Stranger In A Strange Land: Bertino’s Novel ‘Beautyland’

There’s no shortage of alien characters in popular sci-fi storytelling. But Marie-Helene Bertino puts an original spin on the concept in Beautyland, a recently released book that combines quirky humor with heart-aching poignancy. The protagonist, Adina, believes that she is an extraterrestrial from a planet 300,000 light years away. She was dropped into Philadelphia in the late 1970s, apparently the natural born offspring of a loser dad and an Italian American mother who’s hard pressed to make ends meet.

(Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash)

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Two Sides of Love: A Film With Deep Family Roots Makes a Splash

It’s far from a given that creative “lightening” will strike twice in the same family — that a relative of a great artist will burn with an intensity and talent that turns heads. Such is the case of Charlotte Schioler, a relative of the great 20th Century Danish author Karen Blixen, better known by her pen name Isak Dinesen. Schioler is making a splash these days on the film festival scene with her first feature-length film, Maoussi, which is pronounced mousey — the name of a little white being at the center of the tale.

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Love a Riveting Apocalypse Tale? I’ve Got One for You

About four years ago we were all facing a vicious monster: the onset of COVID-19. Now that the epic, worldwide disaster is more controlled, I’m fascinated by how apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories continue to be incredibly popular.

On the one hand, this might seem like a lot of us are gluttons for mental punishment. People might have said, “Enough! Give me merry unicorns and other mind-warming nonsense!” (No offense, if I just described you.) Instead, I think a lot of us can empathize a little more with the characters caught in the shock and fear of these tales. We can slip into their shoes even more easily.

(Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash)

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Ann Patchett’s ‘Tom Lake’: Quiet Love and a Steamy Affair

When I was a kid, I lived in an area of New York State that was, in many ways, idyllic. The worst thing that Mother Nature threw at us was poison ivy. But while I still love that place deeply, there wasn’t enough action to hold me there. Instead, I became deeply bonded to a grittier patch of Earth, New York City. And I grew even more keenly aware of the ties that other people feel for particular locations when I fell in love with my husband, David, who had New Orleans tattooed on his heart.

(Photo by Barbara Krysztofiak on Unsplash)

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The Great Streaming Price Hike: Is It Too Much?

Like Frogs in Hot Water, We Might Jump Out

I’m among the millions of Americans who stopped relying on cable or satellite operators for video entertainment. In other words, I’m a cord cutter, and there’s been no looking back. Right now, I have a veritable cornucopia of amusement for a collective price tag that’s well below what I was paying for a video subscription from Verizon — thanks, in part, to sharing some accounts with family members.

All of this is subject to change. Most streaming platforms that rely on subscriptions have raised their rates in the recent past — and some are planning other increases.

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Pioneering Women in a Wild West Horror Story

Horror is not a genre that I gravitate toward naturally. The idea of amusing myself with terror? That just hasn’t been my jam. But Victor LaValle has changed all that, largely because his books “tick off” a couple of qualities that are in my sweet spot.

His characters have big personalities, and some of them are very funny. Plus, the language LaValle uses is juicy and finely detailed in a way that makes everything seem very real, in my imagination. In my opinion, LaValle is first and foremost a literary author, rather than a horror writer. And because of that, the monsters he unleashes are more captivating than frightening.

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Real Rembrandt Art Theft in a New Detective Yarn

There’s a splendid building in the heart of Boston that’s haunted by a tragic loss. The elegant Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is home to a collection of more than 7,500 pieces of precious art. If you follow art news or events around Boston, then you may recall the burglary that took place there in 1990, which has never been solved. The 13 stolen works of art, 11 of which are paintings, have a value of $500 million and include works by Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer. Empty frames, where stolen paintings once hung, appear like ghosts on the walls.

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Cinderellas With Mega-Talent Find a Very Special New York Home

There’s a society of women that you might not have heard of that includes some of the most celebrated actresses of our time. Kim Cattrall, Carol Burnett, Blythe Danner, Diane Keaton along with thousands of others all came to New York as cash-strapped and often naive ingenues. And they found a home within the walls of The Rehearsal Club, or TRC for short. The club was the inspiration behind the classic movie “Stage Door,” a 1937 comedy. It starred the likes of Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn (both seen here), Eve Arden, and Lucille Ball.

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How Hollywood’s Rough Road Could Lead Us to New Paths

Sometimes, going through my email inbox is like falling into quicksand. There’s just so much useless, unending stuff. Every time I unsubscribe to an emailed newsletter or marketing pitch that I never signed up for in the first place, five others seem to crop up. It’s a fight against the forces of boredom. Yet buried within the sand are some gems that can put a fabulous little spin on the day.

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Coming Home: Why I Still Love Neil Gaiman’s ‘Ocean’

It can feel magical — traveling to see places and people from the distant past. A long-lost cabin on a lake, a friend who went on crazy adventures with you, the field where you spent long hours playing kickball. For me, the delicious sense of delving backwards has involved a book that I first read years ago and which grew richer on the second reading over the last month: Neal Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”

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Girl Power: Best Shows With Women on TV Now

Deep in the heart of the sixth season of “Grey’s Anatomy,” there’s an episode that ends with a total girl power moment. After some high-stakes surgical maneuvers, the leading female characters get together for a rousing game of baseball. The sheer joy of working and playing hard together is embodied in that moment. (Seen here: Chandra Wilson as Miranda Bailey)

The scene came to mind this past week when I heard about some good news for women involved in making entertainment, and those of us who love TV shows with strong women characters.

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Magic, Mystery, and Love: The Story Behind ‘I Was Never There’

Jamie Zelermyer grew up in a world that was a lot different than what most kids experienced in the 1970s and ’80s. Until she was in sixth grade, her family was part of a Back to the Land enclave that involved radical politics, music, and communal living in and around Morgantown, W. Va. There was a real mystery element to it, too. A close friend of Jamie’s family, Marsha “Mudd” Ferber, disappeared without a trace — never to be seen or heard from again.

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How to Banish Writer’s Block When You’re Lost in Space

Imagine you’re an astronaut on a spacewalk out there in the velvet-black, profound universe. In the middle of powering in some screws on a piece of robotic equipment, your left eye stings so badly that you can’t keep it open. Then the same thing happens to your right eye. That’s what happened to the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. “In just a few minutes, I’d gone from 20/20 vision to blind. In space. Holding a drill,” he relates in his book, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.”

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Feeding Hungry New Yorkers With a Big Dollop of Love

When life chugs along in a same-old, same-old way, it can feel like nothing is ever going to change. Until something blows in out of left field that makes you swerve into new directions. That “left field” sensation hit Nancy Burgos-Jackson about eight years ago when she stepped into a soup kitchen run by the Church of the Village in New York City. What she found there made her heart sink.

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Mind Power: How to Sharpen Our Memory and Intelligence

Galloping on a horse down a rain forest trail, a blur of lush greenery rushed by. I could smell the leather of the saddle, feel the mahogany brown animal breathing hard beneath me. Matching the rhythm of his body with my own, I focused on the pounding of his hooves and the hushing sound of a small waterfall in the distance. My friend Ellie gave me a bright smile from her own horse. And then, and then! We slowed to watch the flutter of blue in the leaves. One, two, then a whole cluster of brilliant blue Morpho butterflies filtered up through the leaves and branches, each one like a dream that was all the more precious because it could not be captured and held.

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How to Deal With ‘Good-Byes’ When We’re Sinking

Sometimes it can seem like life is nothing but a long series of good-byes. Maybe you part ways with somebody that you thought would be your partner, or friend, for life. Maybe you’re laid off from a job, and you were so proud of what you accomplished there. Maybe a grandfather that was your rock — who loved you no matter what — passes away.

(Photo by Gabriele Stravinskaite on Unsplash)

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Silver, Magic, and Clipper Ships: The Power of ‘Babel’

I fell head-over-heels for the novel “Babel,” by Rebecca F. Kuang. It’s a deeply imagined work that’s been a №1 New York Times bestseller. And it just picked up a Nebula, the prestigious award bestowed by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (of which I am a proud member). At the core of the tale is a Chinese orphan who goes by the name Robin Swift. For reasons that seem mysterious at the time, he’s whisked out of an impoverished life in Canton in 1828 by a very strict professor, Richard Lovell.

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Our ‘Crisis in Truth’ — What We Can Do About Propaganda Today

Propaganda is something that Stacey Lynn Schulman thinks about a lot. In addition to her role as a research expert who’s well known in the media business, Stacey is trained as a media ecologist. It’s a profession that isn’t widely known, but essentially it involves the study of how media and societies impact each other, back and forth, as a living, breathing ecosystem. As part of that, Stacey keeps an eye on the ways in which information becomes distorted.

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Dads Gone Nuts — Tale of Two Very Similar Shows

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Giraffes, an Amethyst Lake, and a Grounded Galleon: Why Wonder Really Matters

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Russians, Ukrainians (And Some Others) Fight to Rescue Cats in New York

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Are You Prepared for a Zombie Apocalypse?

Zombies have been on my mind lately partly because I’m enjoying “The Last of Us,” the fungus-pandemic horror series on HBO, and partly because of something that showed up in my inbox. Many data tidbits are pushed to me, so they don’t always stop me in my scrolling tracks. But this one did just that. Did you know that more than one in 10 Americans think a zombie apocalypse is inevitable? Among the believers, more than half apparently believe it’s coming in the next 30 years.

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Sharing the Love, or Stealing?

Say you have a friend named Monique who’s lost her job. You know she can barely scrape together enough change to pay the rent, and she really needs some positive distraction. You give her the passcode to your Netflix account so she can get some laughs out of “The Extraordinary Attorney Woo.” Heck, you’ve already given the code to some of your other friends, who have in turn shared their Apple TV+ and HBOMax account codes with you.

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Will The Truth Set Us Free In These Polarized Times?

Deep in the heart of Becky Chambers’ award-winning “Wayfarers” sci-fi novel trilogy there’s mention of a show that changed the course of relations between regular humans and some sentient beings on another planet. At first, any meaningful friendship between the two types of “creatures” was impossible. They kept their distance. But then they started to reach the middle ground after some entertaining content emerged in which an alien and a human became friends. It grew wildly popular, and after 10 years, the two civilizations warmed to each other, turning the course of history.

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Why They Die — Mastering the Art of Killing Off Characters in Fiction

“He’s scared to look at me in the eyes and start to understand what’s about to happen to him. You know, he picked the wrong family. We’re not scared of conflict. We’re not running. We’re coming at him.”

Those are the words of Steve Goncalves, speaking to CNN’s Jim Sciutto about the alleged murderer of four University of Idaho students. Among them was Gonclaves’ daughter, Kaylee.

This recent example of senseless violence is horrifying, and it’s so easy to get behind Goncalves’ rage and overpowering need for justice. And at the same time, we can be haunted by other forms of death, which might seem quiet by comparison but are devastating.

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Love and Caring in a World of Senseless Tragedies

In early November I was hit by a car. At the time, I was walking down a residential street in the early evening, wearing an orange jacket and crossing a well-lit intersection. I was thrown onto the entrance ramp of a highway running down the side of the Hudson River, from The Bronx into Manhattan.

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California Romance and Culinary Delights — The Making of ‘Casserole Courtship’

What do you get when you marry up one of California’s gorgeous Central Coast beaches with scrumptious food and romance? In the hands of Elizabeth Guider, those elements have become a page-turner novel called “The Casserole Courtship.” Her seasoned, realistic approach to fiction explores how some pretty fascinating people find love — or not.

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Elves and Magpies: The Mysterious Ways Writers Tap Into Rich Veins of Inspiration

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the pods of people who support and sustain our lives. Pods of family members, pods of friends, and (in my case) pods of people who are obsessed with writing fiction. The writer group is made up of people that I know personally and others whose work I admire and who give me a greater understanding of the craft.

I turned to the writer pod recently to gather some thoughts about an enigma when it comes to fiction. It involves a question that writers get asked all the time but many of us find it hard to answer: Where do you get your ideas?

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The Comparison Trap: How to Get Back on Track When Others Succeed

There once was a belly dancer named Carmen. She wowed crowds from Coney Island to Cairo. Really hot men dropped at her feet when she did the Turkish Figure Eight. They didn’t call her Magic Hips for nothin’. Another dancer named Stardust won the International Belly Dance Championship, and Carmen was back a ways in the rankings. She just couldn’t curb her sense of despair and jealousy. She felt like calling the whole shimmy-thing off. Maybe she should just become a bookkeeper for her shady uncle’s dump truck biz like he always wanted.

My fictional Carmen just danced into a very particular circle of hell: comparing herself to someone with similar aspirations who scored a coveted victory.

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‘Where Then Is Paradise?’ — Reflections on Asteroids, Putin, Scarcity, and Love

You may have heard the news that scientists uncovered new understandings about the asteroid that hit planet Earth 66 million years ago, destroying three-quarters of all plant and animal species, including dinosaurs.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan initially reported the findings in NGU Advances. And a later report in The Washington Postdescribed the asteroid this way: “The researchers drew on previous research and assumed the meteor had a diameter of 8.7 miles and a density of about 165 pounds per cubic foot — roughly the weight of an average adult male crammed within a volume the size of a milk crate.”

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Dr. Killjoy, Or Why I Learned Not to Trust Doctors as Much as I Once Did

I call him Dr. Killjoy. My gastroenterologist had done all kinds of tests and had me on a strict diet that sapped some delight out of my life. But after months of diligently following his advice, continued bouts with a certain plumbing issue continued to dog me. Old Killjoy threw up his hands and told me he didn’t know what was causing my body to go haywire. I’d just have to watch and learn. (Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash)

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It’s Horror Movie Season! Why Do We Love Scary Films So Much?

Get ready for terror. Streaming channels and movie theaters are about to unleash the annual October sack of ghoulish predators and monsters. At least eight new horror movies are coming out of their cages in October. For example, there’s “Hellraiser,” a mystery-horror-thriller reboot of the 1980s film; “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” based on a Stephen King novella; the final installment of the “Halloween” franchise; and “Terrifier 2,” which features a resurrected killer clown named Art.

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‘Crooked Lines’ — Holding on to Dreams Despite the Monsters on Our Paths

There’s a writer named Jenna Zark whose work I adore and who navigated through plenty of personal trials. While she was creating some of her early works of fiction, Jenna’s marriage to a Jewish cantor fell apart. And, she flailed about as she raised her young son, Josh. Her inspiring new book, “Crooked Lines,” chronicles her personal experiences and how they eventually led to smoother roads. Along the way she also explains how certain Jewish traditions and holidays have personal resonance.

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My Little Town: Celebrations and Moments of Nostalgia in Upstate New York

The first time I can recall feeling shocked at how a certain place can change, I was a teen in a tiny upstate New York village called Franklin. My school was burning down in the middle of the night. This happened a few hours after I sent up a fervent prayer to God, asking him to please save me from the humiliation of performing in a school play the next day. I hadn’t learned my lines.

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The Truth Might Send You Into a Frightful Frenzy, and Maybe Into Sleep

What stories send you off to dreamland? One of the kindest, most generous people I know likes TV series about real-life murder mysteries, no matter how grisly. (Love that about her.) For me, stories about trains taking me to exotic locations in distant times, or fantasy tales, are just the thing.

When it comes to fantasy, one the great masters to whom I bow down is Neil Gaiman. I was among the legion of fantasy and horror geeks who have highly anticipated the debut of his “The Sandman” TV series — adapted from Gaiman’s comic books.

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A Kiss Is Still a Kiss, But I’m Seeing ‘Casablanca’ Through a More Truthful Lens

It took some vintage films to make me see how my mind has shifted — in ways that put the movies in a new perspective that isn’t entirely flattering. This came to me while watching Bette Davis claw her way to a richer life in “The Little Foxes.” And then I watched Ingrid Bergman trapped in a life-or-death love triangle in “Casablanca.

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Struggling With the Feeling of Failure, 10,000 Times Along the Way

If you’re anything like me, then you were utterly gobsmacked by the astounding images that NASA released this last week. They are “the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken,” according to NASA administrator Bill Nelson. The odds we’d even get to see those images was amazing: there were 344 possible points of failure along the way, NASA said.

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How We Move Forward, After the Supreme Court Devastations

When I was very young, my older brother died of brain cancer. He was four years old. As you might imagine, this was a deeply shattering experience for my parents. My mother’s way of dealing with it was to repress her feelings under a big flat stone. She rarely mentioned what she and my father went through — all those repeated trips to the hospital, the crushing sense of failure.

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From Sissy Spacek to Jean Smart: Delicious Roles for Older Women Multiply

Outstanding roles for older female actresses on TV have always been in short supply. In recent years, the business has tried to address the issue of racism and sexual misconduct. And older men have been around in shows for a long time. But as for a variety of shows with primary characters that authentically portray fascinating, mature women? Not a lot.

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The Essential Writers’ Tool: How to Build or Join a Feedback Group

Writing a piece of fiction can be like walking through a foreign land that seems endless, and occasionally filled with thorny brambles. Yes, you may have friends who will commiserate with your dilemmas, pour you some wine, or provide some good advice. But maybe the people you know just are not enough to get you where you need to go. Maybe you need to widen your circles, suck it up and meet some absolute strangers even if you’re an introvert — people who can guide you in new directions that you hadn’t considered before or hadn’t thought about strongly enough.

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Top 8 Things About a Friend With a Richly Lived Life

Her parents were part of the French Resistance. To evade Nazi detection, her mother hid tiny bits of paper with secret messages in the curly locks of her children’s hair.

A treasured friend of mine who lived in the United States for 45 years recently emigrated back to her native country, France. I’m coming to grips with the reality that our frequent visits are at an end. And I’ve written a list of things about her that I want to remember, always.

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Elon Musk and the Future

It was like a musket shot when Elon Musk pursued a deal to acquire Twitter. (And actually snagged a deal after this story originaly went to press.) But the most striking thing about it, for me, is his use of the word “freedom.”

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Red Beans and Rice: Memories of a Creole Love Affair

The cookbook lost its cover countless years ago. It’s spattered with roux (that baseline sauce of many a Creole recipe) and other unidentified marks from meals long gone by. The spiral binding has been a little derailed, but still holds the pages together. And part of the index was unintentionally ripped out of its original place somewhere along the way and is now a bookmark.

” is like a bible for some people utterly smitten with New Orleans cuisine. And its author sure has one snobby attitude. Leon E. Soniat Jr. prefaced his recipe for red beans and rice: “If you insist on cooking sausage with your red beans, try this recipe.”

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Fantastic Worlds Coming Our Way: How Metaverses Will Evolve

The cascading crises that the world is facing tear me in two directions. I pay attention to it in a pretty big way. But at the end of the day, escaping into far-flung fictional worlds is even more vital to my state of mind than before. If there were a bookstore version of a deli, where you could order novels instead of sandwiches, I’d be yelling: “Hold the futuristic disasters and smear on something fantastic.”

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How to Increase Your Powers of Charisma and Seduction

The dominatrix wasn’t what I expected. It seemed like anyone earning money from erotic bondage-and-submission services would be seedy, down-market, and a bit of a loser.

I was so wrong.

When we met several years ago, I discovered that she had her very own dungeon, with an assortment of whips and other trappings of the trade. Even a bed of nails. Anyone who hired her wouldn’t be disappointed — and she had some powerful clients.

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Six Tips on Building a Creative Writing Bonfire

It seems to me that desire to tell stories is universal among humans — almost as necessary as it is for a bird to sing. The urge must be written into the DNA of who we are. There are tales we want to blurt out to our friends in casual conversations. Or maybe we dream about getting our stories produced or published, wowing much larger audiences.

When bigger goals are at play, many people don’t know how to begin. It’s a fantasy they keep tucked away for their retirement years, or when they can cajole someone else to write a story for them.

I understand. The prospect of putting down words on a page can seem overwhelming. But there are ways to do it, one word at a time.

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Choosing Painful New Paths That Just Might Lead to Joy

Some of the hardest things that I’ve ever done have involved a sharp, painful turn in a new direction. If I didn’t make a needed change, another person pushed me hard. I had to do it.

In a lot of situations, it seemed like someone was forcing me into some gawd-awful situation. Maybe they laid me off (a.k.a., fired me). Maybe someone broke off a passionate relationship. However, if I step back and look at the circumstances that led up to the heave-ho, it often comes down to my own actions. At least partially.

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A Free Read for You – THE JUICE’s First Chapter

What were you doing around this time a year ago? It was the best of times and worst of times for yours truly. On the negative end, my husband was a month away from dying of cancer. When I wasn’t helping him, I was desperately trying to find anti-COVID vaccines. On the positive end, David and I had an amazing group of friends and family supporting us. And while that was all going on, my novel, THE JUICE, was published.

Chances are, if you’ve drilled down to this blog on my site, you already know that the title of the book refers to a chemical substance that makes people extraordinarily charismatic. I threw in a lot of romance and suspense over the course of writing the novel. Because it’s also a commentary on the future of media and advertising, and dystopian in nature, I like to think follows in the footsteps of some sci-fi greats, like William Gibson. In honor of the book’s publication last February by Dragon Moon Press, the first chapter follows below. Many hopes you enjoy it.

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To My Beloved Dead Husband: Science Fiction Is Here Now

Dear David,

Now that you’ve been gone for nearly a year, I’ve developed a new theory that I want to tell you about. It has to do with science fiction — that passion of mine that you so encouraged.

Perhaps the sci-fi genre first came about when someone wanted to tell a dead loved one what has transpired since their passing — how fantastical it all might seem.

Wouldn’t your father have been startled to learn that millions of people, of all social classes, were felled by a virus? That people would be afraid to touch each other, breathe the same air?

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Can’t We Just Get Along? A New Path to Harmony (or Not)

There’s a simple solution to get rid of all the hatred, contempt, and distaste expressed across the great gulf that separates so many of us — Democrats vs. Republicans, vaccination proponents vs. anti-vaxxers — the factions go on and on. If only this solution to our growing antagonism was utilized, we’d all get along. No more gatherings with friends or family that are marred by arguments about differing beliefs and opinions.

As I sketched out plans for my sci-fi novel, THE JUICE, I saw an end to all that. I envisioned a time in the future when we’ll live much more harmonious lives, like we haven’t in years, maybe decades. It’s not that we’ll believe in exactly the same things. We’ll just agree with ideas or opinions that are complementary to each other, like red and yellow blossoms artfully arranged in a floral bouquet.

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A Carnation in My Attic: Inspiration From a Harlem Street Vendor

One of the most valuable sources for me as a creative writer is my own attic. By attic, I don’t mean a physical place where wasps buzz around in overheated spaces on summer afternoons when your mother demands that it’s finally time to get all those old boxes of Christmas decorations and your dad’s old military gear sorted out. Instead, I mean my mental attic.

As I wrote my sci-fi cyberpunk novel, THE JUICE, I tried to imagine New York several decades into the future by sifting through all my experiences living there, and the people I knew. Among those I conjured up were some executives at media companies, who who helped inspire the creation of my character Petra Cardinale, whom I wrote about here. Another treasure in my attic is a guy by the name of Carnation France. As I filtered through my memories, he popped out and gave me a big, fun-loving grin.

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Stranger In A Strange Land: Bertino’s Novel ‘Beautyland’

There’s no shortage of alien characters in popular sci-fi storytelling. But Marie-Helene Bertino puts an original spin on the concept in Beautyland, a recently released book that combines quirky humor with heart-aching poignancy. The protagonist, Adina, believes that she is an extraterrestrial from a planet 300,000 light years away. She was dropped into Philadelphia in the late 1970s, apparently the natural born offspring of a loser dad and an Italian American mother who’s hard pressed to make ends meet.

(Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash)

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Two Sides of Love: A Film With Deep Family Roots Makes a Splash

It’s far from a given that creative “lightening” will strike twice in the same family — that a relative of a great artist will burn with an intensity and talent that turns heads. Such is the case of Charlotte Schioler, a relative of the great 20th Century Danish author Karen Blixen, better known by her pen name Isak Dinesen. Schioler is making a splash these days on the film festival scene with her first feature-length film, Maoussi, which is pronounced mousey — the name of a little white being at the center of the tale.

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Love a Riveting Apocalypse Tale? I’ve Got One for You

About four years ago we were all facing a vicious monster: the onset of COVID-19. Now that the epic, worldwide disaster is more controlled, I’m fascinated by how apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories continue to be incredibly popular.

On the one hand, this might seem like a lot of us are gluttons for mental punishment. People might have said, “Enough! Give me merry unicorns and other mind-warming nonsense!” (No offense, if I just described you.) Instead, I think a lot of us can empathize a little more with the characters caught in the shock and fear of these tales. We can slip into their shoes even more easily.

(Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash)

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Ann Patchett’s ‘Tom Lake’: Quiet Love and a Steamy Affair

When I was a kid, I lived in an area of New York State that was, in many ways, idyllic. The worst thing that Mother Nature threw at us was poison ivy. But while I still love that place deeply, there wasn’t enough action to hold me there. Instead, I became deeply bonded to a grittier patch of Earth, New York City. And I grew even more keenly aware of the ties that other people feel for particular locations when I fell in love with my husband, David, who had New Orleans tattooed on his heart.

(Photo by Barbara Krysztofiak on Unsplash)

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The Great Streaming Price Hike: Is It Too Much?

Like Frogs in Hot Water, We Might Jump Out

I’m among the millions of Americans who stopped relying on cable or satellite operators for video entertainment. In other words, I’m a cord cutter, and there’s been no looking back. Right now, I have a veritable cornucopia of amusement for a collective price tag that’s well below what I was paying for a video subscription from Verizon — thanks, in part, to sharing some accounts with family members.

All of this is subject to change. Most streaming platforms that rely on subscriptions have raised their rates in the recent past — and some are planning other increases.

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Pioneering Women in a Wild West Horror Story

Horror is not a genre that I gravitate toward naturally. The idea of amusing myself with terror? That just hasn’t been my jam. But Victor LaValle has changed all that, largely because his books “tick off” a couple of qualities that are in my sweet spot.

His characters have big personalities, and some of them are very funny. Plus, the language LaValle uses is juicy and finely detailed in a way that makes everything seem very real, in my imagination. In my opinion, LaValle is first and foremost a literary author, rather than a horror writer. And because of that, the monsters he unleashes are more captivating than frightening.

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Real Rembrandt Art Theft in a New Detective Yarn

There’s a splendid building in the heart of Boston that’s haunted by a tragic loss. The elegant Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is home to a collection of more than 7,500 pieces of precious art. If you follow art news or events around Boston, then you may recall the burglary that took place there in 1990, which has never been solved. The 13 stolen works of art, 11 of which are paintings, have a value of $500 million and include works by Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer. Empty frames, where stolen paintings once hung, appear like ghosts on the walls.

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Cinderellas With Mega-Talent Find a Very Special New York Home

There’s a society of women that you might not have heard of that includes some of the most celebrated actresses of our time. Kim Cattrall, Carol Burnett, Blythe Danner, Diane Keaton along with thousands of others all came to New York as cash-strapped and often naive ingenues. And they found a home within the walls of The Rehearsal Club, or TRC for short. The club was the inspiration behind the classic movie “Stage Door,” a 1937 comedy. It starred the likes of Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn (both seen here), Eve Arden, and Lucille Ball.

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How Hollywood’s Rough Road Could Lead Us to New Paths

Sometimes, going through my email inbox is like falling into quicksand. There’s just so much useless, unending stuff. Every time I unsubscribe to an emailed newsletter or marketing pitch that I never signed up for in the first place, five others seem to crop up. It’s a fight against the forces of boredom. Yet buried within the sand are some gems that can put a fabulous little spin on the day.

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Coming Home: Why I Still Love Neil Gaiman’s ‘Ocean’

It can feel magical — traveling to see places and people from the distant past. A long-lost cabin on a lake, a friend who went on crazy adventures with you, the field where you spent long hours playing kickball. For me, the delicious sense of delving backwards has involved a book that I first read years ago and which grew richer on the second reading over the last month: Neal Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”

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How Small Pebbles (And Paul Newman) Illuminate Gaps in My Heart

By Janet Stilson / July 6, 2021 /

It happened again – a trigger that jolts me into a memory when I least expect it. Last weekend, I watched an old Paul Newman movie, HARPER, with my friend Doris. Newman leads a cast that is pretty iconic: Shelley Winters, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner – with a screenplayby William Goldman.…

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Miles Davis, Mysterious Birds and the Unstoppable Urge to Soar

By Janet Stilson / June 29, 2021 /

There’s a bird that sings outside my window almost every morning with the most haunting, flute-like melody. How can three notes, repeated over and over, be so captivating? Okay, I admit, Miles Davis’s tune “So What?” kind of made it clear that can be done in two notes – and it’s no wonder that Erykah…

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Ready, Set, Dive: Crossing a Mysteriously Thrilling New Ocean

By Janet Stilson / June 22, 2021 /

It’s an otherworldly experience, what happens to creative writers when they fall in love with bits and pieces of storylines and characters crowding their heads. They are teased by their own minds into discovering what’s there, summoning up old memories, old feelings and fantasies of bravery, evil machinations, breathtaking adventures – you get the picture.…

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Splendid Friendships, Transformed by Love and Loss

By Janet Stilson / June 8, 2021 /

If Alice of Wonderland ever grew up in the present day, she’d look like my friend Terri. I saw her for the first time in ages the weekend before last—she of the purple locks, John Fluevog fantasy-like footwear and a fairy tale dress that coordinated impeccably. At first blush, there’s no way to tell we’d…

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Book Review: Romantic Towns, a Stolen Rembrandt and a Deadly Dad

By Janet Stilson / June 1, 2021 /

If you’re looking for bookish relief from the problems that seem to surround us all these days, Dr. Stilson has a personal prescription: an un-put-down-able mystery novel, THE LAST PERDOUX, written by Larry Maness. Those of you who know my writing tendencies, and my novel THE JUICE in particular, may assume that this novel falls…

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A Few Skinny Seconds to Romance or Serenity

By Janet Stilson / May 25, 2021 /

I was standing before a Gustav Klimt painting when I felt him. A man I’d just met was right behind me. His hand had reached out, a half inch from my dark hair, searching for a connection and a true sense of me. Pretending not to notice, I gazed at the pale-skinned woman in the…

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Deeper Than Dreams, Or Don’t Listen to Your Mama

By Janet Stilson / May 18, 2021 /

When Wynton Marsalis was 17, he knew he had to leave home. His relationship with his mother was contentious. She didn’t want him to become a professional musician, and other people were urging him to find another path as well. Wynton asked his father, the great pianist Ellis Marsalis, for his opinion. “Do you love…

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Crashing Rain, Buried Truths and Growing Up

By Janet Stilson / May 4, 2021 /

On lazy summer days long ago, my mother, sister and I would tackle the attic, figuring out which of our possessions relegated to that deep memory space should be discarded or better organized. There were odd sticks of furniture, stacks of splashy picture magazines, my mother’s childhood ringlets in an old cigar box, and my…

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Disastrous Friends and Mesmerizing Sea Gods: A Book Review

By Janet Stilson / April 27, 2021 /

“A great main character is a character who’s fully committed to a terrible plan.” Marti Noxon, Writer, Showrunner Recently I listened to a podcast called THE SCREENWRITING LIFE that featured an interview with Marti Noxon. Her screenwriting credits include SHARP OBJECTS, FRIGHT NIGHT and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. When she talked about great main characters…

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What’d He Miss? Magical Thinking Along My New Path in Life

By Janet Stilson / April 13, 2021 /

It was dumbfounding. There I was, trying to plug a power cord into my MacBookPro. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what slot to use. That happened a few days ago. Bear in mind, my laptop is like an extension of my body. There is an invisible umbilical cord between the machine…

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