administrative positions.

[5] The death marches refer to the forcible movement between Autumn 1944 and late April 1945 by Nazi Germany of thousands of prisoners from German concentration camps near the war front to camps inside Germany.

[6] Mauthausen Concentration Camp (known from the summer of 1940 as Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp) grew to become a large group of Nazi concentration camps that were built around the villages of Mauthausen and Gusen in Upper Austria, roughly 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of the city of Linz.
Initially a single camp at Mauthausen, it expanded over time to become one of the largest labour camp complexes in German-controlled Europe. Apart from the four main sub-camps at Mauthausen and nearby Gusen, more than 50 sub-camps, located throughout Austria and southern Germany, used the inmates as slave labour. Several subordinate camps of the KZ Mauthausen complex included quarries, munitions factories, mines, arms factories and Me 262 fighter-plane assembly plants.
In January 1945, the camps, directed from the central office in Mauthausen, contained roughly 85,000 inmates. The death toll remains unknown, although most sources place it between 122,766 and 320,000 for the entire complex. The camps formed one of the first massive concentration camp complexes in Nazi Germany, and were the last ones to be liberated by the Western Allies or the Soviet Union. The two main camps, Mauthausen and Gusen I, were also the only two camps in the whole of Europe to be labelled as "Grade III" camps, which meant that they were intended to be the toughest camps for the "Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich". Unlike many other concentration camps, intended for all categories of prisoners, Mauthausen was mostly used for extermination through labour of the intelligentsia, who were educated people and members of the higher social classes in countries subjugated by Germany during World War II.

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The Lucifer in you

Heard an interesting interview with Philip Zimbardo on the radio. In 1971 Zimbardo ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, where randomly chosen students were put in jail: half were to play the roles of prisoners and the other half the roles of guards. The experiment had to be shot down because the guards turned into sadistic torturers...

In his new book The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo argues that everyone harbors a Satan in them, the good example being the model US soldiers from Abu Ghraib who turned evil, just like God’s favorite angel Lucifer...



Do writers make good money?

Does writing pay? How much do writers make? Are they filthy rich?

Hmm. Writers make money, some make tons, most need day jobs to pay a streetcar fare to deposit their royalty checks.

Below is everything you ever wanted to know about the wallet of your favorite author. I am using data from 2004 because that was the year of my debut novel's publication.

1,200,000 titles were published in 2004:

  • 10 titles sold 1,000,000 + copies each

  • 22 titles sold 500,000-999,999 copies each

  • 64 titles sold 250,000-499,999 copies each

  • 324 titles sold 100,000-249,999 copies each

  • 767 titles sold 50,000-99,999 copies ("my" category)

  • 23,047 titles sold 5,000-49,999 copies each

  • 67,008 titles sold 1,000-4,999 copies each

  • 202,938 titles sold 100-999 copies each

  • 948,005 titles sold 99 or less copies each

I should add that most sales occur within the first few weeks/months following publication.

What does this mean in terms of dollars? First you need to understand how this works. A writer does not sell a soul, or an arm and a leg, but nonetheless one should know that it is important for her, and every other writer out there to be paid adequately. Publishers offer an advance and royalties. Advance is always paid against royalties, in other words: royalties will be paid only when the publisher recoups the advance from sales. Advances range from as little as $1,000, most hover around or below $5,000, some pay $10,000 and few pay more. Royalties range from 4-12%. Realistically one can hope for 8%, and should fight to the death to receive it. Anything below is scandalous.

Now that you have these figures you can see clearly that the vast majority, 98% of writers, cannot possibly make a living off of writing - unless they are Joan Collins and receive millions in advances for books that never get published...

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Writer's block?

Work is not going well lately. Every word seems to come out slowly and painfully, like a kidney stone.

I don't know what to blame. Weather seems obvious. It's been really dark here for at least a couple of weeks now (with a short fart of a sunny break one morning). It's rather warm, considering the time of year, but man is it dark! It's depressing. Not in the least inspiring. Dark aura = darkness inside the head? I don't know what to make of it. I've never known the phenomenon others describe as a writer's block, so I don't know what I'm dealing with. I think it has to do with the type of work I'm doing. I am translating my own novel into another language. While at first it seemed every bit as creative (and thus - exciting), it lately became more of a chore, like working a line in a factory (believe - I know something about it, I worked in a factory).

Maybe the reason is altogether different. Maybe it comes from some subconscious fear that it's all worthless schlock. Some big name in literature once said that a part of being a writer is knowing when you're just spewing shit, and that uncertainty only drops a huge shadow on one's creative work. Am I creating crap? Eh, I don't think so. Someone publishes it, someone else is reads, so calling it crap would be insulting those readers who pick up every issue.

Hmm. Maybe it's that my head is already elsewhere. Our annual trip to the eternal spring is about to commence. I find myself watching the weather forecast for the location - it's sunny and warm down there everyday.

Or, maybe I just need a break. Been going like a rat on a wheel for the past two years, except that instead of my legs it's the brain that keeps running in circles. Can't sleep. Can't work. Must rest.

What we think of Big Business

The U.S. public holds Big Business in shockingly low regard.

A November 2007 Harris poll found that less than 15 percent of the population believes each of the following industries to be "generally honest and trustworthy:

  • tobacco companies (3 percent);
  • oil companies (3 percent);
  • managed care companies such as HMOs (5 percent);
  • health insurance companies (7 percent);
  • telephone companies (10 percent);
  • life insurance companies (10 percent);
  • online retailers (10 percent);
  • pharmaceutical and drug companies (11 percent);
  • car manufacturers (11 percent);
  • airlines (11 percent);
  • packaged food companies (12 percent);
  • electric and gas utilities (15 percent).

These are remarkable numbers. It is very hard to get this degree of agreement about anything. By way of comparison, 79 percent of adults believe the earth revolves around the sun; 18 percent say it is the other way around. READ full ARTICLE from Robert Weissman

Here's something from my city: a huge chunk of downtown was re-designated recently for employment development. Among the first that expressed interest was WalMart. People from the neighborhood revolted, they stalked the city hall and a ban was imposed on big-box, whether it is WalMart, BestBuy, or what-not, from moving in. 77% percent of the residents said no to big box. You'd think they'd get the picture and say - alright, we are not wanted here so we'll take our business elsewhere. Fat chance! The bog boxes filed a suit against the city in order to be allowed in anyway, totally disregarding the people. So, is it any wonder that people hate them?


What is a False Flag Operation

"History shows that more than once social unity has been promoted by the presence, real or alleged, of some hostile group. It has long been a part of the technique of politicians who wish to maintain themselves in power to foster the idea that the alternative is the danger of being conquered by an enemy." John Dewey in Freedom and Culture

On August 31st 1939 a group of German Nazi soldiers dressed in uniforms of the Polish Army launched an attack on German border guards.

On September 1st 1939 Adolf Hitler had "no choice" but to retaliate by invading Poland.

All that was needed to start the WWII was a group of hostile armed men. This type of operation is called a False Flag Operation.

The armed Germans who attacked their own post, and were dressed in Polish army uniforms, were actually Nazi SS commandos taking part in Operation Himmler.

It history's most bloody False Flag Operation, giving a pretext to launch WWII which claimed some 55-60 million lives.

What exactly is a False Flag Operation? It's an operation where one group impersonates another, belonging to a different camp, often the opposing camp. The aim of a False Flag Operation is provocation, or a pretext needed to further one's own agenda.

An example of a False Flag Operation will be featured in my novel  THE BLACK VAULT.


Stalin was poisoned

From Axis:

Stalin most likely has been poisoned by poison, sipped in a bottle of mineral water or smeared inside the glass used by the Soviet leader, the paper says. The chief of laboratory of poisons for secret murders, Grigory Mairanovsky, arrested right after Stalin’s death, in his letters to the KGB chief Beriya repented that substances prepared by him had appeared not so strong as he had advertised.



Philip Agee is dead

Philip Agee worked for the CIA in Latin America, became disillusioned with the US's actions and left the Firm. Agee was not the first nor the last man whose eyes opened in that terribly oppressed region. He became a vocal advocate for the Better World.
American capitalism, based as it is on exploitation of the poor, with its fundamental motivation in personal greed, simply cannot survive without force - without a secret police force. The argument is with capitalism and it is capitalism that must be opposed, with its CIA, FBI and other security agencies understood as logical, necessary manifestations of a ruling class’s determination to retain power and privilege.

Now, more than ever, indifference to injustice at home and abroad is impossible. Now, more clearly than ever, the extremes of poverty and wealth demonstrate the irreconcilable class conflicts, that only socialist revolution can resolve. Now, more than ever, each of us is forced to make a conscious choice whether to support the system of minority comfort and privilege with all its security apparatus and repression, or whether to struggle for real equality of opportunity and fair distribution of benefits for all of society, in the domestic as well as the international order.

Philip Agee in CIA Diary.

Havana, January 9 (Prensa Latina) Once an officer of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Phillip B. Agee stepped away from that organization in 1968 because of his conscience, and died in this Cuban capital on January 7.

In 1974 he published his book Inside the CIA and from that moment on devoted himself to denouncing terrorism, destabilization and subversive activities of the US government against governments and progressive and revolutionary movements in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Cuban media published on Wednesday that Phillip Agee was outstanding for his solidarity with the island, Nicaragua, Grenada and Venezuela and other countries.

Agee was Cuba's loyal friend and fervent defender of the peoples struggle for a better world. SOURCE

Here's to you Philip!


In one of the recently red books I found a timely passage. F.C. Weiskopf writes in Himmelfahrtskommando (my translation):

You can't throw us to our knees, we are used to walking tall and breathing freedom. You can crush us. You can conquer our villages and cities. But, you will not accomplish anything. You will not conquer a single man. You will not secure the right to stay here. Your matter is wrong and lost. Your time is up... You will be mucked away, and trampled like bugs until nothing is left of you save for the memory of your disgraceful acts.

The novel is about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. I am posting this for all those damn liars who take us for fools, feeding us BS about liberating nations by attacking and occupying them.


How to buy a Passport

[...] state agencies’ officials who were engaged in selling Latvian passports, news agencies are reporting today. At present there are 19 employees of Department of Citizenship and Immigration of Latvia under suspicion, according to the press release of the Ministry of Interior of Latvia.[...] a valid passport of the country belonging to the Schengen zone, may cost in the black market from EUR 40,000 up to 100,000. SOURCE

100,000 Euros for a Latvian passport? Sounds a bit stiff to me, or prices went up well beyond the inflation rate. Supply and demand issue? Some 15 years ago on the bazaar in Poland (described in my first novel) you could purchase a Canadian passport for about 3,000 USD. I hear they go for 5,000 - 10,000 today. Of course... who would want a Canadian passport ;) but still - that's a bargain given the state of the dollar. Back then, the word on the street was that government and security officials were involved (or government's private contractors known as cobblers). In that respect nothing changed...

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PS: Folks, I strongly caution you about entering into any transactions involving purchase of documents online. This post is only for informational purposes. Jack


Plan to destabilize America

There is no surprise in the fact that the Soviets hoped to destabilize and discredit the United States. What does surprise is the subtlety and audacity of their effort. The opening salvo of the KGB’s plan was financial.

Seductive advertising was placed in our media through dummy corporations. The intent was to encourage Americans to spend and borrow. From the KGB’s point of view the way to ruin capitalism was for our citizens to run up record levels of debt, preferably with escalating interest rates, and for the national savings rate to plunge into negative territory.

It would be an added plus for them if we would use the borrowed funds to buy non-durables instead of investing in infrastructure.

Should these conditions develop the KGB felt that our country would encounter economic difficulties that could weaken the dollar, undermine our global leadership, and raise the cost of imports heralding inflation. If by some stroke of luck these conditions should be accompanied by reckless use of energy with no thought to conservation, this country might lose control of its own economic destiny.

The final piece of the KGB’s financial strategy involved benefits. The agency employed all of its influence, which was greater than we had suspected, to lull us into potentially lethal complacency. Its aim was to get our government to grant generous social benefits. Then it would persuade our citizens to take those obligations for granted, but not fund them. If it worked, this strategy would create a time bomb, softly ticking until an explosive wave of retirements hit the system. SOURCE

This sure comes out at just the right time to prove that no KGB input was required to destabilize America... America did it all by itself.

Couple of issues with this article:

In reality KGB's influence in this matter was never as great as the writers' suggest and, there was never any chance for social benefits, generous of otherwise, and none will come even though more and more people will desperately need them.

In fiction - similar "plan" to bring down America in the post- Cold War era is described in my novel THE FIFTH INTERNATIONALE


1983 Apocalypse averted

six weeks in September and October were the most dangerous the world has ever experienced.  A false nuclear strike alert on September 26, 1983 was caused by nothing more than high-altitude clouds that had been picked up by a satellite's sensors and interpreted as missiles in flight. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant-colonel in the military intelligence section of the Soviet Union's secret service, may have prevented all out nuclear war between the US and the USSR, the paper marks. Instead of calling an alert that within minutes would have had Soviet missiles launched in a retaliatory strike, Petrov decided to wait and the warning lights went off.



Elements of a novel

Folks often ask me: How to write a suspense novel?

Being an author of three novels (published and pending publication) I do not feel competent to answer this question definitively. I doubt I will have a definitive answer even with 10 books under my belt. As someone once said: When a writer begins to think that he knows how to write - he will never write anything worth reading again. I do not pretend to know how to write, however, being also an avid reader, I can at least attempt to describe my combined writer/reader observations.

When you pick up any novel, be it a thriller or a mainstream story, you will notice that it starts off with some sort of a crisis. To cut it short: the rest of the story deals with solving the crisis.

In more detail: the crisis is where something happens, and where the main characters are introduced. This must grab the readers' attention or else the novel is a bomb.

Next major step is required to keep the tension growing, and that step is called a twist. It involves some kind of trouble, or a turn in development of the plot that is surprising to the main character and readers.

Most authors of suspense and thriller novels will add a second twist, to keep the tension boiling, but also, and just as importantly so the reader doesn't think she already solved the mystery. This is where the protagonist's efforts at figuring out the first twist are shattered.

I think that readers are often way ahead of the writer in terms of figuring our where the story leads, and after the second twist they can usually tell the outcome, sometimes staying with the novel to the end, but often fingering through or outright dumping it. Yeah, I am that reader. So, as a writer I like to add a third twist, where any readers' notions of figuring out the plot are shattered into pieces. 

The twists should be constructed and presented in such a way that the buildup of tension leads to the climax, that point in the novel, not too far from- and not too close from the end where it is very difficult to put it down, whether or not one figured out what is about to happen.

Then the climax brings the resolution, that point where all the twists become clear, and lead to the only natural closing. The closing is the most difficult stage. It depends entirely on the previous stages. It is here that many authors fail their readers - where readers just shake their heads and say - It's ridiculous! Keep in mind that closing also means open end, if that is what comes as a natural result of everything that happened.

Of course the above treats the subject in the most shallow way -perhaps I will find the time to expand on it some day...