Our “Basic Human Needs”

This was shared with me by my wife, who saw it someplace. It is simply too good not to pass on. It’s “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” …. uh, modernized:

Maslow's new hierarchy of needs

Offered here with no further comment …. except for a 😉

Now, back to work. Time for us all to stop messing around on the internet! 🙂


Some blog “housekeeping” to note. I have updated – mostly, added – to my two earliest “character snapshots”: those of Virginie and Valérie.


Compared to the more recently composed ones, as the “snapshots” idea has “evolved” in my head I have believed those two were “lacking.” I felt they needed more details. So I’ve now added quotes and bits of further background info to each.

Have a good last day of March, 2014…. [grumble, grumble] Monday. 🙂

See related:
Quick Take 6: “Mark”
Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

Passage Of Time

Don’t mind me. It’s Sunday. I’m just thinking out loud here a bit (yet again). 🙂

A year ago, as I was writing, I had a different chapter opening the book. But I changed my mind on its use there. Published, that chapter – reworked somewhat – appears deeper in the story.

I had thought its initial positioning had made sense. When I was first organizing it, I had wanted to open the book with a “catchy” sort of “flash-forward.” I planned to shift back in time afterwards to commence the main narrative.

But in doing that I managed to thoroughly confuse at least one proofreader. Okay, well, maybe not “thoroughly.” However, she did note she became distracted from the flow of the tale by my ordering the chapters that way.


I did NOT want that, so I scrapped that idea. I wanted readers immersed in the story and the characters. Confusing them with “bells and whistles” was never an aim.

So aside from a couple of chapters that appear physically one after another, but which clearly demonstrate concurrent time (people experiencing separate events simultaneously), I went for essentially a start to finish, straightforward narrative. (If we think on real life, too, when we meet people we find ourselves “dropped” into their lives “in that instant.” I make that point here as well.)

Everyone has their own opinions and tastes of course. Personally, I find it irritating when stories are too much back and forth between past and present. We see lots of that now in films and on TV.

Quick Take 6: “Mark”

Much as we first learn of the existence of Valérie due to an offhanded comment, a “Mark” is mentioned early in the story. As with Valérie, that reference to Mark won’t be the last we hear of him….


James is an only child. But he has close friends. By far the best is Mark:

[James] continued as they walked up the steps. “I’m thinking of selling it and moving into the dorms,” he lamented. “I’m eating into my savings here. I can’t work enough and go to school and support it. Long Island’s massively expensive. The taxes are insane.”

As he opened the door, Isabelle looked over his living arrangement. “How long are you here?”

“About three years,” he noted. “I shared a place with Mark before that.”

James and Mark have known each other since elementary school. After college, Mark decided to become a Long Island police officer. Burly and good-natured, he has now held that steady and well-paying job for nearly a decade.


Mark’s life revolves largely around his career. Working on a graduate degree in criminal justice, he sees himself moving up within the department. Such spare time as he has is consumed by a variety of short-term girlfriends, his hockey season tickets…. and a side interest in a tumultuous event in U.S. history:

“Oh, you got the soundtrack,” Mark observed, seeing the new CD sitting on top of James’s player. “I’ve been meaning to buy it, but just haven’t yet. Can never get enough Civil War stuff. Would you make me a cassette?”

“No problem, but don’t you start dressing up also like a guy I know in History,” James laughed from the kitchen. “Vince thinks he’s a Union captain. He’s got the whole uniform. Don’t you ever show up here dressed like Winfield Scott Hancock!”

However, his predictable world changes in a single evening – but he’s sure greatly for the better. Mark discovers himself heading down a totally unexpected path. It takes him to a place he had never imagined he would ever find himself….


Hope you’re having a good weekend….



See related:
Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

When “I’ll Write Soon” Meant Actually Writing

CNN quoting first lady Michelle Obama in Beijing earlier this week, praising studying abroad as “citizen diplomacy”:

“I’m here today because I know that our future depends on connections like these among young people like you across the globe,” the first lady told an audience composed of Chinese and international students at Peking University.

“We believe that relationships between nations aren’t just about relationships between governments or leaders — they’re about relationships between people, particularly young people.”

She points out also that:

“You don’t need to get on a plane to be a citizen diplomat,” she said. “If you have an Internet connection in your home, school or library, within seconds you can be transported anywhere in the world and meet people on every continent.”

CNN notes that the first lady said she had never considered studying abroad. Yet she omits there that pre-internet “citizen diplomacy” had never been a choice between only study abroad or doing nothing. Apparently, she didn’t do this?

True, I suspect the internet must have largely undermined this among younger people today. But even if she has forgotten ye olden days, us other “older” folks vaguely remember them. Pre-internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, there was something called “pen pals.”

Gather ’round, young people, and I will share a small memory of decades ago. There was once a time teens and young adults wrote letters, usually long-hand, and on paper, to each other in distant lands. Usually they had found each other by registering their name, address and country, and interests, at agencies that facilitated pairing them up so they could get to know each other that way.


When one of them wrote a letter, he or she would head for the local post office, and mail it. About a week or so later, their “friend” in a foreign country would find their foreign postal service had left it in the mailbox, or had slid it through the letterbox. After opening that letter and reading it, he or she would then compose a letter in response, go to the local foreign post office or postbox, and mail that letter.


Such exchanges sometimes went on for years. “Pen pals” might also send each other photos (that were taken by cameras, using film; but that is a subject for another recalling ye olden days blog post), cassettes (again, for another post), (printed) books, (printed) newspapers, (printed) magazines, and even remember each other’s birthdays (using paper cards). They might eventually talk on the (landline) telephone, and perhaps, on very rare occasions, have even someday met in person. 🙂

Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)

We are dropped into their lives initially in a University of Long Island (ULI) classroom on a warm September Thursday in 1994. Any of us may find ourselves luckily in the right place at the right time. James believes that, for him, this is one of those times….


Just turned 29, and having decided the year before that he needed to finish college, James is back for another semester. He grabs a seat for this first meeting of his Western Civilization class. This is his second, and final, class of the day.

Moments later, he notices a tallish, attractive woman, strolling into the classroom. Briefly she makes friendly eye contact with him, and then sits at the desk directly in front of his…. and he’s really pleased she has. She strikes him as a bit older than the usual undergraduate and effortlessly chic compared to most of them.

After settling in, she turns to him, huffs that she can’t stand her dorm-mate, and introduces herself: her name is Isabelle. He sees also that her fingers are ring-less, and is incredulous as to how that can be possible. He introduces himself in return:

“I’m James. James, uh, no, not James ‘You Know Who,’” he responded awkwardly.

She turned her head slightly, fixed her gaze on him, and smiled. “Well, hello, Mr. ‘Not You Know Who.’ You are not English, so you cannot be.”

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

They chat as other students wander into the thirty desk classroom. Her accent is familiar to him, but he can’t immediately pin it down. She clears up that question for him when she explains she had arrived only a few days earlier from France; she had previously wanted to be an au pair alongside her friend, but her father wouldn’t allow that, so she is here now to study for a year instead.

As they talk, James admits that he has never been to Europe.

Born half-Irish-American, half-Italian-American in Queens, and raised mostly in suburban Suffolk County, James seems a typical young Long Islander of the 1980s and 1990s. Growing up, he had not traveled much, and what he had seen outside of New York had been almost entirely within the U.S. His biggest adventure had been just after he’d completed a two-year degree, when, at age twenty, he had ventured to a college in Alaska for an additional semester. Since then, he had worked in his family’s construction business.

Suddenly, the professor appears:

“That is all for the moment,” Isabelle smiled and remarked in a playful, subversive tone. “We must be good scholars.” She turned in her seat and faced forward.

That she catches his eye is no real surprise. After class, they head to the student center café and continue their chat. All the while, he’s dying to ask her out, but struggles to summon up the courage to do so.


At last he hits on what he’s sure is a “can’t miss.” It doesn’t have to seem like “a date” either. He asks timidly if, since she’s new to New York, she’d be interested in joining him, and his friends Brian and Colleen, maybe for a day out in Manhattan on Saturday…. including a visit to the top of the World Trade Center? He adds that he has to check if they can make it, of course.

She replies that she’d love to….

See related:
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

UPDATE: That “Fifty Shades” Post

I’m sure this short update will be the highlight of your Wednesday. 😉

A screening of scenes from that film is reported in the Guardian today.


Apparently it is looking like it may turn out to be, one might say, uh, Fifty Shades… of “Tame.”

Mood Music

Regardless of whether one is writing history or penning a novel, when delving into the past achieving “authenticity” is absolutely necessary. It is vital to fix your readers firmly on that era. The goal of course is to try to bring it to life within your pages as best you can.

As we know, there are now actually adults and near adults walking around out there who, born in the mid to later 1990s, don’t really remember that decade. My nephew and my niece, born in 1994 and 1997 respectively, are prime examples. Maybe you are one too? 🙂


For instance, I was surprised to learn that that (now 16 year old) English niece loves the TV show Friends. When I found out, I laughed and told her, “I remember when it was on first run!” (I was also one of those guys who at the time could never figure out how “Ross” could possibly have chosen “Rachel” over “Emily.” But “Ross” was a jerk, so “Emily” was lucky to escape him.)

Naturally such is the rhythm of the passage of time. Always has been and always will be. Yes, “1995” is now almost two decades ago:

“So you like Swedish pop duos,” [Isabelle] laughed.

Uh, yeh, I’ve dug out music by artists (who I remember first-hand from that now so long ago era), and I have been re-listening to them while writing the sequel.

It’s called doing serious research into your subject!

Okay, that’s enough messing around now on the internet. (Us “older” folks also remember when that didn’t exist!) Have a good Tuesday. Everyone back to work. 😉

Spouse Or Country?

International marriages have become pretty ho-hum in the last two decades or so. My (English) wife and I have laughed with two sets of Danish/English married friends about how there also appears to be something between Danes and the English. 😉 In their cases, the women are sisters who both married English men. One couple lives in England, while the other couple did live in England and now lives in Denmark.

I bring that up for this reason. The BBC tells us:

Stephen Kinnock, son of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Aberavon at the 2015 general election.

Mr Kinnock, 44, is married to Danish Prime Minister Helle Thoring-Schmidt.

He is based in London and works for the business advisory company Xynteo, and worked for the British Council and the World Economic Forum….

Unlike our friends, apparently Kinnock and Thorning-Schmidt (she perhaps best-known in the U.S. for that “selfie”) have long been accustomed to marital separation owing to geography. Wales Online explains:

….When interviewed by WalesOnline in December, Mr Kinnock said the couple – who have two daughters – had maintained their family life despite living apart for much of their marriage, with Mr Kinnock serving in positions in Russia, Sierra Leone and Switzerland, as well as London.

A couple’s private marital arrangement is entirely their own business. Yet although it might be considered, at minimum, interesting, neither report touches on this public policy question: Are there concerns worth addressing about a married couple of differing nationalities serving simultaneously in elective office in their different countries?

Imagine if a U.S. senator were married to a British MP, or to a member of the French National Assembly…. or to a Danish prime minister? How might such a pairing be received by many in both nations? One suspects eyebrows would be raised at the very least.


It has been asserted that, back in the 1920s, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General John J. Pershing did not marry his French girlfriend because he believed Americans would not accept it if he, the country’s top soldier, had a foreign wife. True, attitudes have since softened considerably. Voters seem far less troubled now if a government official has a non-citizen spouse. (Or a soon to be foreign new spouse…. even after his wife had divorced him for cheating on her with that woman.)

For example, it is well-known that British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s wife is Spanish. However, Miriam Clegg is not a member of the Spanish government. And she resides in Britain with her British husband.

We know we are all “good friends” nowadays, yet issues may still arise that place countries on “collision” courses. It definitely remains an uncommon marital situation, but it nonetheless raises an intriguing hypothetical question: Which would come first for spouses serving in their different countries’ governments? Their spouse? Or their country?

Back To The Routine

Yes, I am becoming more and more like my uncle….

….Uh, to clarify, I mean only in the writing routine’s sense! 😉

Full-time authoring is work as assuredly as any other job. Even if you can’t think of a blessed thing to write that day, sit down in “your office” and force yourself to write something. Trust me, there is “something” in your head. Even if it’s lousy, you can always edit or scrap it later; but even the worst stuff probably has at least a kernel or two of usable material in it somewhere. No time writing is truly wasted time.

With Passports, often I started my day very early. (Sometimes as early as 4 A.M.) I was at it – typing, typing, typing, organizing, re-typing, double-checking, editing, struggling – pretty much with only a few short breaks until around lunchtime. Five or six hours would fly by. After an hour or two pause to clear my head, I plunged back into it again for a few more hours in the later afternoon.

Usually I opened a day by rereading the previous day’s output. (And regularly declaring, “That’s awful! What was I thinking? Delete!”) But if I had awoken with some new “great idea” bouncing around in my head, I got that on the PC as quickly as possible. In that event, I saved substantial proofreading for the end of that current day.

I find I am now back into that routine as I write its sequel. I was badly thrown for most of February. I got little done that month; it was just too painful to write it.

I think I have also untangled the “nightmare chapter.” I spent most of Friday and part of very early – meaning from 5 A.M., early – yesterday morning on it. And I did so fully sober too! 😉


It was a lot of time to invest in struggling with less than half a dozen pages. But the draft result seems worth it. Turned out, uh, pretty cool, methinks.

Note: Insofar as I am aware, “pretty cool” is not an official, descriptive novelist term. 🙂