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Jean's Blog (Check out links to Guest Blogs in lefthand Column)

Golden Days

 

The Players Club

The past three days have been smoky grey, sunless, and speckled with a rain so light that it seems almost an illusion, Suddenly there are puddles in the street and a wet film everywhere. And I have been watching in wonder street trees definitively turning to gold, some of them rich with a deep coppery gold like resounding bass notes in this orchestra of beauty. Others seem sprayed with captured bits of sun, light luminous gold scattered between gleaming wet branches. Leaves that have stayed a dusky green are thick, and seem ready to stay where they are, no matter what the weather has in store, but with each day a thin golden carpet has been steadily filling in across the damp grey streets, turning the streets of Manhattan to gold despite the insult of machinery, the crush and hurtle of cars and bicycles, the steady tread of people on the pavements.

I try not to think of the winter that is to come.

Meanwhile, I had my first event for Footprints on the Heart at the Players Club. It was a wonderful moment, people gathering and listening as I read from my first novel, and then letting me know how much they liked the sound of it and coming over to the sales table to buy the book. May the word-of-mouth begin!

I was leg-wobbling nervous and could hear my voice wobbling along with my legs, demonstrating (at least to me) how nervous I was to stand on a stage and present.

But the microphone was perfectly placed, the podium the right height, and the audience so receptive that I soon lost my panic and began to enjoy myself, and the comments that followed lit a glow in my heart that echoed the gold-dappled fall landscape that thrilled me on the ride home.

 

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The cry of the writer

Please post your review on Amazon or Goodreads

I need patience. I have none. Thoughts flitter in and out of my mind like fireflies against the window panes of the country house in June. Yes, I know. FOOTPRINTS ON THE HEART is receiving a magnificent bouquet of early 5-star reviews, but now when I click anxiously onto the site, there are only the ten that were there last week. Why haven't they spawned more and more of themselves? Folks tell me they have bought the book. Some say they have read it, and having read it, they love it. They will post a review. They will suggest it to their book club. Be patient! Be patient!

But I am almost 82 years old. I am living the opening chords of the dream I had for myself when I was nine years old. I knew in my heart that I would carve stories from nothing, I knew with such certainty that I would find the words to dazzle the world, that I would be a writer when I grew up.

I grew up and was blessed to live my life among writers, amplifying their work to the best of my ability. I loved their books. I loved my work. But now they fly on their own, and it is my turn. I am a writer, now. I am a novelist, but the fans and their laudatory words swirl about and vanish. Will you write another, they ask? I say I am waiting to see this first child of my mind reaching an amplified readership, being recognized by my peers. I may not have time for a second book. Mind or body may fail me. I am almost 82 years old and filled with an anxious energy to see my dream fulfilled. No time for patience. I need it NOW.

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FOOTPRINTS ON THE HEART

 

 

My first novel, Footprints On The Heart, has flown out of my reach, winging its way out into the world on wings of the internet to reach out and touch strangers in ways I cannot imagine. It's a little like sending a child off to school for the first time. Will others see the wonder and appeal of this brainchild of mine? Will they read past the first few words and have heated opinions about the characters and the way they behave? Will my readers want to read to the end? Will they laugh and cry where I intended that they should? Will they tell friends to read it and recommend it to their bookclubs, will they feel that the characters will always be present in their hearts, or will they shelve the novel with a sigh and never look at it again.
So many questions and no answers. Just a pulsating silence around my novel's publication.

When I was nine years old I decided that I would become a writer one day. I was a big fan of Enid Blyton. I was a voracious reader who galloped eagerly through any novel that came my way. Taking the bull by the horns, I actually wrote to Enid Blyton and sent her a story for her magazine, Sunny Stories. She wrote back to say that Sunny Stories had ceased to be, but that I should keep writing. I took this to be a message from the gods, and I promised myself that I would keep writing. I could not imagine a life without the stories that glowed in my imagination and filled my dreams.
When I grew up and became a responsible adult, I realized that a paying job was next on the agenda. I was fortunate enough to be able to make books my life-work, books I loved, books written by others I admired, books I was able to help out into the world. And those books filled my dreams and my imagination. And I still knew deep down that one day I would become a writer.
Time passed, and I became a grandmother. I felt impelled to start writing about my unusual childhood growing up in Egypt, to reach out to my grandchildren and give them a piece of their past that they would never be able to imagine if I didn't write about it for them. I wrote in the corners of my life, stealing time, until, with time, I actually had a book, and my memoir, Sipping From the Nile, My Exodus from Egypt, was born.

To my surprise, I had become a writer. But my first love had always been fiction. I wanted to share a story with the world. I  wanted my words to sing all the songs I would never sing, and touch the hearts of people I would never know, and live on well after I left this world.
So I am at last who I was always meant to be. At 81 years old, I have published my first novel. I am sharing thoughts and words that matter to me through the lives of characters as real to me as the living people in my life. I know their innermost hearts. I know who they are. Their story is out in the world.
And there is another story waiting in the wings, if I am given time to write it. The characters are already knocking at the door, asking to be released.

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Looking Back 57 Years

 

57 YEARS AGO

 

How is it possible that an entire lifetime has gone by since we stepped out of the beautiful little round synagogue in Geneva Switzerland on July 15th 1962, as man and wife. We had nothing planned except to be together forever and ever.

We had known each other vaguely as children in Cairo, Egypt - but in a child's life, three and a half years between us was an unbridgeable gulf. I had been in the same class as Serge's younger brother at the GPS School, taught by the same teachers, playing in the same school yard, unaware that we would ever meet again once life took us into new and larger worlds..

The deepening tension between Israel and Egypt flung Serge's family to France where he went to the Lycee Janson in Paris, my parents later settled in Geneva Switzerland after leaving Egypt following the Suez crisis of 1956.

I had attended boarding school in Brighton, England and college at Westfield College of London University. I loved London. I loved living in Europe. I loved my large boisterous very connected family, now all scattered throughout Europe. The possibility of the Americas never crossed my mind, although a fortune teller had foretold it.

We each had other plans when we met again as adults in Switzerland in March of 1962. We were in our twenties, Serge on a business trip from New York for IBM World Trade. I, certain I would never marry a man from the Middle East. But in three weeks of periodic walking and talking, a little eating, a little dancing, a picnic, a visit to the Chateau de Gruyere, we joyfully committed to spending the rest of our lives together far from our families. All that mattered was to be together. We knew we would work it all out if we were together. We knew that was all that mattered.

We were right. No amount of planning could have prepared us for these past 57 years. We explored our youth together, had so much fun together, had good times and difficult times, and had our children when we were little more than children ourselves. No-one was around to dispense advice or to inflate disputes. There was no social media, no smartphones, no email, no easy phone connection to those we loved. Each crisis overcome brought us closer together. Life was not always kind.

So forgive me if I take a look back and dispense some advice strange to the ears of the meticulous young planners of today: The heart speaks truth. Don't plan. Don't waste time waiting for the timing to be perfect. To be exactly right.

Plunge. You'll find the way to get it right.

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Message across the Decades

 

My parents
 

Joyce and Guido Mosseri on their honeymoon in Aswan, Egypt
 

www.jeannaggar.com/blog 

My parents, Joyce Smouha and Guido Mosseri, were married in Alexandria, Egypt, on February 21, 1937. They were both readers, and I remember that they had a cupboard in their little sitting room in the big house where I grew up, where they kept the special books they loved, and over time shared with their children. One of those books was BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, by Dorothy Sayers.
Time passed, and the Suez crisis of 1956 saw a dramatic change in the fortunes of the Jews from Egypt. Those with Egyptian passports were expelled immediately, forced to surrender their passports and claim to Egyptian citizenship. Those with foreign passports left too, but somewhat less precipitously. Of 80,000 Jews in Egypt, within a year or two, most had left. Only an aging handful remain, intent on staying out of the public eye.
We were among the more fortunate. We had Italian passports, and in 1957, we left our home and Egypt forever. My aunts settled in Rome. My parents in Geneva Switzerland, until my mother joined my brother and myself in New York after the death of our father in 1969. Books and possessions followed my mother to New York, some broken, some lost, in this new transition.
Imagine my wonder and amazement when I received a message from a publishing colleague with whom I had long lost touch. He had seen my Facebook post that my memoir, Sipping From The Nile, was in a promotion for 99c. on Amazon, for the entire month of May.
"Were your parents Joyce and Guido Mosseri?" He asked. And then went on to tell me that his copy of Dorothy Sayers' novel, BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, bore an inscription to them, from gift-givers unknown to me, in Alexandria, dated February 21, 1937, their wedding day. He sent me a photo of the inscription, and I saw my mother's distinctive handwriting.

If only books could talk!

Way beyond the call of duty, the kind publishing colleague has sent me the book. I will treasure it.

So there is a message here, but I can't quite decipher the code. Except, perhaps, that the love of books transcends time and place, and that this book has somehow brought together some of the disconnects in my life, blending beginnings and endings.

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The Terrible Month of May

The exuberance of early daffodils

The drabness of winter trees seemed to echo the drabness in my heart. And suddenly this week, almost overnight, the city  exploded into young green, lacy delicate leaves shivering in the chilly breezes, casting a hazy bloom over every street tree,  everywhere showing off apple blossom, quince, redbud and cherry blossom, punctuated by the bold gold of forsythia and daffodils, the massed red and yellow tulips in tiny flower beds of brilliant color, surprising the eye and the heart.

I am a lady in waiting. I have to effect a few small changes on the finished FOOTPRINTS ON THE HEART, as I await creative surprises from the jacket designer. The anticipation is making it hard to get through every day, but I hope that something will flower on my computer soon, and that I will love her ideas. I am tackling the ever-demanding and never-reducing piles of mail and documents that each require something of me, as they float in, day by day, a relentless tide of mess and obligation.

May will hurt. Alan's birthday was May 18th, and before that I must navigate Mother's Day. His was usually the first call, and he never forgot. He lives on vividly in my heart, that beautiful baby with a mass of dark hair, a gorgeous smile, and an irresistible chuckle, who became that big man with the kind and generous heart, the ever-present humor, and the wonderful enveloping hug.

May will also bring joy and laughter to us, as my nineteen-year-old granddaughter Anna from Seattle arrives from college with her beautiful youth and energy, to park herself with us for a month while she works at her daily summer internship in a midtown company. Dinner will blossom with tales of the day's experiences, discussions of what to wear if she is going out, and how she will get to and from everywhere safely. I can hardly wait. Anna is also the irresistible magnet for my other nineteen-year-old granddaughter, her cousin Sarah. The two of them will stir the air like music, and usher us back into youth for a brief stint of happiness.

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Finding FOOTPRINTS ON THE HEART

Two years ago, I had an idea for a novel. It would have its roots in Egypt, but would quickly move to a community of exiles living in New York, centering on one character in particular, JAMILA, a girl from a small Nile village who became Jasmine, a celebrity model. What fun to research clothes and fashion agencies, and an entire world I knew so little about.

I gave Jamila a brother, Ali, left behind in the Nile village while his beloved sister disappeared into a life he could not even imagine. I plunged energetically into Ali's bitterness, stirred it about, and started to research how terrorism might take hold in the malleable minds of the young. I wrote and wrote, researching behaviors and evolving plots and wonderful scenarios that would link my growing list of characters to each other and to the larger worlds they navigated. Entire plot lines came and went, The novel covered decades, sprawling into dark corners of possibility. I loved it. I loved writing it. I loved every word.

Then my personal life received a blow from which I knew I could never recover. I lost my eldest son. Writing a novel became a ridiculous frivolity totally at odds with the pain and drama of my real life.  The novel had a title by then, FOOTPRINTS ON THE HEART. I set it aside and tried to regain some personal equilibrium. It lay fallow for many many months. Two months ago I found the courage to pick up the manuscript and read it again. Suddenly, links to plots that had long ago bitten the dust, or characters whose motivations had swerved and changed direction stood out from the story I was reading. They didn't belong at all. How had I not noticed this before? Intrigued, I began to move sequences and characters into a different file in the computer. I could not bear to actually delete any of my beloved work.( Anyone else been there?) I swallowed the multiplying losses and moved on, streamlining the flow of the book.

After all those months it began to fall into an intensely readable progression. The characters refused to be pushed into moments that did not fit their lives. Their voices became stronger, more distinct. FOOTPRINTS ON THE HEART became a novel as I worked, no longer a pile of connected incidents. The voices of Jasmine, Ali and Sol created a new music. I knew the sound was a rich and blended harmony. I had excavated my novel from the morass of its past. Stay tuned. Publication is close.

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STARTING AFRESH

 

 Alan Naggar

Years have gone by. Days weeks months have gone by. At the very end of December 2017, my world shattered. My eldest son, Alan, died in Los Angeles, in a sudden septic shock situation following what he had taken to be a gastric upset. He had been in New York for Thanksgiving, and to help organize my surprise 80th birthday celebration with his siblings. Within a few days, I plunged from a state of heady happiness, surrounded by husband, children and grandchildren, to a terrible crash into a boundless, borderless, unchanging relationship with anguish. My son was gone, suddenly and irrevocably. The wound still gapes a year and a half later, but now I can contain it for some of the time, and weep alone at night when the reality of my huge loss sweeps over me. The wound will never heal. The pain will never go away.

But now it is time to reclaim whatever remnants of myself remain.

That is the challenge I see ahead as I prepare to welcome my first novel later this year.

Meanwhile, I post today in memory of my firstborn son, a poem written months ago from the depths of my pain.

 

Alan


In the deepest black of night I cry your name,
Tortured by memories of a past when you were small
And I could tell you where to be.
"Don't run" I cry, "Don't get there before me.
You were never supposed to get there first.
Come back. Please, Oh please come back. You'll get lost."
I listen, holding my breath, but no-one replies.
Pain swells out and wraps my soul in fire.
Those are such bitter tears I cry for you my son,
Wrenched from your life out of your turn.
I can know nothing of you now except this silence.
My firstborn son, where are you now?
Are you alone? Afraid? Lost in eternity?
So much love I had for you from the first faint flutter
I recognized as yours, long before you were born.
You made me a mother and my mother's heart
Cannot believe that you have ceased to be.
And yet I call your name
And strain to hear, but no-one answers me.
Pain leaks from my heart with every breath
As alone and lost in the dark
I try to understand your death.

 

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THE FUSCHIA AND THE FICUS

Perseverance

A month ago, my son-in-law brought me some plants for our terrace, since various annoying setbacks prevented me from reveling in my usual happy spring foray at Saunderskill Farms in upstate New York, almost walking distance from our country house. He had chosen a glorious array of purple and white petunias, delicate spires of purple florets, pink fuschias that revealed silky purple interiors, and a magnificent hanging fuschia bursting with fat pink buds, that quite took my breath away. I imagined drinking my morning coffee under the swaying blooms once they had all opened.
We have a ficus tree that winters behind our white reclining couch in the living room, and then settles decoratively into a corner of our small terrace when the last frosts are over. We nursed it from a sprig, many years ago, to its present impressive height, and every year it gets a little harder to maneuver it back and forth between apartment and terrace. My husband heaved a sigh of relief when he had pushed and pulled it to its usual corner, and it was only later that we realized that one of its branches was in the way of the hanging fuschia, which immediately reacted to sharing its sparse light and sun by dropping buds and blooms all over the terrace floor. It had become a mass of swaying green leaves. I was devastated.
Meanwhile, the ficus, dancing in the light spring breezes, began to unfurl new leaves of delicate green, mixing in with its dark and dusty winter foliage. I noticed that the hanging fuschia seemed to have developed bunches of low hanging buds, and sprigs waved above the ficus with sprays of new buds reaching upward to the light. Today, they all opened, creating a gorgeous lacy filigree of pink and white between and above the leaves and branches of the ficus. They adapted to each other and created a superb counterbalance of shades of green and bursting clusters of color. Their combined beauty outshone their separate existences. A lesson to be learned?

I read somewhere "You don't get harmony when everyone sings the same note."



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NOT INVISIBLE

Blurred Beauty

I am becoming fascinated with the different way that time impacts my life now that I do not have a measurable job to go to. Hours drift past, indistinguishable, tumbling and swirling in the quiet until they cede space to the next hour, and the next. Sometimes no words are spoken for many hours, so they pass me by in silence, offering no interaction with others. There is no schedule to brush against, nothing to push against nothing with which to make contact in the soft slurring of the days. Time is mine now. But how to fashion something meaningful out of it ?
In between the long stretches of road with nothing to mark my passage, there are suddenly stretches where a complex scenery defines itself. A flurry of phone calls, obligations, emergencies, doctor visits, plans, everything crashes at once into the baffling serenity, stirring up clumps of purpose that flower and dazzle in the calm.
I start the old "master of the universe" stride, but realize that it no more exists than the many years that refined it. Now I walk carefully, gauging the pavement, looking for seating here and there, sighing with relief that there is no more need for hurry, there are fewer sharp edges to avoid. It is almost pleasant to wander in a blurred landscape. There is much to do, much to see, much to savor.
There is always a growing sense that the last time never announces itself, so each time is fragrant with the poignancy that it could be the last. Few angers warrant stoking. Many loves crowd in to embrace. So much in this beautiful world to admire. I have seen and enjoyed so much. Fear for the future recedes. The future will take care of itself. I can only watch and hope.
People smile and pass me by. My panoply of needs and desires lose their urgency. I have one more revision to undertake on my novel. My heart clings to the hope that it will fly out into the world and be seen, that all that I need to say will be heard. I may be old, but I will not be invisible.


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