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Not Quite Lost…Thoughts on Disappearing in Your Own Backyard

I met Roz Morris where I meet most of my fellow writers…at our virtual watercooler in one of our Facebook writers groups. That may sound strange, but believe me, I’ve met people I consider real friends in the “cloud” world of social media. How else can a homebound worker with her face in a computer screen all day get to know new people?

Roz felt familiar to me from the get-go. Not only do we share “resume” similarities – both of us write personal essays and thrillers, and teach others how to write – but a sensibility. The culture of a close marriage and a struggling family. A desire to watch behaviors and immerse ourselves in the quiet histories that surround us.

In other words, she’s perfect for COLD and I think you’ll really like her. To that end, I wrote up some questions for Roz, so you can get to know her better. And once you do, you’ll want to click on her links below and order her books. Good ones like this don’t come along every day.

Roz Morris 4

This is Roz

ME: You and I talked a bit about the culture of a relationship, which I got a very strong sense of while reading Not Quite Lost (in fact, your culture with your husband felt very similar to my own marriage. We’re both writers, work from home, and love to go on weird little trips. Only difference is the kids part).

ROZ: How lovely that you do that too. Dave and I certainly enjoy our ‘weird little trips’. I think it’s the writer mindset. I was listening to a podcast where Grayson Perry was trying to define what an artist does, and he said ‘artists notice things’. I think that’s true of all artists, not just visual. It’s the details that hold our attention and create verisimilitude as much as the big scale. So if you’re a hard-wired noticer, you’re never far away from being entertained. And it’s brilliant to be married to someone else whose brain works that way.

fishing net

“Fishing Net”

ME: How have your trips evolved as your marriage has matured? Or haven’t they?

ROZ: I can certainly see an evolution. We started big – we married abroad, in a hotel in Mexico City. For our honeymoon, we spent three weeks touring the Maya ruins of Mexico and Guatemala.

Roz n Dave wedding

Roz and Dave’s Wedding

ROZ: Since then, we’ve never been anywhere so exotic. We always intended to do more foreign travel, but as our writing careers gained traction we stopped thinking so far in advance, which you need to do for big expeditions. We also couldn’t afford to go far or for a long time –  freelance life is great for artistic fulfilment but doesn’t leave you much spare cash.  So we went on more last-minute trips, looking for a mop-up booking on line. We get wet a lot because it’s usually raining.

it's usually raining

Raining Again

ROZ: As I say in the book, we might go to the quietest corner of the country, but if it’s new to us, we’ll have adventures.

keepers cottage tea on lawn

Tea on the Lawn

ROZ: So our trips might have got simpler, but we’re just as entertained by them. Which is just as well because we’ve done most of the cities we could go to for short breaks. We do special expeditions on our birthdays and have become quite inventive. If we pass an interesting signpost on our way to somewhere else, we’ll plan a proper expedition there when we next decide to take a day off.

Recently we were looking for a shortcut through Surrey and we passed the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. It was just a sign on a set of gates in the middle of nowhere. We’re both kids of the space age so it went on our list. On Dave’s birthday we drove there to have a proper look. We knew it wasn’t open to the public, but we just enjoyed mooching around the area, walking the footpaths, poking through the villages and finding a nice place to eat cake.

mullard space science lab

Science Lab

ME: Where do you and your husband differ in how you approach your travels? What have you learned about your relationship through your “local” trips?

ROZ: With such a long partnership our differences become rather interesting, especially with ruins. Dave likes castles and Roman remains. I try to take an interest in those, but they don’t excite me nearly as much as more modern dereliction – disused airfields, World War II bunkers and ruined stately homes. I love those particularly – because they seem to have fallen so far.

In Not Quite Lost, we had an amusing mishap on a trip to Suffolk. The first half of the week, we stayed in a cosy, stripy cottage – Dave’s choice. The second half was my idea. We moved to a Martello tower – a Napoleonic gun emplacement on the coast that had been converted as a holiday let. Dave was dubious. He was right. It had a seriously leaky roof and I did a lot of apologising.

Martello tower crop

Martello Tower

ME: One of the things I loved about NQL is that you treat visiting Bath or Shropshire much the way you might approach going to small village in Vietnam. There is the same feeling of wonder and curiosity. Do you feel you learn as much from your own countrymen as you do from distant cultures? Or is this an apples to oranges comparison?

ROZ: Not apples to oranges at all. We all have our own customs, our own peculiar wiring. Keep your eyes open and you’re always rubbing up against them. In NQL, we stayed next door to a retired Prime Minister, and an entire micro-culture had grown up around his security arrangements. There were things you couldn’t do and places you couldn’t go because of it. Different cultures are everywhere, even within your own country.

ME: Compare and contrast traveling abroad with traveling “in-house.”

ROZ: This will probably appal globe-trotters, but I far prefer travelling in-house. I don’t need documents or vaccinations. I can throw everything in the car and take it with me, instead of having to create a capsule kit to fit within a plane’s baggage allowance. I can speak the language and understand the road signs. I can rummage through second-hand bookshops – one of my favourite holiday activities, and quite pointless in a country whose language you don’t speak. Here’s a wonderful bookshop we came across in a disused chapel in Suffolk (you can see more on my Pinterest page).


I love Roz’s Pinterest page

ROZ: But when I have gone abroad, I’ve enjoyed the variations on the everyday. Supermarkets with completely alien sets of staple foods. Flavours that are unobtainable on these shores (the supercharged basil and tomatoes that grow on the Veneto Plain). The curious texture of grass in Singapore; the sidewalks and pavements made of marble and limestone in Verona and Padua. The babble of unfamiliar language, which makes the stuff of routine life sound so vital and uninhibited. Yeah, perhaps I should get out once in a while.

ME: What is the most unusual place you’ve visited within your own country? 

ROZ: I have a place that’s on my wish list, but I don’t know how I’ll ever get there. It’s an underwater billiard room in an ornamental lake in Surrey. It was originally built as part of a stately home, Witley Park. The house was destroyed by fire, but the underwater room is still there – like a glass igloo resting in the silt on the bed of the lake. I put it in my novel Lifeform Three, as the last remnant of a grand country house. It’s never been open to the public, but I live in hope that I’ll one day get the chance to visit. Perhaps if Lifeform Three becomes wildly famous…

underwater ballroom for Vic piece

I wish I could make this picture bigger. It’s amazing.

ME: I feel like you could have written a whole book about visiting the house (now school) that your mother lived in with her childhood sweetheart after your family broke up. You wrote with tremendous reserve about that experience, and what I found particularly powerful about it was how many questions were left unanswered for you. The fact that you weren’t even let inside of the house and had to wander around on the grounds, drawing your own conclusions about your mother’s life there.

ROZ: But isn’t that like life? We get our own story in an uninterrupted stream, but we might only be granted glimpses of somebody else’s. Even your closest relative might have stories that you know little of.

ME: Was that chapter the most difficult to write, or was its very mystery and paucity pretty straightforward, and therefore easier to capture?

ROZ: It was quite easy, exactly for the reasons you say. We weren’t a communicative family and I had very little information about the place or my mother’s time there. I had only those scraps, so I had to fit them together as best I could. indeed I wrote that piece just after the actual event as my way of sorting it out. It was as much for me as it was for the book.

But then, I’ve always been a house detective. I grew up in an Edwardian villa that had hidden fireplaces in the walls and a garden path that went under the bungalow next door. I wrote about that in the book too, when a school friend gave me the news that it had been demolished. I needed to keep its story, as much as I remembered it. Visiting the house my mother then moved to brought the threads together

Sulis Manor

Sulis Manor

Roz Morris is an award-nominated novelist who writes about people who are haunted by buried pasts (My Memories of a Future Life; Lifeform Three). She is a book doctor to award-winning writers (Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012), has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction is her first collection of essays. Find her at her website and on her blog , contact her on Facebook   and tweet her as @Roz_Morris

Roz’s Links:

Memories of a Future Life

Lifeform Three

Not Quite Lost

NQL ebook cover smlr for websites


Nothing Says “I Like You” More Than A Home Cooked Meal

communist nostalgia art 4I cook a meal for my family from scratch almost every night.

I’m not saying this to brag or anything. I realize a lot of people simply can’t or dammit, don’t want to and I not only respect that, I envy it.

I cook for my family for two simple reasons. The first being that as a Czech, it’s somehow a biological imperative for me that my kids associate certain tastes and smells with their upbringing. Ones, specifically, that involve food. Slavs show their love through food. It’s what we do. We’re not big on the “I love yous.” In fact, the very phrase a head-over-heels, ga-ga in love Czech would use to express his affection is actually “Mam te rad.” This means, “I like you.” To say, “Miluju te,” which literally translates to “I love you,” would be overdoing it by Czech standards. People who say “miluju te” are a bit obsessive. The stalker types. If you’re a Czech and you say you like someone, it’s a big deal.

Just to be clear, I do tell my husband and children that I love them. But I also cook. A lot. When I first got married, I imagined that I would be cooking all sorts of Czech meals, even if I reserved my most ethnic dishes – goose, rabbit in cream sauce, pickled beef – for special occasions. Lo and behold, it turned out that my husband is not a fan of Czech cooking. He’s an Irish guy and has kind of a limited palette. Meat and potatoes and such. And my kids really hated Czech cooking pretty much from the get-go.

yucky face

No biggie. I just cooked other stuff. Anything from Chicken Pot Pie to Kung Pao Tofu.

But what makes me crazy is how – despite having pretty much a gourmet meal put in front their little half-Czech faces every night, my kids would still rather eat plain spaghetti or that processed fare from the frozen foods aisle. They deem foods like grilled salmon and shrimp risotto too flavorful.

That’s when I like to remind them of the sorts of foods I grew up eating. Especially the after school snacks that my surly great-grandmother used to prepare for me. Treats like raw bacon, boiled chicken skin, head cheese and scrambled veal brains on toast. If I had dared turn my nose up at those…well, I don’t know what would have happened exactly, but I can tell you it wouldn’t have been pretty. This was a woman who used to drown kittens in her bathtub whenever her mouser got knocked up. She defended her family so forcefully against a raid from Russian soldiers that they knocked her teeth out with the butts of their guns. Toothless and bleeding, she still managed to cuss them out.

You just didn’t mess with her.

old woman with gun

This is not my great-grandmother, but not too far off from her personality either.

And in honor of my great-grandmother and the foods I grew up eating, I thought I’d share one of her recipes with you. Just in case you’re wondering what to serve for your family this holiday season. Or at least what to threaten them with.


1 fresh beef tongue, boiled and skinned (simmer tongue in salted water for 3 to 4 hours)

1/4 pound butter

6 anchovies, mashed

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup beef stock

1 cup bread crumbs

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Cream half the butter with mashed anchovies and spread over cooked tongue. In a large pot, brown onion in the remaining butter, add meat and brown that a little, too. Pour in 1/2 cup beef stock. Roast in oven for about 1 hour or until tongue is good and brown on both sides. Sprinkle with lemon juice and bread crumbs. Add remaining stock and bake until bread crumbs are golden brown. Serves 6.

And have a wonderful Holiday – whatever you celebrate.

Prague Christmas card (Mark's)


The lovely and talented Lynda Filler was kind enough to feature Cold on her blog. Please check out her novel, Lie to Me, on Amazon.

Lynda Filler Author, Freelancer, Photographer, Poet, Top Quora Writer 2018

Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to the talented author Victoria Dougherty. The following is a piece written by Victoria called Herein Lies the Truth.  You can find more stories in her book linked at the bottom of this blog called  COLD, Essays on Love, Faith, Family and Other Dangerous Pursuits

Herein Lies the Truth

By Victoria Dougherty

 Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 10.59.45 PM

I have a close family member who tells a lot of big, whopping lies. Lies about the past, about emotions and their impact on her and others, lies about what she had for breakfast, for heaven’s sake.

When I was a kid, this family member – let’s just call her Marta – told me a heartbreaking story about her very painful, difficult childhood.

She had been abandoned by her family, you see. Then tossed out of her grandmother’s house because the woman simply didn’t want another mouth to feed. Somehow, Marta…

View original post 1,181 more words

100 Craptastic Years of Communism

Communist PartyTo commemorate the one hundred year anniversary of a truly morally and intellectually bankrupt system – one that cost the world somewhere in the realm of one hundred million souls through systemized starvation, random executions, gulags, balls-out genocide and other forms of creative murder, I thought we’d take a few minutes this week to sit back and reflect on the twenty-eight years since the beginning of the fall of the Soviet Union.

You know, just to feel good about ourselves in these trying times and all that.

While it’s true that we still have some hold-outs – namely Cuba and North Korea, who are trying to remain “pure,” whatever that means – the fact is that things in the former Eastern bloc are nearly unrecognizable from just a few of decades ago.

The general vibe in the region, even on the heels of a massive global recession, is now more like Vanity Fair’s Oscar night to-do, where attractive up and comers nibble on truffle puffs and drink rose champagne. It’s a far cry from the droll, mid-level office party reminiscent of the way things used to be. You know the one. It actually takes place in an office under fluorescent lighting with that sickly greenish tint. No music, no spouses allowed, and the deli tray comes from the local discount supermarket and would otherwise go untouched if people didn’t need to find something to do with themselves other than talk about needing a new color copier.

Office party

In my own Iron Curtain experience, I remember the dismal slop-cafeterias that served – honestly – some of the worst food I’ve ever encountered. Stews with thick layers of grease that floated over gristley meat and old potatoes like the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The spirit of customer service that inspired insult, indifference and even contempt. A waiter actually once snarled “blow me” after I asked him for a menu, and what’s more…I wasn’t even surprised.

There was a sense of style that can only be described as “failure chic.” Poor quality textiles that not only trapped, but enhanced stale, unpleasant body odors, the casual don of oily, dandruff-speckled hair, and a perfume of alcohol and cheap cigarettes that clung to nearly everyone’s breath and general aura like a silent but deadly fart.

Let’s not forget the architecture that made you want to kill yourself.

commie architecture

All of this was wrapped up in a culture of paranoia and oppression that dissuaded intimacy and even broke family bonds. Impelled people to plaster book covers made of paper bags onto their reading materials – you wouldn’t want anyone to know what types of fiction you liked, God forbid – and pad their doors and walls with cushions, so as not to be overheard by spying neighbors. In a culture where the government openly advocates snitching and cultivates envy, no one is safe.

But much of that is over now in what used to be called the Soviet Union.

The young people are hip, favoring craft beers and barbecue joints. The cafes are a twitter with conversations about popular culture, travel and politics. Nobody makes their own book covers anymore and flagrantly reads whatever the hell they want. I can no longer tell the difference between an Eastern and Western European based on dress, posture and general disposition. Even the waiters seem jolly.

commie propaganda

So, despite the uncertainties of our age – the terrorist plots, wacko gunmen, partisan divisions and IQ crushing media culture – we have a lot to be optimistic about. A mere thirty years ago, the dominant belief was that Communism was not only here to stay, but would ultimately prevail, so we’d best get used to it. East Berliners had to reconcile their own grimy and tedious lifestyle with the bright lights and festive bustle that they knew to be bursting like a star from every bar and boutique just steps away in West Berlin. Few of them ever thought their city would be whole again, let alone their nation. We were all sitting around waiting, just waiting, for Russia to finally make her move and put us out of our suspense.

atomic blast

But no bad party goes on forever. The most desperate, diehard revelars – the ones who want to bed the girl everyone’s had a go at, who need to at least be able to say they did something on Saturday night – eventually go home. Sick of the wrong music – too, loud, too weird. Bored of the small talk. Done with the Everclear punch and Coor’s Light. Even they can’t take it anymore.

Let’s remember that as we fret over our problems of the day.

And to celebrate the end of the aforementioned bad party, i.e. the Communist Party, please enjoy my friend Mark Baker’s new travel blog centering on Central Europe. Mark makes his home in Prague and has been in the region a long time, critter-crawling through little-known towns, haunting eccentric-looking cafes, taking gorgeous pictures, and writing for publications like Lonely Planet. He has such an artistic eye and knows a great story – the kind you’ll rarely find in mainstream publications. Click here. I think you’ll love it.

Prague cowboy love

This is one of Mark’s photos

And just for fun, Cold-reader and author Anne Coates is “celebrating” one hundred years of Communism by offering her very anti-communist book, Eagle in the Fridge for .99 cents on Amazon US.

Eagle in the Fridge is the story of the breakup of the Soviet Union, told by someone who lived behind the Iron Curtain. It’s an account narrated by a woman whose breath is taken away when the impossible dream of Baltic independence moves from fairy tale status to one that’s close enough to touch. Eagle in the Fridge is for anyone who wants a behind the scenes look at living behind the Iron Curtain, and an aftermath of independence that brought with it yet more challenges. It’s a testament to the courage of everyday people under extraordinary conditions. It’s a reminder that history isn’t made by generals. It’s made by normal people merely living their lives.


Click here to get Eagle in the Fridge for .99 cents


A Slavic Eye for Cold War Nostalgia

communist nostalgia art 2

Click on this before reading my post, please! Won’t take long – swear.

Coming from a family of Czech political refugees, I have to say that my favorite quote from the article I asked you to click on comes from a Russian-speaking commentator who reacted to immigre artist  Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi’s paintings by saying: “Why do all these people nostalgic for the U.S.S.R. move to Berlin and Israel, and not to North Korea?”

That being said, I love these paintings. They are a Slavic DNA splicing of Norman Rockwell and Charles Schultz, representing – pretty accurately in my experience – some of the more charming aspects of Soviet life. And yes, nearly every era has its charms, even if I’d never go so far as to declare that the Soviet regime was charming in and of itself. Let’s just say it for the record – communism sucked.

What enchants me about Nnadi’s work is her nostalgia for the textures of childhood. The colorful incidentals that aren’t so incidental after all, as we often recall them more vividly than the bigger events.

Communist nostalia art 1

From my own young life, it’s things like feathered hair styles replete with split ends, shiny new Chevy Nova’s, and performing random tasks in Six Million Dollar Man slow-motion. They create a collage as powerful as any individual vignette.

Like when my much older step-sister confided to me about losing her virginity – this was back in 1979. I remember her shimmery, overly-glossed lips far better than her description of how things went down (salacious as it was, I’m sure). The way they cupid-curled and puckered as she applied what looked to me like the most glamorous goop I’d ever seen. I’m not even sure I remember the boy-in-question’s name. Might’ve been Bob. Or Randy. I do recall the lip gloss, however. It was called Kissing Potion for sure, and came in a variety of roll-on flavors – grape, bubble gum, orange and of course…cherry. I later stole one from her make up drawer and hid it inside my worn and seam-split stuffed koala bear.

Nnadi gets this.

communist nostalgia art 3

Her paintings take us into moments of pithy loneliness punctuated by cringy fashion trends… and then beyond, into a realm that is so stylistically Slavic she makes me ache. Not only for my childhood, but for the very specific children’s storybooks I used to thumb through after school. Ones that chronicled where my mother and brother grew up – in a small, Czech village called Klobuky.

In the pages of my Czech storybooks, I could find scenes that I would never personally experience, though they were captured in the black and white photos framed on my mother’s vanity table.

My mom, pensive-faced, riding her rickety bike down a cobblestone street.

My brother playing naked beside a stream. All curly hair, toddler’s belly pouch and uncircumcised penis.

Slavs have an innate capacity for conjuring home life nostalgia. Of stripping politics and current events from a scene and leaving only the little things that make up our day-to-day lives, and bring essentiality to our existence.

Josef Lada, an early twentieth century Czech artist and children’s storybook illustrator, was a master at this. I can’t imagine Nnadi wasn’t inspired – if not by him, then by Slavic artists like him. His work always celebrated the quieter moments, the minutiae that in hindsight spins a magical longing for the commonplace.

Watching an old man smoke a pipe…

Josef Lada 2

Riding a makeshift wooden sled…


Josef Lada winter

The raucous, smoke-filled excitement of a night at a local pub…

Josef Lada pub

The beauty of Lada was not that he painted a bucolic picture that never truly existed except in our hearts, but that he painted precisely what had existed, but what we may not have appreciated at the time. Tiny glimmers of nothingness present in almost any child’s world.

More so, they remind us that those events continue on in our adult lives – changed perhaps, but nevertheless there. They are happening in our children’s lives and we are cautioned not to take them for granted.

It’s not about the fancy vacation, Lada and Nnadi are telling us. Or the enrichment activities and birthday parties. Or even about who was elected president. It’s about riding around on a hand-me-down skateboard wearing tube socks and piped shorts. Hiding behind the patchwork sofa, making Malibu Barbie and Malibu Ken make out. Eating bread smeared with margarine dyed a cheerful daffodil hue.

And speaking of Cold War nostalgia – The Hungarian, my latest Cold War thriller is free this weekend only on Amazon. Get it while it’s cold…

Click here to download The Hungarian


Love at First Write: On the Tricky Art of Writing a Love Scene

artiste 3One of the hardest parts about writing a love scene is letting go. Allowing yourself to experience the same feelings of bonzai-passion, trembling-fear, vein-popping love, and button-exploding lust in which your characters are awash during their most intimate moments.

A lot of my non-writer friends think this is precisely why writing erotica must be hard. Because its very nature lays you bare to the bone. Leaves you, quite literally, naked and suddenly no longer alone in your fantasies – many of which are cringe-inducing, right? Or downright dangerous.

They scratch their heads a bit when I tell them how – hands down – I find erotica much easier to write than a truly emotional love scene.

With erotic scenes, I can separate myself, float above my own thoughts, looking down on my body like a spirit. “It’s not really me,” I can tell myself, as I endeavor to take my characters through a gauntlet of sexual behaviors that I myself might have no interest in exploring.

Truth be told, it’s this taste for the exotic, the edge of rational behavior, that I can write about until the cows come home.

Yet, while writing scenes drenched in explicit, perhaps deviant sexual behavior might compel me intellectually, I’m unmoved for the most part. Those animalistic, choreographed encounters are often as distant to me as a group of prehistoric cave-dwellers. Interesting, sure, but they just don’t stick in the craw of my heart.


It is in writing the love scene – the one that is sensual, not sexual, brimming with real emotion – that I am truly left exposed to my core elements.

Such encounters tease where two thundering hearts will be willing to go, once they finally do fall into a carnal embrace. So that when the inevitable happens, it’s not merely a consummation of burning lust, but a promise, a vow, a sacrament. An act of consequence and conscience that will change the lives of our lovers forever. They’ll remember every moment in vivid pantomime for the rest of their lives – because they had to court, seduce, prove their worthiness to the other. To us. It must be an act of imagination and feeling that will leave me, as both writer and reader, wistful for days.

love piano

A true love scene is difficult precisely because a writer can’t fall back on sex. We hold a reader’s very essence in our hands and must speak in the language of raw tenderness in order not only to hold their attention, but help reveal to them what is lurking in their own blood…what will make them gasp, curl up like a snail-shell, and ponder just how they’ll be able to face the world now that they’ve been changed by a few well-chosen – no, well felt – words. They might approach their spouse with more than pragmatic necessity – perhaps fearful of rejection, or just as leery of their gesture being returned in full force. Something as simple as a purposeful touch can open up a whole can or worms… as much as a garden of delights.

“To love another person is to see the face of God,” says Victor Hugo.

Yes, sex is easier.

That’s why I decided not to write direct sex scenes in the new novel I’m working on. It’s not that the flesh isn’t an intrinsic part of love and loving. It most certainly is. Nor am I against sexy novels with a high erotic content. Truth be told, though, I am a little bit sick of them. They need to keep dialing up the action – like a Hollywood thriller – until the scenes themselves become almost comical in their content. How many gizmos, fetishes and come-hither outfits (or lack thereof) can you actually fit into a story about two mere human beings, after all? Even this guy looks bored.

sexy legs girl

Sensual scenes, love scenes, can’t get away with being merely novel or clever. They can’t fall back on a chorus of moans and groans. The heart has to work with the flesh and the mind, leading a reader to a place of yearning that is so much bigger than libido. A climax that satisfies the soul before the body.

Compare your average scene of heavy breathing and dutiful grinding with this:

Four of his fingers – three calloused, one as supple as moss – drummed over my brow. Light, wispy. Like the sweet and silly kisses of the tiny fish Yina used to keep for my father. Those would nibble at the skin of my toes when I dangled my feet in their pond.

Gliding down the slope of my nose, his only silken finger landed at its tip before moving lower. My lips quivered as he touched them, caressing their every bend and bow. Wetting the pad of his fingertip with my juices, I heard him bring it to his mouth and taste me.

Before I could let the air from my lungs, or close my mouth – laid open in awe – he took my head firmer in his grasp and lifted it just off the stone. He expelled his breath in a slow hiss, letting it linger over the skin of my face. Warm and damp. So unlike the desert.

P.S. Please have a look at my video diary, Love at First Write. It will be an ongoing series that will chronicle my efforts to write a great romance. I’d love to hear your comments.


The Lost Cosmonauts of the Soviet Union

One of the more disturbing stories to come out the Cold War, and certainly the most horrific – if indeed true – to emerge from the space race, is that of the “lost” (and by lost, I mean dead) Russian cosmonauts.

It has been alleged by a number of credible sources that the Soviets launched not one but several failed attempts at manned space flight before Yuri Gagarin survived his 1961 mission to become the first Russian in space. The Soviet Union denied these reports when they first began to surface and Russia continues to deny them today.

While I have no idea if these stories are actually true, in my experience of the Soviet Bloc, they are highly plausible. It’s hard to forget that the Soviet Union committed many worse crimes against its own citizens – so much so that the alleged horrors done to their MIA cosmonauts seem almost quaint.

Space travel is dangerous. There is no doubt about that. The United States has had its share of casualties in our harrowing quest to voyage beyond the relative safety of our planet and into the universe at large. Devastating tragedies like the Challenger explosion come to mind. Then there are the nail-biting, snatched-from-the-jaws-of-death missions like 1970’s Apollo 13, when NASA came together in what has been called its finest hour. With little more than passion, commitment and ingenuity, NASA engineers brought a spaceship full of stranded astronauts back from the Moon and from what looked like certain death.

A truly breathtaking and inspirational feat that struck at the core of who we were and clarified for us Americans just what we were risking, and what we were willing to do in order to bring our star-explorers home safe and sound. Shaken from this narrowly averted tragedy and buoyed by our mastery over the Soviets, the U.S. put manned missions largely on hold until recently.

space race mission control

Mission Control, Apollo 13

While both the Red and the Red, White and Blue space programs were dangerous and audacious, there were several distinctions between the Soviet space program and the one executed by the U.S. during the Cold War space race. The first and most important contrast was that American astronauts competed like mad for the job. They most definitely wanted to blast off into space – risk and all.

In the Soviet Union, cosmonauts were chosen. Did they feel honored and thrilled to be plucked from their lives and hand-picked for such an adventure? We’ll never know, and they certainly would not have felt at liberty – without serious repercussions like being sent to a gulag – to divulge any misgivings on their part.

If you’ve read THE HUNGARIAN , my new historical thriller which centers around Cold War spies and the 1950s space race, you may remember quirky, Russian double-agent Fedot informing Lily that President Eisenhower had placed significant restrictions on our American team of scientists. This was truth, not a fiction of my imagination. Not only were our physicists, engineers and the like asked to develop flawless technology, but Eisenhower would not allow them to use any military launchers for United States satellites for fear of looking like a warmonger. As a result, our scientists had to develop non-military launchers that were just as effective as the military ones. No easy task, and one that cost us. The Soviet Union placed no such restrictions on their scientists and designers, giving them a distinct timeline advantage.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 exposed the single-minded recklessness and carelessness with which the Soviets pursued a crusade to crush enemies and expand their power. Nuclear energy and space travel were executed with the same vicious resolution as their illogical and mostly failed Five-Year Plans regarding agriculture and economic development. If the statistical comparisons between Soviet/Russian fatal airline crashes and those of Western carriers are any indication of how the Soviet Space Program was conducted, then the words myopic, hostile, sloppy and inhumane come to mind.  As late as 2011, Russia snagged the title as the most dangerous country to fly from, according to The Wall Street Journal. A rash of fatal accidents there prompted investigations into its airline industry, which found “ineffective regulation, inefficiently small airlines and poorly trained pilots not following modern safety procedures,” according to The Journal.

While airline safety and space travel precautions may or may not have mirrored one another in Mother Russia at the height of the space race, it’s hard not to draw a comparison. Especially since what we do know for sure is that the Soviet Union, throughout its relatively brief reign, were open about valuing the State over the individual. It was one of the few things they were actually open about. As a result, millions of innocents died of starvation, or were worked to death in labor camps, or were simply victims of grotesque forms of criminal negligence.

Chernobyl comes to mind. It’s hard to fathom that the Soviet government did not warn the locals of the nuclear disaster that had occurred in their backyard. Not until it was too late and the whole world had already discovered their dirty little nuclear secret.

chernobyl kindergarten 2

Chernobyl Kindergarten

The only heroes in Chernobyl were the brave nuclear power plant workers who died in order to try and avoid even greater collateral damage from the meltdown. According to Knowledge Nuts,  “During the well-documented Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a pool of water used for emergencies in case of a break in the cooling pumps or steam pipes became flooded with a highly radioactive liquid that was in danger of blowing up. The size and specific conditions meant it could have caused virtually the whole of Europe to be enveloped in radiation. Three divers equipped with wetsuits and a faulty lamp dove in to allow the water to drain, with full knowledge they’d die as a result.”

The three engineers were Valeri Bezpalov, Alexie Ananenko and Boris Baranov. They  were buried in lead coffins that were soldered shut. We should always remember these men as having given their lives in order to save perhaps hundreds of thousands. They made their choice freely and without the help or scrutiny of their government, who continued to deny the disaster.

If the stories of the lost cosmonauts are true, they deserve to be remembered as well. In absence of their names, let’s simply pray for their souls.

space race first woman

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