All posts by Masha Levinson

Opening Zingers

“Mommy, if you die, I’d want to die with you.”   

Words from my 7-year-old as I’m trying to merge through a swamp of 270 rush-hour traffic.  After I avoid almost crashing into the car in front of me, and after expounding a litany of question make sure she’s only expressing a thought and isn’t really ready to end it all with a butter knife, a thought strikes.  Holy crap!  What an opening line. 

The fact that I have opening lines on my brain isn’t a phenomenon.   Thanks to the WRW retreat, I have a few requests pending.  And now comes the icky part: what I like to call worry wording.  Where I chew and gnaw over every word.  Especially in those first opening lines.  I realize a fabulous first sentence won’t lead to a sale, the rest of the innards have to be there too, but it doesn’t hurt.    So that got me thinking.. can you name your favorite opening line in a book, WITHOUT looking it up.     

My Lying Eyes

Because it’s 4am and because I can’t think of anything witty, interesting or half decent to write, I will force upon all of you, what will soon be forced upon me:  to talk about myself.  Blech, ech and barf.  And, to make matters worse, I have to do it in front of a large crowd of work people.  String me up by my toenails and hang me in a car wash.   The only saving grace is I have completely lost my voice.  Hand puppets, here I come.  However, in the spirit of giving, I will make this a fun game.  Give five fun facts about yourself, with one of them, being a lie.  The rest of us have to guess the untruth.


1.  I was selected for the Russian Olympic gymnastic team
2. I speak 4 languages
3. One of my previous jobs was as a dental assistant:  I helped yank out tooth gunk during root canals.
4. I once pretended to be a stripper
5. I ate an ear from a ram’s head

Your turns!  Go!

I am NOT an Alcoholic. Honest. I Swear.

With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, I’d like to opine on an interesting phenomenon.   But before I do that, I have to confess I am:

Not pregnant.
Not taking medication.
Not allergic.
Not cheap.
Not a designated driver.
Not Mormon.. or Amish.. or any other religion that eschews alcohol.
Not a teetotaler.
And, definitely not a recovering alcoholic

But I have used every one of those excuses.  Because for some reason, all of them are more acceptable than the truth:  I simply don’t like drinking.   I don’t like beer or wine or liquor.   I don’t like how any of it tastes or how it makes me feel.  But when I say that, I may as well have confessed to unnatural acts with small farm animals.  It’s not less shocking or disturbing and usually leads to:  “C’mon.  Just one drink.  It won’t hurt you”..  “We’re celebrating.. why aren’t you joining in?”.. “Don’t be a party pooper.”

So here’s my question.  Why do you think it’s more acceptable for me to be a recovering alcoholic than to not like drinking alcohol?


Trusting Your Innards at 40,000 Feet

So there I was, gliding 40,000 words into my WIP when bam!  Nope, it wasn’t a bird hitting my rudder.  It was the realization that I didn’t have an external plot.  Okay, so to be fair, it’s not that I didn’t have one per se.  I did.  It just sucked big dinosaur eggs.  I’m a plotter by trade and that nagging little feeling I had when developing my GMC, character arcs and plot points, that the external plot was less than turgid (hee, hee)… well, I should have listened to it.  But instead, whether spurred by laziness or cowardace, I pushed forward.  For a while, all was going well.  Until I got to the dreaded middle.  I can’t exactly say it was sagging.  It just wasn’t defying gravity.  Not the way I envisioned at the teenage portion of my book.  But nevertheless, I muddled forward, still eager to convince myself what I was feeling and sensing could be fixed with a little tummy sucking.  I stumbled and staggered for a few thousand more words until I couldn’t lie anymore.  I was sagging.  And it wasn’t pretty.  At that point, I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror.  I had a few options.  I could muddle along, pretend nothing was sagging and continue to stuff my burgeoning girth into a dress that no longer fit.  Or I could opt for the Spanx route, throwing a few superficial plot twists in the hopes of hiding the bulges.  As I began to think of what contrived fiction I could toss onto my sagging body of work, I realized that at some point, if this thing were to ever get published, the Spanx would have to come off.  And there I’d be.  Spanxless, saggy and bulging.  What a pretty picture I would paint.

And so I began to think the unthinkable.  Re-write.  I reached out to a few folks to get their perspective.  Opinions differed.  Some suggested to move forward, finish and then edit.  Others thought starting over was prudent.  As I muddled my options, I realized that I couldn’t move forward.  It would be like buying a dreamy dress, four sizes too small, and vowing to go on a diet.  Been there.  Tried to do that.  Didn’t work.  But the thought of trashing all that work didn’t sit well either.  I still remember when I finally donated my dreamy dress.  It was painful.  It was only when I pulled away from Goodwill that I realized… duh!  I could have had it altered.  And so that’s what I decided to do; implement a few alterations.

I went back to the plotting board and this time, worked out all the knots I had lazily ignored.  The new (and hopefully) improved outline meant that yes, I would have to chuck some of the words.  Maybe even many.   But the innards were still there.  Story idea, theme and even the characters (although I have to admit, one of them got a facelift, complete with a new profession and motivating goal).   I just shaped the plot.  And you know what?  As I went back to zero word count, I didn’t feel sick.   And I didn’t feel like a gluttonous moron who should have known better than to ignore good nutrition and feast on the doughnuts of laziness.  I felt invigorated and eager to write.  I can’t say I’m thrilled to have discovered my sagginess at 40k.  Around 4k would have been better.  But at least it wasn’t 140k.  And I’m glad I didn’t take the easy way out by trying to put a wig on an armadillo.  Just like the proverbial pig in lipstick, I’d still have an armadillo.  Except now, it would probably be mad.  And saggy.

Have Answers? I Have Questions

I ride the metro to work each morning.  Despite the jostling, packed cars, sick riders (mentally and otherwise), it’s a great adventure.  It’s the only time in my day when neither the phone nor BlackBerry work which means I get 45 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.  Usually, I have my nose pressed against the Kindle, happilly ignorant of everything around me.  But once a while, I look up and enjoy the circus.  Today’s ride brought with it the following questions:

1.  (Apologies in advance if this offends anyone, but I TRULY want to know the answer to this question.)  Why do teenage girls that go to Catholic school wear skirts short enough to function as napkins?  Again, I honestly don’t meant to offend, but I would think a religious institution would insist upon something that covers the cervix.  The gals on the metro this morning looked great.  Cute ribbons in their hair, no garish make-up, clean white polos and then short.. and I mean SHORT little plaid skirts.  So short that every girl was either wearing leggings or shorts.

2.  What would posses a woman to stand in the middle of a pretty full train, in dress pants and shirt, and perform yoga?  And I don’t mean the yoga where you stretch your neck from side to side.  I mean full-on laughing dog (or whatever the heck it’s called), something on one leg that looks like a tree and that sideways half crouch where the knee touches the chest.  I’ve done yoga a few times (as you can guess by my techno lingo) but both times, it was in a dimly lit room with a lot of sighing and moaning.  Not in the middle of a train with the conductor riding the brake.  What was that all about?

3.  Why do I STILL take snarky comments on contest entries to heart?  I tell and tell myself over again, as I fill out the entry, I WILL NOT TAKE COMMENTS TO HEART.  Bad or otherwise.  And each time, I do.  Is it insanity (i.e. repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting  different results?)  Or simple masochism?

As I waited for the doors to open to let me out of my underground pod, I realized:  1) good for the woman doing yoga.  I wish I had the guts not to care.  2) too bad for me that I still care about snarky comments and take them to heart.  Maybe if I did more yoga in the middle of a packed train, a less than gentle comment would simply be a flesh wound rather than a gnawing burr.  3) I still don’t know why Catholic girl skirts are so short.

Thank You Friends

Since I don’t have anything prolific to spout this lovely hump day, I thought I’d take a moment to simply say thank you to the Mermaids and all our friends.  Writing can be a solitary effort, despite the plethora of social media.  But once in a while, it’s wonderful to trek to a beautiful wooded retreat, nestled quietly on an edge of a lake and enjoy good food and laughter with other writer friends.  It’s that extra pick me that is sometimes sorely needed.  As I wallowed in a tempest of silly conversation, thoughtful reflection and giddy laughter, I realized the preciousness of those moments.  At a time when we don’t know if a sick individual will put a bullet in our back as we head to work, it’s wonderful to take that time to smell the pages.  And it’s best done with wonderful friends.  Thank you Mermaids… and friends.

Dear Mr. Abercrombie and Fitch CEO

It’s not horribly often I’m spurred to write open letters, but about a month ago, I felt the urge.  This isn’t isn’t writing related, other than the fact that it’s written.  Have fun.

Dear Mr. Jeffries,

Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. I can’t tell you how happy I was to read about your company’s decision to only target pretty and popular kids. I’m writing to you because I want more details about this strategic program and to promise that, as a mother, I will do everything to make sure you succeed.

 To that end, I have questions and recommendations. For example, how will you operationalize and implement this strategy? If your leadership team has not yet created specific policies and procedures for cool kids, let me offer suggestions.  First, provide a specific rubric for coolness and attractiveness. This should include aesthetics such as preferable facial and body characteristics.  Even better, assign a prescriptive rating scale of more or less desirable traits. The great thing is that it won’t be a heavy lift.  Great policies are already in existence. Although they were developed in the late 1930s and implemented in the early 1940s, it doesn’t mean they can’t be modernized for the 21st century. Once those specifics are laid out, you should go a step further. Those individuals who don’t achieve at least a passing rating of coolness or attractiveness should not be allowed to make purchases in your store. After all, you don’t want ugly or uncool kid branding your merchandise. It simply won’t do. So you need to train your staff to refuse service to anyone who does rank on the rating scale.  Again, your leadership team doesn’t have to go far when developing exclusionary strategies. If they Google “the history of the Civil Rights Movement,” there will be a plethora of ideas. By the way, while you’re at it, I suggest reaching out to the folks at Victoria Secret. I hear they are doing excellent work in the field of sexualizing young girls.  You guys should join forces.

 By now you must be asking yourself how I plan to do my part by ensuring that my six-year-old daughter is in her best prime when you publish pre-requisites for shopping in your store. At this point, I must confess that she may currently be involved in some activities that are not cool. She takes art, swimming and language lessons. In addition, and this is where I am most ashamed, she is enrolled in religious school. It pains me to say that there, she is taught about modesty, respect, values, charity and the characteristics of a good person. Everything you and I are against. But don’t worry, I have a secret plan. You know how they say, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer? Well, I want to make sure that when you come out with your guidelines, I will be armed and ready to dismiss and dispel all those values she currently learning. I will take her out of piano classes, art and swimming. And I will definitely dissuade her from pursuing chess because that doesn’t seem like a cool pursuit.

 All in all, I applaud you for your honesty and bravery.  I promise to do my part in helping you pursue this goal. My only concern is that I hope you are sincerely dedicated to this mission and that it’s not a silly ploy for attention.  If you and I join forces, we can browbeat all those chest thumping parents who have been giving you flack and we can find a solution for coolness.   A final solution.


A most devoted Abercrombie and Fitch mom


One Rejection Too Many

My latest round of rejections (poems and short stories) got me thinking:  how many more signs from up above, down below and everywhere in between do I need to fall on my head or through my inbox until I get the message:  YOU SUCK BIG DINOSAUR EGGS… GIVE UP THIS RIDICULOUS NOTION OF WRITING, YOU ILLITERATE FOREIGNER AND GO BACK TO JIGGLING FRIES AT BURGER KING.  Or something of the sort.  You know how us “wannabe” writers can be so dramatic.  But back to my story.  When the umpteenth rebuff came in my electronic mail a few days ago, I did the opposite of what I usually do, which is to delete it and pretend it never happened.  I’m king AND queen of denial and up until a few days ago it was working.  But for some reason, this latest one has become more than just a flesh wound.  It has somehow managed to skulk into my subconscious and pitched a tent next to Doubt and Uncertainty.  And if any of you know anything about the other two, they’re like roaches, impossible to eradicate.  Yes, yes, I know adversity builds character and only a handful of writers have never received rejections, but still.  When is it one rejection too many?  Comedian Ron White (whom I love) had a funny joke.  There’s this woman who says she’s slept with 50,000 men and they were all bad in bed.  Ron White turns to the audience, with that confused look on his face and says “Wouldn’t you think, by man 49,998, she would have said, ‘maybe it’s me?’”

So that’s what I’m wondering:  Maybe it’s me?  Or maybe it’s my writing.  And by the way folks, this ain’t a thinly veiled attempt for effusive flattery.  It really is an evaluation or re-evaluation of ability.  I realize there’s no perfect path, but was just wondering if others felt the same.  Fire away.


Boobs on my Mind

I’ve had boobs on my mind lately.  C’mon, you can’t blame me.  We’re romance writers.  They do factor into our lives, at least a little.    

In novels, they undulate, heave, quiver, jiggle, surge, swell, throb… well, you get the picture.

But in real life, they play an odd role.  As little girls, we’re ignorant of them until we realize half the population has them.  And then we’re fascinated, watching what other women do with them, wondering what it will be like when we get them.  Once they start coming in, they’re a tender curiosity, a diabolical cauldron of embarrassment and pride.  And then start the comparisons.  Whose are bigger, smaller, perkier, firmer?  When that first foreign hand presses against them, the alchemy of excitement and apprehension grows.  What did he think?  Did he like them?  Do I like them?  After the teenage years, we spend our 20s, getting comfortable with them.  Pushing them up, flattening, enhancing, reducing, displaying and eventually (hopefully) coming to terms with what nature endowed. 

Just when we “sort of” get used to them, the inevitable comes and they are transformed from ornamental decorations to living, breathing self-sustaining nourishing appendages.  And once again, we worry:  too much milk? not enough?.. will this cracking and bleeding ever stop?  And how is it possible that watching the eyes of a little one can melt away tiredness, soreness, frustration? 

Once they cease as a milking implement, next comes the readjustment.  A coming to terms with the memory of the perkiness of those early years compared with the remnants of the ravagery committed in the spirit of motherhood. 

And just as we’re railing at the unfairness of sagginess and stretch marks, comes a call into our world, reminding us that life is as ethereal as a spider web and that our boobs, the object of affection, nourishment and womanhood can also be a vehicle for death.   A gnarled irony gift-wrapped in a paradox that can make us toss out all the previous worries and gladly hand over those cancerious appendages to be Guillotined without a moment hesitation so we have more seconds, minutes, hours, days and years with the owners of those little eyes we once nourished.  And if we’re really lucky, to be around for the men in our lives who have stood by us through perkiness, cracked nipples, sagginess and who will continue to love us with or without our boobs. 

Remember to take care of your ta-tas ladies.

Book Review: The Groom Wanted Seconds

Sweet, funny, witty and tear-jerking.  That’s the best way to describe all Shirley Jump’s books, and soon-to-be released novella The Groom Wanted Seconds is no exception.  Jeremy is your typical engineer.  Young, smart, ambitious and very much in-the-box kind of guy.  So when his girlfriend Rebecca dumps him, after he proposes to her, Jeremy is bewildered.  After realizing he’s lost the best thing he ever had, he tries his hand at winning her back, but can he do enough?

Rebecca loves Jeremy, that she knows.  But she’s never been a priority in his life, mainly because Jeremy is so focused on his career.  Reliable?  Yes.  Dependable?  Yes.  But spontaneous, passionate, exuberant?  No, Jeremy is a bit too staid for that.  Besides, his eye is on the career prize.  Tired of being in a predictable relationship where she isn’t number one, Rebecca breaks up with Jeremy and that’s where things get fun.

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