The Lithuanian American Community: An intriguing group helping me to this day


Archive Post: I feel great affinity with the Lithuanian community. We have a lot in common: They love basketball, Catholicism and freedom from oppresive cold war regimes. You could say Czechs and Lithuanians are like close knit brothers. Their break way from the Soviet Union in 1991 was just as dramatic as the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

In Chicago, where I’m originally from, they infused the south side along with other ethnic groups with a unique character and spirit.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

Growing up in Chicago and attending Quigley South High School on the South side, one Central European group had an influence on me more than any other: Lithuanians.

Lithuania may be a small country of 3.2 million people but they have a tremendous spirit. Vilnius and Kaunas are the European cities I will likely visit next. I’ve never been to Lithuania but feel like I have  because the Lithuanian American Community is very strong and active. I’ve not found any quite like it.Lith basketball

Kugelis, a Lithuanian potato and bacon dish, has got to be my favorite of all-time. While I’m Czech and Irish, I have a little Lithuanian in my heritage on my father’s side. So I played Lithuanian basketball under Coach Rimantas Dirvonis in the 1980s and 90s. In fact, Rimantas “You Must Rebound” Dirvonis helped me create the Coach Jiri Savek character in my novel.  Rimantas’ voice and demeanor…

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Disastrous foray in Christian writers group led to powerful insights

writer's loft chicago


I’ve been in writing groups back in Chicago and more recently in Menlo Park, California. In the later, we met at Café Barone right next to Kepler’s Bookstore. Those were excellent. But one I unwittingly entered, stands out as an example of something that temporarily sucked the life blood and passion out of me. Here’s my experience.

After I moved to Mountain View, my neighbor asked me to join a writing group. Only this was a Christian writers group. Being an open-minded person, I said okay, after all, I’m Catholic and Catholics are Christians. Why not? Big mistake.

The meetings were hosted in a church’s recreation space in Cupertino. Picture a wide conference room with about 15 people attending. Each meeting started and ended in a prayer. I had no problem with that; it was the stuff in the middle that proved to thwart my best efforts and dampened my enthusiam.

Being the only Catholic in the group, I was sensitive to low-grade intolerance that members of this group harbored against outsiders. That first night I was asked why I didn’t make my novel a Christian market book. Here is my answer then and now. My novel isn’t a Christian book. The characters, writing and story hopefully have some soul in it. But it’s a literary fiction novel for the regular general fiction reading market.

I’m wary of antagonistic attitudes of some Christian groups or Christian writers groups. This South Bay Christian Writers Group demonstrated more and more of that as weeks went by. If they weren’t assailing me theologically, they were attacking me as a writer on grammar and language.

I was hit by the one-two punch. Here I joined the group to see encounter writers with soul, be inspired, and lift my spirit.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Instead, this group’s approach to writing and life ironed all the soul of the process. I guess you could say it was a low point on my writing of this novel because that was such a struggle to be in such a minority position. Nearly every time I attended, my neighbor asked me whether I was considering publishing this book in the Christian market. I knew it was not meant to be that.

However, I learned a lot in these few months I was in the group. That assortment of pious Church-goers would be the first to crucify Jesus if he came again. I’m convinced of it. I thought at the end there has to be another way.california-san-francisco-golden-gate-bridge-1

One night I brought a chapter of Working the Glass to critique. One fellow writer, who happened to be the group leader, circled every time I wrote the word I on my work-shopped chapter. He gave it back to me. His written feedback was that my story suffered from “I strain” meaning the word I was repeated more than a few times.

Okay, I’m a writer and this was a first draft of a first person piece. That was an easy fix. But that’s all he said to the rest of the group about what I wrote. It was in that moment I knew I was done.

There was no love in this. The world needs more than ever for writers to get out and carry their message into the wider world. You can’t hide behind your walls condemning non-believers, coded language for anyone that wasn’t a Protestant evangelical or other ways to exclude. And have a pre-set script of how creative art should be.

These groups hide in shrinking modern-day catacombs where they are as intolerant as hell as against everyone not like them. It doesn’t make the world a better place. This whole thing wasn’t the Jesus way.

Members of that soul-less group might say, ye of little faith, you couldn’t accept the message. Hey listen, I’ve got plenty of faith. Jesus said satan, get behind me to his best follower Peter. The wrong group can be destructive like I witnessed. God bless em, they need it.

Our existence is too great for writers stiffle themselves on this wonderful journey. There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners of stories, that navigates us to a felt balance. Where your heart is, there is your treasure. Look inside, go deeper and the world will be enriched with your art.


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Heading right back down road you came from


Chicago is the crossroads of the East and West. A very important city on a great inland sea (the Great Lakes). It’s my platform for the rollout out of the novel and my biggest base. But not my only geographic platform. California, Australia, Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic are those, too.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

Taste of Chicago
The youthful slayer of dragons is gone and the older wiser one has yet to appear. Don’t leave the old road for the new one.  

One memory may be more real than thousands of experiences that led to the present you. Don’t leave the old road for the new one. 

Our former passions and hopes hold incredible power. Accept the consequences of being revealed. Why not have it be a soul-filled voice? Our lives are meant to be daring, courageous and exceptional. So bring your most heart-filled and authentic writing into the world.

After all, being a writer is a soul-based journey more than a satisfaction of hearing your own voice. There are elements of accepting and letting go. Embrace the images in your breast and act on them but also grieve the long years you have neglected them. Yet don’t lose sight of the people/readers you are serving…

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Pick-up with a Basketball Goddess

_72639849_ao_closeup_ball_976The hardest thing for me to write was the romance in Working the Glass. I saw that early on that I could write the basketball scenes. People in Stanford writing classes said I don’t even like basketball but I love this character. But that’s only half the story.

Writing the love story takes living life and experiencing the ups and downs of relationship life. Now that has tStanford Universityaken years of living and writing and rewriting. These man-woman relationships are complex! I could spend my whole life pondering them. But I don’t have my whole life; this thing has to be done by the end of this year.Czech Hapsburg Tile Design

The novel’s main character Frank Savek has Shantelina as a love interest. As a novelist,  you toy around with a scene just to work through the dynamic tension in these characters. I did that with this little poem recently that isn’t in the novel but helped me explore what I wanted to say. And discover the archetypical dynamics at play between these intriguing two characters.

Pick-up with a Basketball Goddess

Once at the end of a date Shantelina and I walked past
An empty basketball court and she said,
“I played on a team my junior year in Svenska,”

“Want to shoot some player American?” I said “Yes,”
Though she was wearing a long black dinner dress.
She kicked off her high heels and rifled the ball to me.
 I stumbled to reign in the pass and we began. I drove right with power and she stole the ball.

 At the free throw line, she dribbled and waited, the ball hitting the concrete with staccato. She brushed the dark hair across her brow then locked eyes with mine. Her intensity betrayed only by a momentary smile. I crouched to defend.

Then with lighting speed she was underway
Drove to the baseline, jumped and shot
Swish. Two points. We played for awhile

Man in a black suit, woman in a long black gown,
I loved her cross-over and her sneaky hook shots,

She beat me hands down — so good —I wanted to marry her
How do you tell someone you met a few weeks before you loved her?
What about the fact she had a long-time Czech boyfriend who worked as a winebroker?

Shantelina doesn’t play basketball in the novel but her long-time Czech boyfriend is  broker of vin de ordinaire.  Follow me on this journey and buy the novel when it’s ready. After all, I’m looking to attract, you, the reader, too.

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Odysseus-like journey will take your very best


Archive post: Yesterday’s post about the Civil War is accurate in the intensity but not the timeframe. The Civil War was short: 4 years. My journey to write the book has been on par with Odysseus’ two decade quest. This post captures the richness of the writer’s way.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

QS statue of Mary from Santa Clara CAOdyessus YoungHave Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.

Okay I like these verses by the Greek writer Constantine P. Cavafy but I don’t want the journey to last for years. I want to reach the island soon not when I’m old.

But so did Odysseus and his crew of 72 men streaming across the water with an armada of 12 ships. He just completed an exhausting 10-year war against the city of Troy. He endured. Most of the decade was spent in a fruitless encirclement of the city until the…

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Fierce fight fails to break you: What’s next?

I take a while to see the latest movies. This summer I saw the 2012 film Lincoln directed by Steven Spielberg. It was set between January and April 1865 during the American Civil War.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

There was a powerful opening scene of fighting in a swamp between Confederate soldiers and Union soldiers. The whole battle was intense and violent. Here were these two armies fighting hand-to-hand in three feet of water. Mostly with swords and bayonets against an enemy dressed in different colors. The vehemence with which the fighting in this scene played out was very memorable and even disturbing.

Two white gray uniformed soldiers held a black soldier dressed in blue while a third rebel stabs him in the chest with his bayonet. Then in another scene, a black Union soldier is held down underwater by a single Confederate soldier while shooting at others at point blank range with a pistol. In another sequence, a gray uniformed soldier is killed with a sword in the chest. Finally, right before the end of the movie and the war, there is a pile of dead soldiers from both sides. Lincoln and the viewer is shown a Confederate soldier at the top of the pile looking up to heaven with a beatific vision on par with a Renaissance painting of an early saint about to be killed by Romans. It was like the topping on the cake of a whole war of carnage.swamp

The motif of the Civil War is a powerful one that mirrors your life and writing journey. I know it’s been a part of mine. But my Appomattox Courthouse is near and promises an exciting and new future. So after Civil War winds down, I still have a life and destiny to fulfill.

We’ve all suffered traumas in life. Many of them are Civil War-variety struggles. There are those that didn’t die versus those that came back to life. Which one of those are you?

There must be a new way after a long bloody war between the states. You must go back to the spouse, that Confederate or Yankee, you fought against so long and fiercely. You must write that book that you struggled against all these days. There is good energy in outcomes up the road. The more you can accept and let go of what happened; the healthier and productive you will be in this new era.   washington

Reconstruction calls for a new energy. The worst and best were brought out of you during this great siege. This can be a creative and fertile time for you if you remain open. You survived at the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg by trusting in larger forces to protect you during all that destruction and torment. Somehow the organization, God, and your belief in the cause kept you from dying when it looked over. Your response stands out. Now and during those worst moments.

There is a point in your novel writing that you sympathize with the villains for a time. Hate and love are two sides of the passion spectrum. This integration is necessary if you are to make your characters real and dynamic. Isn’t true that we get excited at night by the very things we protest against during the day?

Responsibility and danger resist each other but you must marry them back together. The North and South must reunite. They have to if you want to stay alive and vibrant.

You can’t draw out adventure, mystery, risk, surprise and the unexpected if you are always in the outlaw/trickster mode. Even Jeb Stuart’s Raiders have to come in and get off their horses when the fighting is done. You survived for a reason. Now this is the time to find out why. The world needs what is forthcoming in your heart and on the page.civil war bridge

You have to give up control and your freedom. A special sacrifice.  You have to sit down at the writer’s desk and write. There’s always the tension between staying safe/predictable and finding joy and transcedence. The poetics of language radiates in beauty because there is no permanence and security to be found.

There are new bridges to cross even for you one-time Confederates.

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The Next Big Thing: My updated thoughts

A fellow writer Heather Haven interviewed me for her blog in 2012. I updated this email interview with my thoughts today. Here are my answers to eleven interview questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book? Working the Glass: A Novel

Where did the idea come from for the book? This is my alternate past…what could have been. My brother had an offer to play professional basketball in Australia and the Czech Republic in the summer of 1993. He decided to go to Australia and he asked me to go in his place to play for a team up in the Krakonce Mountains (near the Polish border) in Bohemia. So that was the inciting incident. I didn’t go but wrote this story about what might happen.

What genre does your book fall under? Fiction. A brothers story of connection and basketball. And romance for the main character with a Slovakian woman with definite ideas of her own.Czech Hapsburg Tile Design

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? The main character Frank Savek would be an up-and-coming actor. Somebody 6-5″ or at least tall who can rebound believably in the paint. This film would put him on the map. Then I would have Liam Neeson. He would be a natural; he played a German Nazi in Schindler’s List. Why not an avuncular Czech basketball coach who is a legend in the Republic? For the love foreign interest of Frank, I would have Mila Kunis. She would work well. As for other characters I’d employ many of the actors from the Czech movie Kolya.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A 31-year old Chicagoan takes his brother’s identity to live in a glass factory where he plays in the 10-team Czech Superliga just after the Russians pull out and Czechoslovakia breaks into two.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? This has now changed. Everything has changed in the publishing world since this interview. Self-publishing is the way to go.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 13 years with interruptions for relocation, marriage, new jobs and the birth of two lovely daughters; I finished the first draft in March 2011. Looking to finish the whole thing by the end of 2014 now.Czech memoir

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Playing the Pizza by John Grisham has been the closest in the fiction category. I read that and learned a great deal about what to keep in and avoid. Working the Glass has more sports/basketball action and a real foreign love interest in a pretty exciting Central European locale.

I would also add the non-fiction book Expatriate Games was another great that inspired me. I read that book earlier this year. The author Dave Fromm did a great job on this book about playing semi-professional basketball in Prague in 1994. So the timeframe is pretty similar to my novel. He’s got a love story, coming of age for the main character, skinheads and gypsies in there. I loved it.

What about films, any movies that impacted you, and influence your story? I’d say a lot of sports films, Hoosiers, Rudy, the Gridiron Gang, the Boxer were certainly influential.

But one unlikely one that struck me was the Christmas Card. Okay, it’s a Hallmark movie starring Ed Asner. I saw it last Christmas. There is a love story in it that I thought was rendered very well. Basically, a stranger enters a small town in Nevada City, California. That stranger is Sgt. Cody Cullen on leave from the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He and Faith Spelman hit it off very well from the beginning but she has a long time successful boyfriend, who is taking his time to commit. By the end of the movie, the boyfriend, prompted by this Cody being around, asks Faith to marry him. She says yes, but it’s not that simple. She can’t marry the boyfriend when this Cody was really the one all along. As the viewer you know Faith and Cody belong together. But the screenwriter doesn’t have it happen when you expect it. It’s only until the last scene in the movie, Cody and Faith finally come together.

A few weeks before seeing the Christmas Card I read somewhere they you have to frustrate the reader. Don’t give them what they want so easily. That adds to the tension and keeps the reader engaged in the story. I couldn’t see how that could work until I saw this movie. This movie and my novel are great examples of this principle of delayed closure in action. If you have two characters that like each other like Faith and Cody or Frank and Shantelina in my forthcoming novel Working the Glass, you don’t want that to consummate their attraction for each other too early. Otherwise you don’t have a story.

See the Christmas Card, I highly recommend it. Even though Christmas is four months away, it’s worth watching this movie now. Plus, it’s just an enjoyable, spirit-filled story. My favorite to date because it demonstrates the love interest stuff in a dynamic way. I rolled that into the novel.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? This book has been my destiny. Many leading lights inflamed the path. Vaclav Havel, the great playwright and politician who led the Velvet Revolution in Wenceslas Square, is one. He died in 2011. His death greatly touched me and while I never met him, I felt like he’s been always with me. All these years and even now after he’s gone. Then there have been creative writing teachers at Stanford Doug Dorst and Skip Horack. They helped me see the dynamic possibility of this novel that I have on my hands. Finally, Heather Haven, a great mystery writer, who has been churning out great books in the last few years. A wonderful writer and person.Romantic Chicago

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Flash forward a year from today. A CBS news reporter is outside the Presidential vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard. She says, “It’s no secret that President Barrack Obama is a voracious reader, loves basketball and all things Chicago. While the President may be enjoying what many describe as a working vacation, a White House official says he did take time to buy precisely two books for himself today during a visit to a local bookstore. Three more books were brought to the island from home. Some are books are on economics that Mr. Obama expects to brush up on in advance of next month’s economic summit at Camp David. Those are expected. But one intriguing book in this presidential reading list is Working the Glass, a coming-of-age-basketball novel by a Czech-American writer, who set his book in the Chicago neighborhoods known as Czech-ago and the Czech Republic in the early 1990’s.”

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