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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Enroute to Pamplona … the night in LIMBO

Hi there!

It’s 12:55 am at Stansted Airport, and we await our morning flight to Bilbao, the most direct route to Pamplona — at one time this seemed such a distant possibility — and our new home. We’re at Costa Coffee and the place is rocking like a Vegas eatery after a Sinatra show!

Stansted is a 24/7/365 airport, and, while the departing flights are now over, the Int’l Arrivals still spew humans looking ready, tired, wacked, drunk, hampered, bland, or happy. I took a walk around a while ago. Many humans of various shades and smells have taken up spots along walls, in corners, or one of the several all-night places. The cheapos won’t fork over the price of a Panini & coffee & dessert for a comfortable chair. Fuck them.

We’ve got a great corner seat with high-back cushioned seats with a view of all the action. I downed a big-big-big coffee about two hours ago, and I’m flying. Maybe I’ll not even get a wink of sleep; looks like a game of Scrabble is on the menu!

We’ve left our palace apartment in Prague for good. We took a last walk around an hour or so before we left; good times in that home, and in the city where we were married. Yet only as we left, and the door closing behind us, did it really strike that we’d never again go into that apartment. No tears were shed, and the feeling left us as we boarded the metro toward the airport.

Now we have a new flat to move into in Pamplona tomorrow. We’ll get there in the afternoon, see our NEW flat, and begin a new story in our lives, a continuation of what we have together, yet in environs and under conditions excitingly new, adventurous, and exotic (in some ways).

But … we’re in limbo at the moment: no apartment in Prague; Pamplona a day away; we’re in an airport with dozens of others doing much the same thing, only their stories intersect with our only for this night. That is, unless I use one in a story some day.

I’m taking notes.

“Secret Cords” is Public Success

Cal Rambler & Mark Beyer at a poetry/prose reading in Prague

On Feb 15th, Lucien Zell hosted his monthly poetry/prose & musical series, SECRET CORDS, at Přátelé Stepního vlka in Prague to an audience of 25 or so. I think the five writers and four musicians made everyone happy with good verbal and musical entertaining for that cold Friday night in the dead of Prague’s winter.

Lucien Zell

Lucien opened the performances with his trademarked harmonizing number, set to the sounds of box concertina. When he croons he looks like a lone wolf in the forest, or the midnight crier from a far-off village. The song is a wonderful lead-in to readings. A tone of seriousness has been delivered; a bell has been tolled.


Cal Rambler led off the reading with several of his poems, linked by the theme of love, anguish, lost friendship, the potential for lust.

Jan Bičovský played guitar and sang folk tunes with an energy symbolic of the street-musician.


Elise Klein entertained us all with a stirring accordion song, and later played an unbelievably temperamental piano.

We also had a poet from Canada, whose short poems captured couplet-ed themes.

Mark Beyer reading from THE VILLAGE WIT

And then there was yours truly reading from my first novel, THE VILLAGE WIT.

Lucien read a few poems as well, naturally. One strong poem I recall is a villanelle, whose linking lines are strong on light & darkness, and the desire to write. (he’ll have to comment on this post and treat us to the entire poem (if he dares) or those two scintillating lines)

What is unique about SECRET CORDS is the blending of music and the spoken word. Art comes at us in different places under various forms. To have two of those forms together, in one evening at a single venue, places us in a position not used so often these years. Actually, it reminds me of something one reads about in the diaries of a Bloomsbury Set, or Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, maybe NYC West Village in the ’50s (or the Bowery!).


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.


Last of 2013 Prague Winter?

The Little Fox in a Snowstorm

Another little snowstorm rolled in today – the biggest of the four days this week Prague has seen snow. Earlier this week I didn’t have my camera with me, but this morning I was sure to plan a walk over to the JZP park and get a long view of this urban winter.

JZP park in Prague

We woke at 7am and it was snowing from an overnight flaky storm. The snow was still falling at 2:30 when we left the house for post-lunch forced march (after breaded chicken cutlets and boil-fried potatoes, we needed it). As per standard, these idiots hadn’t done any street plowing nor sidewalk shoveling. If it had been 75 degrees instead of 25, we might have been walking along a San Diego beach.

Asia-Wife in the snowstorm

Lots of kiddies out with mommy & daddy (or just one of them, as is also usual—dad probably too drunk or mom just coming back from the clandestine lover’s house [according to statistics via confidential surveys, it appears that some 30% of Czech men are raising the child of another man without having the foggiest idea]) on the mini sled hills. Lots of dogs, too, those crazy mutts.

Mark Beyer photos and novels

We took a walk up to the Flora area, where we ducked into the mall and checked out some Paperblanks journals. We’ve both got a little collection of these gems going, for lots of writing. Then a quick ride on the metro to Wenceslaus Square to the Marks & Spencer, where, oddly enough, butter/white-chocolate cookies weren’t on sale (and neither was the Napoleon Brandy) ;-))))

Novelist Mark Beyer's Paperblanks notebooks

As the afternoon light fell we trudged up the STILL UNPLOWED sidewalks (I guess these morons shall wait until Monday to dig themselves out of a mere 8 inches of snow). Our dinner of cookies and coffee (and the brandy, don’t you know) won’t probably stop us from doing yoga later.

But maybe it will.

AsiaWife modeling in the snow

Czech Senate Elections

The Czechs go to the polls tomorrow to cast their vote for senatorial representation. Most of my students say they don’t know who they’ll vote for, nor, in many cases, who could possibly represent them. The oft quote goes something like this: “Czech politics is” (helpless gesture) “and their all corrupt.” It’s easy for me to concur with this assessment, after having lived here 4 years.

The Czech politicians have rigged the system so they are able to take kickbacks, accept bribes, make shady deals, buy multi-million dollar homes (on good-but-not-that-good salaries) without worry of tax-fraud investigation, and even run people down while drunk driving without having to answer for their crimes. It’s quite a good ‘ole boys club they’ve got going here. Worse, the law and judiciary are in their pockets.

The last time there was so much corruption in the world, Noah built himself a boat.

A New Post! … and why so long between?

The blog thing has weighed on me for several weeks, and for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s not much happening in Prague that can be said without a whole bucketful of negativity. Perhaps this means I’ve been here too long and it’s time to leave. More on that later. Secondly, I’d put so much time into blogging, and most of this toward the “writing craft” side vis-a-vis Twitter-sphere recognition, book marketing, adverts-disguised-as-nicely-worded-discussions, that I had begun to feel burnt out by it. Thirdly, I’m in the midst of a new novel, and my writing schedule is abundant, yet tightly aligned with work and “me & Asia time” that, to be honest, more writing for things that aren’t necessarily poignant nor professionally or artistically important, were a waste of my time.

That was the feeling at that time in early-to-mid-September.

Now I can see the Prague Blog in a different light (no less negative, really, but at least laying down my daily life in this town). As for the Twitter-sphere and all of that work, I’ve basically decided to do far less blogging, at least for now, because it doesn’t do much. Yes, it’s fun, and I do get some feedback from writers & readers, but overall, I’ve only sold a couple books through this experiment with social media marketing. And what I’ve found (to which I’ll elaborate in subsequent posts on the other side of things) is that a whole lot of writers—and many more (too many) wannabe writers—are doing the same thing. In other words, I’ve come upon an echo chamber.

Quite frankly, I could be, and am going to begin, utilizing my time far more effectively by writing for magazines in the same way as I’m writing for blogs. Only with more focused pieces, longer pieces, which get out to a far wider reach with real readers at the end. In fact, I’d been looking around for a subject to write about for a few weeks, and found something interesting inside a FT Weekend edition I bought in Berlin. “The Selling of ‘The Selling of Ideas’ ” is its tentative title.

Basically, it’s time I disquisit on culture, language, books & reading, government & society, and the arts.

NOW ONTO THIS … The Prague Blog:

October has come and it’s colder now; the leaves are changing to a wonderful brightness of autumnal colors. It’s nice to be out & about in one of the city’s many parks. Not so much rain or wind or bad-weather. That’s a relief, because winter is upon us soon, and that means … what it means.

We just returned from Berlin—two weeks ago—and have fond memories of walk through the Tiergarten park, canvasing used-book shops in East Berlin, shopping at Primark, and eating semi-traditional German food. I bought three bottles of German brandy because, as many of you may have learned, Czech spirits were put on the prohibition list after 25+ people died from drinking methanol-laced booze. (Of course, this poison was inserted into cheap-brand vodka and rum, so my top-shelf, foreign brands were likely never tainted. But I wasn’t (and won’t) take further risk. Not until this irresponsible and criminally negligent government does something for its people. Which, unfortunately, and as I’ve learned, won’t be soon. Speaking of which, the gov’t has lifted prohibition after only a week+, citing (and not even confidentially) the loss of gov’t tax revenue. They’ll “monitor deaths” and work further to eradicate poisoned liquor. But do the Czech stop buying this rotgut? Not hardly.)

On Sunday we went to the Berlin Zoo. It’s a special sort of place, with garden walks and lush trees. The animal habitats are well sculpted and are close to the visitors, using those natural barrier methods for the least dangerous animals. (big kitties still must be caged)

At one of the use-book shops, I found a cloth-bound set of Robert Graves’s “Greek Mythology” at a steal-price. Happy about that. We wandered into a huge store off Unter-der-Linden street, perhaps Berlin’s largest bookstore: 4 floors of books, stationery, CDs & DVDs, and a separate “English Bookshop” that was pretty well stocked. Seems like Germans like to read, and there was everything for them.

We stayed at a hostel that was okay, in an off-site building that was a private apartment. This was furnished in what I like to call “retro dorm-room” style. I had flashbacks of doing bongs around a low round table with colored lamps and Jim Morrison posters. Anyway, the location was quiet, and we had a little balcony, and the subway was just down the street with quick connections to the Tiergarden and Brandenburg Gate.

The train ride home was uneventful, and, once the college girls were kicked out of the compartment buy reserved-seat-holding passengers, the trip was quiet. We got back to Prague near midnight, took the subway home, and luxuriated with hot-hot showers and fun-time reading in bed before another work-week dawned the next day.

Now life is back to … life. And I’m writing my new novel and Asia is doing her thing(s) and we’re watching silly movies. I’d complain about classes and people in general, but that’s for another time.

Is Blindness Contagious?

I was blinded with fury yesterday. At the eyeglass story to pick up my new reading glasses, I put them on and sort of felt a weird sensation. Were these a bit strong for reading?

It was 7pm and I’d been up since 5am. My eyes are cached by then anyway. I said, “Sure…” and took them home. Then I made a little test: three pairs of glasses; which didn’t freak my eyes out reading? Answer: not the new ones, brother-mutha….

They’d cut the lenses for long distance, not reading.

Now, normally I’d go back to the store, let them know, and problem solved. But this is the Czech Republic, were cheating and the “double-cross” are ingrained from birth. I used to think it came from their Communist past. Then I realized the gestation was longer, and looked to 300 years of Hapsburg rule. The Czech’s have a saying: “If you’re not stealing from someone, you’re stealing from your family.”

I can be so critical because this has happened to me before. It’s happened at an eye clinic, too.

So I put on my Chicago Bear scowl and took the metro to Chodov, and smiled nicely when I got into the store. I explained the problem, they looked at the ticket, the order form, etc. “We’re so sorry! We obviously made a mistake.” And their restitution was to offer me 50% discount on the readers, and keep the new distance pair. What could I do but accept?

Moral of the story? Worry and bitch and moan, then learn that people can still surprise you.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

4 years ago 2 weeks from today…

Yeah, it’s coming up on my fourth anniversary having moved to Prague. The time has gone quickly enough; which is good because, for life in other places I’ve lived, there was more slow-torture than anything else. Of course, a fast-moving life isn’t what I’m after, but with the time to do good work in my pocket, I have no homesickness for the USA and all that it was and has become.

On the other hand, I’ve never been one to “miss” places I’ve lived. Only people. But they’re a Skype-click away, these days, and that’s often as good as living down the street — just not quite the same. But that missing places thing, idea, notion … it’s what has let me leave Chicago, leave NYC, leave the USA, leave friends behind who didn’t call all that much when I lived in town, and don’t call at all now. (So there!) I’ve lived in Malta and France, Atlanta and the charming wilds of NW Illinois. And now Prague.

The common theme between all these cities is that I wanted to live there, and liked meeting their long-residing people, knowing many of them, and continuing to correspond with many as well. Not bad, for a vagabond.

A Long Day of Writing … bits of everything

Summer slow-days are times for me to get lots of writing done. Looking at my August teaching schedule, I have 24 days where I can carve out 5-6 hours of writing time. That’ll give me a boost to getting “Max, the blind guy” into motion. It now sits in orbit inside my head, catching meteor-ideas and soaking up cosmic rays and nuclear fuel.

Meanwhile, today I worked in some form of writing from 9:30am to … well … now, at 8:57 I continue to write. Oi!!

Two blog posts, several Twitter thingies, lots of book notes, and a partridge in a pear tree. And all under the heat index of 88 degrees. (actually, in our palace apartment I barely noticed the heat).

Tomorrow looms the same, and Saturday and Sunday … umm, the writing gig, that is.

In the Heat of the Day

Prague is under the sunshine and pressed down by humidity. We’re hunkering inside the palace apartment and trying not to move too much.

The good thing about Prague’s heatwaves are they only last while the sun is out. At night, by 10 o’clock, the air cools and a breeze picks up to wash all that moisture away. So different from Chicago and Illinois moisture that settles on you like a wet, hot towel taken from the microwave!

So then to entertain you visually, here are some recent pictures of flowers and stuff.

Asia got an end-of-the-term gift… another gorgeous orchid

And Asia also got another present: a single rose!

Here’s a charm that came with a pack of Orbit chewing gum. This lovely onion reminds you to chew-chew-chew!


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.