103808270This is going to sound like a cry from Jurassic Park, but here goes anyhow. Among the gripes I have about SoCal is the insistence on tacking a “the” to names of freeways. “The” 10, “The” 101, “The” 410 and on and on. The practice has crept its way north, too. I’m sure we will all be speaking the dialect soon. What’s my problem? Does anyone live on “the” Maple Street? Is the main boulevard in San Francisco “The” Market Street? Is the main West Coast N-S freeway “the” I-5? (Maybe it is or will be by the time I post this. What about the old days of 101, 280, 880 and so on? Are they lost and gone forever? Yes indeed. And so long, it’s been good to know ya.




For 22 years before she moved to Solvang in June, Sandra Perez Gluschankoff had been visiting America’s Danish capital, and falling in love with everything from its vistas to its windmills. The imprint was such that when she wrote her second novel, “Franzisca’s Box,” she set the opening scene in Solvang.

“There are two characters in the kitchen. They are looking out the window and into the hills,” she said. “The day we came to see this house, I looked out that window,” she said pointing to her own large kitchen window, “and I said, ‘This can not be’. It was exactly what I had in my head when I wrote that passage.”

“Franzisca’s Box” is fact-based fiction with numerous elements of the seven-generation story coming from Gluschankoff’s own family history.

“I mix present time with historical times,” the Argentinian-born author explained. “It starts here, goes to Poland in the early 1900s, to South America, and then back to the U.S. There is Jewish historical fiction and background, and lots of drama.” Included is World War II in Romania and the post-war immigration of Nazi criminals into Argentina.

“I grew up in a family of immigrants,” she said. “My grandparents on my mother’s side spent World War II in Romania. Once the war was over and the Red Army came in, they escaped Romania and fled to an American refugee camp in Italy where my mom was born. The Americans offered for them to come to the U.S. but they’d heard so many wonderful things about Argentina — how you could find gold on the streets that’s where they went, only to find after they got there that the gold was what the criminal Nazis had stolen from the Jews.”

Sandra Perez had a far less dramatic reason for leaving Argentina, the country of her birth. In her 20s, she met her husband-to-be, Sergio Gluschankoff, through a mutual friend during a trip to the U.S.

“Apparently, I am unforgettable because six months later he came knocking on my door and asked if we could go out that weekend,” she laughed. After another six months of a long-distance commuter romance, she relocated to the U.S., and a year later they married. They are the parents of two sons: One is a UCSB student and the other is going into his third year at Georgetown Law at Georgetown University.

Gluschankoff admittedly had to reinvent herself when she came to the U.S., speaking no English and a few months shy of her university degree.

She became an English-Spanish interpreter for medical and legal offices. She taught Hebrew at a Jewish day school in San Diego where the Gluschankoffs lived for 14 years. Then one day, she said, she woke up knowing she wanted to write, specifically, screenplays.

“I bought every book on screenwriting I could find,” she said. She completed a dozen of them. Several finished well (although none won) in various screenwriting competitions. One was optioned for a movie but never produced. She worked as the script supervisor on a small film shot in Santa Barbara.

That led her into a reality series now airing on the FYI channel, “Life. Matters with Dr. Michelle Gordon.” Gluschankoff co-wrote and co-produced the 13 episodes of the first season, and appears in several of them.

The show follows Gordon and her friends as they ride through the hills of Mallorca, Spain, and discover Spanish cuisine and immerse themselves in Spanish culture and the arts, while discussing the health and lifestyle issues that women face in aging.

“Life.Matters” premiered earlier this month and has already been renewed for a second season. It is seen locally on DirecTV, Dish and Comcast.

Gluschankoff is also kept busy doing the administrative work for Synergy Organic Farms, a company she owns with her husband. They farm 212 acres along Highway 246 between Buellton and Lompoc.

Her next book is a stand-alone short story, “Wednesdays with Maria.” It will be published as an e-book in September and is the prequel to her next novel.

The Gluschankoff home in Solvang still has a bit of that “we’ve just moved in” look, unpacked but with empty spaces here and there and walls awaiting artwork. The couple is still in the process of figuring that out, and in no rush. After moves from San Diego to Calabasas to Santa Barbara and now the Santa Ynez Valley, they’re planning on staying put for a long time.

“We’d come to Solvang on weekends and I remember thinking how really nice it would be to live here. Now that we’re here, I love it. There is a certain vibe to the place, a certain energy. I love walking down Alisal, down to where it becomes a narrow winding road. I love seeing people taking pictures of windmills and the horses pulling the carriage. It makes me smile.”


searchYou are able to pardon

the greatest of our sins in secret.

We have burned ourselves with our desire and greed,

We come to You in awe

because You taught us to call

and You lit the lamp of supplication in this darkness.

–Rumi (Daquqi’s prayer, Mathnawi III:2212-2224)



Chief Brown, Dallas Police




Try these: In Napa and San Francisco yesterday, mentally ill and substance-uglied people attacked police and begged to be shot and killed. Officers were in both cases able to negotiate and take the “perps” into custody peacefully. (No pictures available that I could find)

Upping the ante on the same subject: In Britain, police on everyday duty carry no firearms. Same in Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, and Norway.

But here in the sovereign land of holy amendment number two, it’s been a dark week. As a nation we’re wandering around in a stew of anger, death, and retribution, and grief. There are moments of silence, cries of anguish, calls for love and calls for vengeance. And death follows death follows killing, every one beginning with a finger pulling  a trigger. Or maybe it starts with the idea that it’s a good idea to have a trigger handy for whenever you might have a beef with a neighbor or a cop or a stranger.  “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” says NRA mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre. Well, apparently, Philando Castile was one of those good guys with a gun, exercising his god-given 2nd amendment rights  by securing a permit to carry a pistol for protection. A lot of protection it bought him. Probably got him killed. That and a dose of excess melanin. Oh, and the old broken tail light story. Almost as pervasive as the “you fit the description of . . .” story.

On the other hand, or on the same hand, really, five–count ’em FIVE–Dallas police officers are dead,  each and every one of them leaving a huge space


in the lives of their families. Because some one thought the only good cop (especially if white) was a dead cop and was able to get hold of a long gun to express his hate,  just as some thought in times past (or maybe still) that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, or that (in present times, even) the only good nigger was  a dead one or in present times as well the only good Muslim (or Mexican) is a dead one or the only good (suspected, even) terrorist (read “Muslim”) is dead one (preferably subsequent to some luscious torture). It’s all a matter of labeling someone an “other,” then shooting ’em up, blowing ’em up because if you don’t they’ll do it unto you and you’re a naive fool to inhabit any other reality. And yet, what reality have we created. Not one where we are safer. Quite the opposite. We’re caught in that place that Matthew Arnold described so eloquently. A world which

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.[22][23]

But what if we dared to take that other direction? Could we navigate our way out of this darkness into a room lighted with Rumi’s “lamp of supplication,” a space filled with love and tolerance? What if we just laid down our 300 million guns? Oh, no!. Give up our sword and shield? I say yes. All we’re doing now is shooting blindly into the dark space of an endless cave, laying out corpse after corpse without making ourselves safer in the least. The only way out of the situation is contained in Dostoyevsky’s description of it: search-1

What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.


How about it?



Calixto Bieito

Saw the notorious new production of Carmen directed by Spanish maverick Calixto Bieito. Irene Roberts and Brian Jagde sang Carmen and Don Jose the night we searchwent. Roles were double cast, so can’t speak for what things might have sounded like on other dates.

The whole thing was set in the 50’s. We’d just been to Cuba, so the old cars on stage suggested the Caribbean in a way Bieito didn’t intend and probably carmen_thumbnail1spoke that way to no one else. There were some controversial moves, undoubtedly intended to shock and alienate–a simulated BJ behind a car with an actual bared male butt visible. Some simulated, fully clothed, sex between the principals. Much of the costuming, or lack of it, and atmosphere was very attractive to San Francisco’s Castrophiles. Still and all, not really shocking or gratuitous, except maybe the BJ.  What bothered me most was Bieito’s lack of directorial fundamentals, which undercut some truly wonderful performances. Roberts and Jagade sang splendidly, and their acting traced the arc of the Carmen-Don Jose relationship with clarity and truth. The dependence, defiance, self-destruction. Heart-rending. The orchestra was out of this world. Even better than usual. However, there were a number of crucial dead spots where the drama just plain stalled. A partying group drives on stage, drunk and laughing beginning, I think, Act 2. That’s all for what seemed like two minutes. A looooong time on stage. Then some music begins and people start piling out and preparing for a picnic. At last, we are relieved, to see some action. We haven’t been in suspense, just bored. Later, the smugglers hear there are cops on the way. They pack up their stuff to conceal their activities. But with no sense of urgency. Casual, relaxed, slowly so the audience, too feels Casual, relaxed. Ho and hum and another day in the life. Those moments drain so much energy out of a production for me that no amount of wonderful music can replace. So, instead of a super production with some notorious moments, we are left with a mediocre production with some soft-porn asides. Disappointing. I’d choose anger over boredom any day. And I’m still waiting to see a Carmen who can dance. . . Maybe that’s asking too much.

Sitting up


img20160528_14251251Even though I spent some time in San Antonio and Dallas working with my late co-author, Bob Stewart on The Yellow Rose,
Iyellow rose cover still anticipated a hint of the exotic when I committed myself to a week in the Lone Star State. 

I didn’t go straight to the writers retreat in San Antonio, but landed first in Houston where I spent a wonderful, though very brief, 24 hours or so with Bob’s sonIMG_2729 and his family. IMG_2728Here I am with Bob III in front of pictures of his parents. Note the copy of The Yellow Rose. Also on the right, me with super daughter Coco. Not pictured, wife Kim and son Bobby.


IMG_4639We also trod the very ground of the site of the San Jacinto memorial and park where the the battle of San Jacinto, the centerpiece of our novel and of the Texas Revolution took place. The tower is as high as the Washington Monument, and then some, because a Texas star (not visible) is mounted on the top. In true Texan style, they could get permission to build an obelisk only as tall as the one on the Washington Mall. But no one mentioned they couldn’t add the star. You have to get up early to keep ahead of a Texan.

It was a great time in Houston, but San Antonio and the main event awaited. I’ve been to quite a number of writers’ conferences, from the more prestigious (Sewanee, Squaw Valley, Tin House)  to the less heralded (Napa, DFW), so I’m a bit jaded. Shouldn’t have bothered with that attitude.

Most conferences focus on the short story, giving you a group workshop and a single one-one-one conference with a staff member. I found them all valuable in their own way except that I was a bit frustrated with the process of discussing a chapter or two of my novel as if it, too, were a short story. Hard to explain the difference, but it’s pronounced. Tin House (on the campus of Reed College in Portland, OR) had a section on the novel, which showed me that my frustration was justified. It made all the difference to talk to people about novels as novels, especially under the superb leadership of Luis Alberto Urrea (The Hummingbird’s Daughter and many other titles). So I was looking forward to WRW because we were supposedly going to be in the company of other novelists. And boy, were we.


Plus, our manuscripts got not only a group going-over, but a number of sessions with different accomplished staff members. You could get feedback, revise, then get feedback on the revision. There is time in the schedule set aside for–get this–writing. That’s in addition to the normal menu of workshops, group instruction, and so on. Director Jason Sitzes and wife  Lisa Willars-Pic have put together a superb staff. Good teachers as well as good writers, and those two don’t always together, believe me.


Among that cast are my old friend/mentor/nemesis, multiple novelist (The Bomb and The Rapist are his latest gems.) Les Edgerton, without whom my count would zero published novels instead of four; literary agent Michelle Johnson of Inklings, who had the good taste to request a copy of my manuscript of the sequel to Bonita when it’s finished; Reavis Z. (for “Zane”) Wortham (Dark Places, Vengeance is Mine), who is a retired educator (me too) and a Texas cattle rancher (definitely NOT me too) Not pictured are Carol Dougherty, Arianne “Tex” Thompson, and David Corbett. All of these also made significant contributions to my superb experience at the Oblate (an Catholic order of priests, like the Franciscans, I’d not heard of. They are missionaries.) Center. This is beginning to sound a little bit like a testimonial, but what the hell. I transformed my beginning chapter in a way that launched the sequel Bonita like a power boat instead of row boat, yes, I will testify that Writers Retreat Workshop is at the top of the novelist writers workshops in the USA. Thanks to all.