A Writer’s Bitter-Sweet Glossary.


There are words writers know and love, or know and hate. It’s visceral.

Words that are tossed around so often we forget what they meant before they became industry-speak.

In the complicated, tedious, and occasionally brilliant “writing life”, in a vocation that is completely reliant on our ability to use perfectly chosen, accurate words, these words that have become so blasé they are mundane seem even stranger, when we step away from them. Or get close, and examine.


Dictionary definition: The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

Writer definition – A written article, story, poem, or piece of fiction -a piece of ourselves – sent off into the ozone to be accepted or rejected. Perhaps by a superior force, but perhaps by an overworked, underpaid cynic, nursing her Scotch in the corner of a bar.


Dictionary definition: The spurning of a person’s affections.

Writer definition:

  1. Our work is found wanting, weak, off target. It doesn’t fit with this market and won’t sell. It can be overwritten, under-edited, weak on pacing, or overly plot driven. Maybe it lacks a likeable protagonist, or a hate-able antagonist?  It could be so beautiful, it makes someone cry . . . but they need a laugh. Maybe it’s funny enough to set a reader giggling . . . but this editor is feeling dark and moody. In short, our piece is not wanted. Most likely, we’ll never know why.
  2. Verb: To spurn our affections via automated email.

Literary agent:

Dictionary definition: A professional agent who acts on behalf of an author in dealing with publishers and others involved in promoting the author’s work.

Writer definition:

  1. Possibly a cheerleader, someone to champion our work. Otherwise an overworked underpaid writer who has switched sides of the equation out of frustration. A new college grad who had an unpaid internship for three months, and now calls himself an agent.
  2. A greed driven sycophant who might leave a novel on the desk for twelve months, during which time the writer cannot seek another agent or publisher.
  3. A hands-on editor, who spends hours coaching the writer through a rewrite, without any guarantee they will receive payment. In short, they are all over the map – wonderful, generous souls and clueless, unprepared newbies propelled by unrealistic fantasies of discovering the next Stephen King. Strangely, they are hard to get, even with the lack of credentials needed.
  4. The gatekeepers to the big publishers, and increasingly the small as well. Writers love to hate them. But we want one anyway.


Dictionary definition: The action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone.

Writers Definition:

  1. The act of signing a paper with an agent – be he angel or sycophant. We may have our book shopped to publishers every-where, or the manuscript may quickly become the best place for the agent to rest a latte cup in the morning, next to a dying cactus.  We quickly know not to assume someone truly representing our interests.

Self publishing:

Dictionary definition: A writer publishes independently at one’s own expense.

Writer definition:

  1. We decide to invest in our work and share it with the world. We refuse to play the archaic game of trying to get published by the bloated “big houses” and receive 8% royalties on our life’s work, and we don’t wish to write vampire mysteries. However, the establishment has convinced most readers (and writers) that it doesn’t quite “count” because we didn’t get through the gates to the publishing heaven (AKA hell). It doesn’t matter if you’re Virginia Wolfe or Anais Nin. You are bravely offering your story to the world without an adequate marketing strategy.

A platform:

Dictionary definition: A raised level surface on which people or things can stand

Writer Definition.

  1. A place we stand on and tweet, snap photos, make pithy remarks, blog (like this), collect emails, and try desperately to garner attention before a market-driven literary agent (see above) Googles us, and decides not if our work has merit, but whether our platform can sell.
  2. A surface to stand on and rant at the Gods of Publishing.



Dictionary Definition: Exercise skill in making something.

Writers Definition:

  1. The actual stuff we should be working on – pacing, plot, setting, and the intricacies of realistic dialogue. (Versus learning to be a sexy tweeter with a huge platform to dance around on).

Example: A rare writer’s conference or event will focus on craft. The workshops are like sipping superb, well-aged wine while eating dark chocolate. Inspirational writers, often who have no platform, share their experience, and we laugh together, easily. Life is good.


Dictionary Definition: The preparation and issuing of a book, journal, piece of music, or other work for public consumption.

Writers Definition.

  1. Historically, to be accepted (not rejected) by a publisher. That someone will take our work and share it with others, and we will see our writing in print, on paper. It meant a “superior force” was saying, “This is good and we think others should read it.” It meant we could feel like a real writer.
  2. Currently, we are in the midst of a metamorphosis, in which publishing may be reverting to its initial, more pure, definition. To issue a book, or other work, for consumption by the public. To share one’s story.  We realize one can be a real writer, because one writes. Regardless of the gates, the keepers, the industry, the rejections and need for “submission.”

Conclusion: Writers write. We share our stories. We publish our work one way or another. And voila — we are real.


PS- I took the photo in Valencia, Spain, last summer.








Posted in Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What to do in three days in NYC (according to a nostalgic Jersey girl who lives in California).

Labor Day Weekend in Manhattan.


Eat a pretzel from the street corner vendor.    Buy a pretzel on your first evening, while waiting in Bryant Park for your husband who flew in separately. Realize street pretzels are dry and overly salty and that the taste could never live up to the smell. You don’t care because it is a beautiful Friday night in Manhattan, and this park, which you don’t recall being here when you were a kid, is lovely. Green grass, a main fountain, and most of all — New Yorkers. Sit back on the randomly placed chairs, feel your feet ache after a full day of travel, and watch the world. Lovers greet one another. Children climb out of strollers to reach the fountain spray. An elegant Asian woman hurries by. Two old men, bearded, play chess. A crowd of twenty-somethings fill the bar. Breathe in the magic of a warm summer night in a vibrant city.


Bryant Park

Take the subway.   Nah, you did that when you were young and broke and had months, not days, to see the city. Walk everywhere, uptown, downtown, crosstown, then give up and grab a cab when you can’t walk anymore. Notice NYC cabs now have little TV’s.

Pay a fortune for Broadway tickets months ahead.   Have no real expectations whatsoever when you approach the half-price ticket booth, except to get tickets to something.

(This is what I learned from my parents, those many Saturday afternoons. The Zen of cheap ticket buying. We used to line up at the TKTS booth on Times Square while my father circled the block for an hour, rather than pay for parking. I can remember being dressed for the theater, cold air flying up my dress, without knowing for sure we’d make it to the theater. At 3:00, the sign went up. The plays that still had seats would be listed, and we’d start our list. What was our first, second and third choice. By the time we got to the front of the line, the plays would have changed and we would have to recalculate, checking the location of the seats, scanning the Times reviews, anxious about what we chose. We saw everything from Peter Pan and Cats to tiny obscure off Broadway shows. It’s in my blood.)

 See both The Humans and An American in Paris for half price, in great seats. Be blown away.



Go to all your old haunts.  Explore new areas because Manhattan is a constantly changing animal. Walk the High Line and discuss the merits of urban planning and renewal. Check out the new Whitney. Eat an impromptu brunch in the Meat Packing District, which is now cool and hip.  Watch gangs of hipsters drink too many mimosas, and smile because you are not them.


IMG_2309 (1).JPG

Rent Bikes from City Bike to just toodle around Manhattan. Are you crazy? You barely ride bikes in California. Why are you riding willy-nilly through Times Square, between screaming taxi drivers, pissed of cops and looming silveHmen on stilts? Return the bikes quickly before someone gets hurt. Take it as a momentary lapse in judgement brought on by Manhattan fever. Notice that your neck sort of hurts?

Visit everyone we know.  Plan to come back for a week just to see all the people we love in NY area. Make a list in the course of the weekend of whom you’ll visit. But this is your 25th anniversary, so wander, just the two of you, for days. Perfect.




Skip Central Park. No. Never skip Central Park. Lie in the grass, watching people play, and think of all the times you were happy here. Remember the movies you’ve seen here. Walk down the Harry Met Sally pathway. Picture Woody Allen and Dianne Keaton strolling by. Consider another dry pretzel.

Have your dinner reservations set up ahead of time. Eat impromptu dinners at neighborhood places. Realize that nothing compares to being able to sit down to dinner at 10:30 on a balmy night, and not feel rushed to go. Chat with waiters from foreign countries, waitresses from Jersey, people who live in our Midtown hotel, tourists from Nebraska, restaurant owners from Greece. Try not to get sloppy and cry because you’re so happy to be “home” amongst people from everywhere, but you fly out in the morning.


Battery Park

Ignore the pain in your neck.  Wake up Monday morning and realize the achy neck thing has turned into a throbbing infection thing. Find an urgent care. Get heavy duty antibiotics. Accept that you will never see a city without visiting its healthcare system. Be glad you’re in New York, not a tiny village in Timbuktu. Be grateful you have health care. Watch New York disappear in the rear view mirror as you drive to the airport, and wonder if you could manifest homesickness as a throbbing lump on the back of your head?

Don’t look at your phone too much, as it hurts your neck more.  Go through your photos one by one on the flight back. From that first evening at Bryant Park to the incredible colors of the sunset from Battery Park on Sunday. Look at your calendar, scheming to return. Be grateful that the universe conspired to get you there at all. Put some ice on your neck. Go home.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tough Questions.



Molly Serra


I am thrilled to be hosted  on a rocking site, The Manifest Station as a guest blogger.

Please click below to read my essay on caring for my niece Molly, after having been separated from her mother.



Posted in Uncategorized, writing | Leave a comment

A Bedtime Story


Wildsound Festival chose my story Night Swimming  to be read and recorded by a professional actor as part of their festival.

It’s like a free audio story – try listening before bed!

Night Swimming is a story from a novella I hope to share in the next few months, about the Donahues of Sonoma. A wacky family that might resemble my own family, albeit in Jersey.

In this story, a feisty character named Billy Donahue, fresh out of jail, is stealing a boat with the help of his reluctant daughter Meghan who is oh so close to getting her life together.

Below is the link as well as an interview of yours truly.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Review review.


It is a new feeling for me, to be reviewed.

The mother of a professional actor, I know what it is like to rush to the papers the day after a show opens. (And so far, have a happy feeling!)

But as a writer that has not yet published a book, I’ve never been “reviewed” publicly.

Until now!

I was surprised and touched  to read this review of Limehawk, a magazine I was fortunate to be published in. The reviewer, Rashi Roghati, says this about my story:

Most of all, the issue starts wonderfully, with Joanell Serra’s “Alma Mater” alongside Karen B. Golightly’s photographs. Golightly’s images are eerie, green, urban dreamscape/hellscape photos, contrasting at first with the setting of Serra’s story: a near-death experience that takes place in what starts out as heaven. For the protagonist, this is a slightly askew version of her college days several decades ago at Rutgers alongside a pragmatic, now-dead roommate who we realize was her last true friend. The story goes reaches beyond cleverness to an examination of why even lives lived true to one’s self can seem to sag, to burst, in our loneliest moments.

Here is the link to the review.


Thank you, Rashi, for your kind words.

Now back to the novel in progress!


Posted in Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Day in the Country.




To the deer that took her last breath on my property, then collapsed in the corner of the yard I never get to:

I’m sorry. I wish I had seen your body earlier, before it was stiff, your eyes still seeming awkwardly alive, staring at my bedroom window. Wish I could have saved you, though I have no idea how you died, or why. Only that your cold hoof rests on the bottom of the gate, as if begging for entrance.

To the woman who answers animal rescue calls for the County of Sonoma:

No, I did not kill the deer, nor did my dogs. And yes, I understand that it is my responsibility to have it disposed of, unless the deer happens to find its way to the street, in which case this is no longer my problem. No, I can’t lift the dead doe and toss in her in the street. Or I won’t.

To Frank, who advertises his animal abatement services on Google:

Thank you for saying your nephew would be right over. No, I agree, I shouldn’t let the dogs gnaw on her, she might be diseased. Do people actually toss the dead deer to their dogs while waiting for you?

To the dogs, a mother and her puppy, recently rescued by me and my persuasive children in a moment of insanity:

Get away from that gate. Get your nose off the poor dead girl’s paw. Do not gnaw.

To the deer who still lies on her side: 

Frank’s nephew is coming.

To Frank:

I’m sorry about your nephew. They can be unreliable at that age, I know. No problem, I can wait. I’m just sitting on the back deck watching her. No, I know I don’t have to. Yes, it is windy today, I can feel the chill right through the blanket I threw over my shoulders before I came out to yell at the dogs.

To the puppy:

Where is my other shoe?

To the deer:

I don’t know why I’m standing on the grass, ten feet from you, watching you like you might spring up at any moment. Why I am ignoring the dogs whining from inside the house where I’ve locked them, and not doing the chores that I listed on the back of an envelope. It feels decent, to be here with you. A witness. And I’m sad.  You look so young to die, like a doe just getting started. In the prime of her life.

Did you eat the ripe blackberries on Kenleigh Road last summer? Run unfettered in the fields that surround us? Tell me you at least had some sweetness in your short life, before coming to this unremarkable end. And how did you die? Why did you choose here, outside my window, on a very high hill, with views across the valley.

Then again, what a good spot you chose to die on. I’ll be back. I need to get a cup of tea.

To Frank:

It’s Ok. I’ll wait. Yes, traffic on 37 is always a bitch this time of day. Thanks for coming since your nephew is hung over.  No, I don’t know the Wilsons. I don’t really know the neighbors here .It’s a second home. A sheep? Mountain lions ate their sheep? Right down my street. Huh.

Well, I’m glad you know just where to go. See you soon.

To my husband, on the cell phone between meetings:

I forgot why we have a house in the country. Since we bought it we have had: a dead bird in the pool, an erupting septic tank, a broken dishwasher, clogged toilets, an enormous tree fall down on the deck, a lost tortoise, a gas leak, and, apparently, mountain lions. Yes, you can call me back later.

To my husband’s voice mail:

To be fair, we’ve also had a lot of fun. Fifty late dinners on warm summer nights, a party that ended with dancing so vigorous I threw out my hip, and many glasses of wine near the pool. A hundred hot tub moments. And four Christmas Eve’s. Sorry I was cranky. These mountain lion scares are real though. We have to keep an eye on the puppy.

To the deer who appears frozen and alone:

I’m sorry I can’t bury you. I tried to bury an animal here, just last winter.  I wanted my old dog’s body here with us. I wanted her spirit to breathe through the grass, her bones to feed the yellow flowers that bloom in late March.  I wanted to know my girl, my fuzzy dog-almost-a-bear with the enormous golden eyes, was still with me. But we found out, after four hours of fruitless digging, that you can’t dig a hole in rock.  The acres of land that surround us are deceiving, appearing to be fertile earth. They are actually rocks in disguise.  The hole, our attempt to dig a grave, is still there, the shovels abandoned on both sides. We took turns digging, then sitting and crying with our old girl, knowing she was about to die. Fuck, it’s cold out here.

To Frank, whose tattoos are so large and intricate that I am distracted for a minute from the purpose of your visit:

Thank you for coming. I’m glad to meet your surly nephew as well. I wish you hadn’t pointed out the “obvious” cause of the deer’s death, nor insisted I see the tiny fawn that was pushing its way from the mother womb when they apparently both succumbed to death. Thank you for explaining that most fawns are born in March, so this one was late, being almost May, which led to the untimely death of mother and baby.

I too am glad there are no maggots. An occupational hazard, I gather. Thanks for mentioning that.

No, I don’t have $125 in cash.

Really? You’re a retired San Francisco cop. Thirty five years on the force. I guess that fits. No, I never walk alone in that neighborhood at night. I hope to not need to call you again, but sure. I’ll take your card.

Yeah, I really don’t have cash like that in my pocket.

To the deer:

I wish Frank had been more gentle with you. I wish I’d buried you, even in a shallow grave, on the hill, where your ghost could emerge at night and run with the other ghost deer. Flirt with a translucent buck, raise your gossamer baby fawn. I feel I have done you a disservice, sweet, dead, doe.

To my dogs, the German Shephard mother and puppy who watch uneasily as the truck pulls away, the deer’s legs sticking out of the top of the flatbed:

I’m so glad you both survived the harrowing process of birth outside, in the wild. And that someone put you in their barn, for shelter. And that we came by a few weeks later and saw Cora, the skinny frightened Mama, nursing eight ravenous pups. And that I thought– we need to get you out of here, Mama.

To Cora:

Stop licking my face. I don’t know why I’m crying.

To the puppy:

Drop it. That’s my damn shoe.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

New Story in LimeHawk Journal

Rutgers-Campus-Photo (1)


The Limehawk Journal has published a story of mine online this week, called Alma Mater.

Rutgers friends beware, this is a quick sweet/sad story about life after death . . in New Brunswick, New Jersey!

Thanks to Limehawk for choosing this story.

Please click below to see the story, and tweet or share if you like it.

Enjoy! .


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment