“Marie’s Fear” by Lucia Tenerelli

My mom arrived at Penn Station in NYC on November 24, 1954, the day before Thanksgiving. I asked her many years ago about her ride from NYC to Los Angeles. She said she slept most of the time. But remembers waking up at one point and a black man was sitting across the aisle from her. Growing up in a convent in southern Italy, she never saw a black man before. She stared at the man for a long time before her father slapper her across the face and said not to stare.

I grew up with stories. Immigrant stories. Stories of my grandfather “jumping ship” to get into the US, of my father and uncle driving Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in their 1955 Pontiacs, of my mom being raised by nuns in a convent in post-WWII southern Italy, of my Uncle Filippo being murdered by members of the Manson Family in Bishop, CA in 1969. All true stories.

One of the most influential stories to me as a writer was written by my mom when she was a junior in high school. The writing assignment was for students to write a story about their childhoods. My mom wrote about her best friend, Marie, an orphan who she grew up with in the convent in Molfetta, Italy. I’m amazed at the level of fear my mom was able to convey with a limited English vocabulary. And the level of terror my mom must have lived with as a child.

My mom swears the story is true: Marie’s Fear_Lucia Tenerelli

“Lost in the Garden”: getting started

Yesterday I raved about the first paragraph of Grace Paley’s story, “A Conversation with My Father.” I envied at how Paley is able to make me keep reading.

Today, I work on the first paragraph of my own story, “Lost in the Garden.” I’ll read and reread it many times. If it bores me after a while, then I’ll get rid of it.

But for now, the paragraph provides me with enough to keep writing.

“My sisters and I called Uncle Joey ‘Uncle Crazy’ because he used to offer us cigarettes when we were kids. I must have been nine when he told me to hold his lit cigarette before he jumped into a neighbor’s yard to pick a pomegranate from their tree. When he came back over the fence, he told me, ‘Keep the smoke.’ He turned from me and lit another one.”


Write Every. Single. Day.

Writers love reading. It’s through reading that we see how to begin and end stories, string words together to create an image, and make readers turn the page.

Before I write the beginning of any story, I reread Grace Paley’s “A Conversation with My Father” because the first paragraph is my favorite story beginning.

“My father is eighty-six years old and in bed. His heart, that bloody motor, is equally old and will not do certain jobs any more. It still floods his head with brainy light. But it won’t let his legs carry the weight of his body around the house. Despite my metaphors, this muscle failure is not due to his old heart, he says, but to a potassium shortage. Sitting on one pillow, leaning on three, he offers last-minute advice and makes a request.”

Paley could have just written “His heart is equally old…” but instead added “that bloody motor” to paint a more vivid picture. And the sentence, “It still floods his head with brainy light” seems unnecessary, but instead adds a clear sense of the father’s character. The last few words, “…he offers last-minute advice and makes a request”, leave me wondering about a dying father’s advice and request. I often marvel at an author’s ability to turn words into a reader’s tears. Envy is the sin of every writer.

Write Every. Single. Day.


My plan is to write. Every. Single. Day.

I’ll begin today with some secrets, lies, and confessions. Consider them a cross between a bio and a literary sex tape:

My father had a pet pig named Franco when he was a kid in Italy.

When I was six I was afraid the Devil would kill me in my sleep, so I slept with a Bible and a cross made out of a dried palm tree fronds. That went on for two years.

Ever since watching the movie E.T., I’ve had a recurring dream that I jump off a curb on my bike and end up flying high in the sky.

When I was in 3rd grade, a girl poked me in my ribs with a sharp pencil during math section. I bled through my light blue t-shirt. Ms. Alexander made Jeannie apologize, and benched her during recess and lunch for two days. All because I told Jeannie I had rib cancer.

I was the only kid on my block to climb Bird Turd Mountain without using a rope. Mike dared me to do it, and so I did. He tried to climb the mountain without rope after me, but slipped and fell to the bottom. That’s how he broke his arm. He told everyone that I pushed him because he reached the top before me.

I gave Scott, my 3rd grade friend, the Playboy magazine that I found under the Festividad bridge. He told his mom how he got it, and we weren’t allowed to play together anymore.

I had a crush on Mrs. Collier, my 5th grade teacher. I pretended not to understand math so I could stay after school with her for tutoring.

I rolled a car tire in front of Patrick as he raced his bike down a hill, pedaling towards the jump ramp. I felt bad for hurting him, and shame when the older boys called me a dick.

Three of my poems were published in my junior high school literary journal. One of the poems was plagiarized from a Styx song, “I’m Okay”, because it described how I was feeling in a way I couldn’t.

I had only 5 absences throughout high school—1 was unexcused.

My cousin, Johnny, and I collected reward money for a lost cat, even though we never found it. We told the upset owner that we saw the cat and it was dead in the street.  We walked with her to a dark oil spot in the street by the corner stop sign. We said the oil spot was blood, and someone must have thrown the cat in the trash.  She gave Johnny and I each $5 for telling her the sad news. A few days after receiving the reward money for the lost cat, I gave it back. The upset owner thanked me for my honesty, and never again waved at me as she drove past.

I quit biting my fingernails and smoking cigarettes on April 3, 2006.

During a lesson on comma usage I jokingly told the students that I was one of four “Comma Experts” in the world recognized by the Modern Language Association. A few students believed me and I never told them the truth.