Monthly Archives: January 2015

Moment by moment

Today I finished reading a wonderful, inspiring, romantic, funny and very profound novel named “How to Fall in Love” by Cecilia Ahern (

I highly recommend it to both lovers of reading and writing.

Here are three quotes from this novel, which I would like to share:

The first two are quotations by other authors used in this book.

P. 207: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt wit the heart.” Helen Keller

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt

P. 412 (the final passage in the book): “… Life is a series of moments and moments are always changing, just like thoughts, negative and positive. And though it may be human nature to dwell, like many natural things it’s senseless, senseless to allow a single thought to inhabit a mind because thoughts are like guests or fair-weather friends. As soon as they arrive, they can leave, and even the ones that take a long time to emerge fully can disappear in an instant. Moments are precious; sometimes they linger and other times they’re fleeting, and yet so much could be done in them; you could change a mind, you could save a life and you could even fall in love.” Cecelia Ahern

Picture: A very precious moment in my daily life: Niklas taking care of his little sister in the early morning before heading with his Dad to kindergarten. He played a lullaby to Emma on a small music box in form of a little donkey. I heard the music playing and when I came to the living room, this is what I saw and my heart melted.


To iron or not to iron

My all time favourite in any novel or a short story are dialogues. I must admit I find it challenging to write a good dialogue without all the characters sounding like I do. But I am up for a challenge, and most probably because it is a challenge I simply love exercising writing dialogues. This might be one of the reasons why the descriptions in my books are very brief and most of the stories in them are revealed through dialogues.

The question then was how to find an individual voice for each character. I was excited when I found the following idea in the book “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The fastest Was to Improve Any Manuscript” by James Scott Bell on pages 40-41:

“One of my favorite exercises when planning a novel is the Voice Journal. This is a free-form document, stream of consciousness, in the character’s own voice.

How do I know what the character’s voice sounds like? I prompt them with questions and then let them talk. I do this fast, without thinking about it much. What I’m waiting for is the moment when the character starts talking to me in a voice I did not plan.

And it always happens. That’s the fun part, when the character starts to take on life for me.”

As I was contemplating about this idea and thinking what I could ask my characters about, the protagonist of my second book, which I am currently writing, started talking to me in my mind. The ideas just started pouring out.

But before sharing with you what we talked about let me introduce this character shortly to you. Hannah (by the way she thinks her name is Victoria) grew up in Moldova and like me she studied physics of semiconductors. She is about to travel to Germany connected to her work. The day before her appointment at German Embassy for getting a visa for her travel, she finds out from her father that she doesn’t need a visa, because besides being a Moldovan citizen, she is also a citizen of the United States. Because she was born there. And because her late mother was American. As you can imagine, from that moment, her life is literally upside down. This is the tentative title of the sequel I am starting with her. “A Life Upside Down”. And the sub-title of the first book is “A Spy’s Daughter”.

So, here is our dialogue as I recorded it after it materialized in my head. My thoughts and comments are in brackets.

Hannah = H: “She likes ironing. You must be kidding me!”

Vica (me) = V: “Pardon?”

H: “I read you blog post about ironing.” (/various-kinds-of-greed/)

V: “You did?”

H: “Well, through your head obviously.” (rolling imagined eyes)

V: “Ah, yes, sure.” (nod and shrug)

H (ignoring the irony in my voice): “So, explain it to me, how can you like ironing?”

V: “Well, it’s soothing; you can see how something crinkly becomes smooth and even; you see the result immediately. And …”

H (waving impatiently): “I know the physics of it. But how can it be soothing?”

V: “It can calm the wild thoughts, slow them down and bring you to the current moment of …”

H: “Oh no, not this awareness thing again!”

V: “Why not?”

H: “The only thing I am aware of, right now, is that my life is a mess. An extreme mess!” A pause. “As. You. Know.” (Accusing look shot in my direction)

V (not going to give up the cheerful state): “But it’s exciting isn’t it?”

H: “What?”

V: “Your life!” (proud of the idea and sure of a praise coming)

H: “It is” (there, my praise, I smile.) “Not in the way I would have wished, but it is, exciting.” (well maybe not a praise I expected, but it’s still good, right?) “Much too exciting for my taste!” (maybe not a compliment at all. But whatever. I like it. Trying to focus back to what she is saying and she is talking a lot. Am I like that?) “So, what I don’t understand is how those mundane things can help in crisis.”

V: “There might be no cri…”

H: “Now, Cora, the character from your writer friend’s, Menna, latest book. What was the name of it? “The Dress Shop of Dreams?” (I nod) “So, she, that is Cora, I am not sure about Menna, knows how I feel. Cora hated shower and all the other things of daily routine. As she rightly said, I’ll interpret, of course, these mundane things come in the way of those that really matter.”

V (infected by her impatience): “But all that matters is in front of you! Right here, right now!”

H: “Really? Well, maybe, for you humans, but for us fictionals, the story must go on! No reader would read a book if there would be only surroundings and no action.”

V: “Um, you might be right there.”

H: “Of course, I’m right! I am always right! The problem is that I still kind of depend on you, or at least on you putting the words on paper and keyboard as they should be.”

V: “And how should that be?”

H: “Fabulous. There must be a fabulous, the perfect, and mind you, a happy, a very happy ending! Promise.” (I hesitate) “Do. You. Promise?”

V: “Well …”

H: “What?”

V: “Um, this is going to be a sequel… and there will always be twists and most probably also at the end of each book.”

H: “And what would that be?”

V (after a pause of being lost shortly, found the wit back again): “I don’t want to spoil it for you.”

H: “Ha-ha. Very funny.” (Measured me and waited for me to say something. But I am not going to. This is definitely a trap.) “Well, then, just simply do your best. OK?”

V (with a wide grin): “Promise.”

Picture: Me, on a dune in Sahara. In the beginning of 1980s. I am not sure whether I will send Hannah to Sahara or not. She is going to Germany. This is as far as I can see for her right now. But at least some of the vividness from those times will definitely go into Hannah’s childhood memories about the places she’s been to. And I will definitely use the over-dimensional sunglasses somewhere.



Magic of science, dresses and cakes

“One proton of faith, three electrons of humility, a neutron of compassion and a bond of honesty. … that … is the molecular structure of love.”
Menna van Praag “The Dress Shop of Dreams”

As that of a physicist and especially as a solid-state physicist, who has ponded upon and worked a lot with atomic structure, my heart melted when I read this in the latest book by my dear friend and writing teacher, Menna van Praag.

I fell in love with her writing before meeting her personally and then this feeling appeared also toward her when I got to know her as a friend and my writing mentor.

What I loved about this book is how magical everything appears in this book, especially those things that many would not think magical, as numbers, molecules, and labs. Even if the latter have been seemingly portrayed as clean and too well organized as in the protagonist’s life, there is quite a lot of magic in many of these scenes, especially with her scientist parents.

The actual magic, which we don’t meet in our daily lives, like 3D-movies of books when somebody reads them to us, or the dresses performing magic, becomes a very organic part of the whole world in this book, and actually as I write these words now I start to believe that with a little bit of faith the 3D-book-movies and magical dresses could be possible in our world too.

This is what I like about Menna’s books: they show us human fears and very different ways they take us, but they show us also that we have all the ability we need to find our magical ways. And whatever the chapter of the book, whether it is a love scene or a suspense piece or a slice of mystery, all of them wrapped me up in a feeling of warmth and pleasure. And utter curiosity what would happen next.

I am very much glad that there are more books to come from this wonderful writer’s pen.

More on the author and the book can be found at:

Just a boy

As the work on my first novel progresses (I will work with a professional editor on it in February) I feel closer to my father, than I ever did since he died. But maybe also since I have ever consciously known him. I was only ten when he died, so I never got to know him in my adolescent or adult years.

I am very grateful to having been inspired to write this book. At the beginning I thought that it was too sad or too heavy of a topic. And then somewhere (I don’t remember exactly where, maybe in “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott) I read the following advice (reproduced with my own words): “If there is something you fear most or are most uncomfortable with, write about it”.

So this is what I did and as already said, I am very thankful and glad about it. During this process, I discovered many beautiful and joyful pieces in my father’s story.

Although many gaps between true events are filled in with my imagination, or maybe because of it, I felt often as though my father was present, when I wrote this book.

I always idolized my father. I guess this feeling grew stronger after he passed away. Most people start appreciating something or someone when they are not there anymore. And this appreciation is sometimes distorted by imagining them being ideal or even close to divine. This ideal picture of those who passed make them even farther away than they already are.

We all thrive for divinity but we feel the closest to all human.

And this what happened when I researched about my father and wrote the book. I started to see him more and more human with his possible flaws and fears. And with this, his picture, memories of him became vivid and alive.

One of the sweet discoveries about my father was that he was just a boy when he was young. You might smile about this discovery and ask “Who else could he be?” So let me explain.

Having grown up in an orphanage, my father didn’t know his exact date and place of birth. So he chose both deliberately. For his birth date he chose January 10th, the birthday of Alexei Tolstoy ( As many of those who grew up in Soviet Union, I knew of Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy mostly because of Buratino, his version of Pinocchio. But the bulk of his work was science fiction and fantasy. As soon as I read about this, I knew that my father must have enjoyed science fiction as many children and teenagers, especially boys, do. This discovery made me smile and think: “He was just a boy”.

Fueled by the discovery of my father’s favorite author, I am now reading the English translation of “Count Cagliostro” and I simply love it. The subtle humor, the seeming simplicity but at the same time beauty of descriptions (“The wet grass in the garden looked silver in those places where the light from the windows fell upon it. The air smelled of dampness and flowers.”), as well as briefness and precise strokes on dialogues are very capturing and intriguing.

See for example the following definition of magic uttered by the Count Phoenix, also known as Count Cagliostro: “There are no miracles. There is merely the knowledge of nature’s elemental powers, namely fire, water, earth and air; the states of the substances, namely solid, liquid, soft and gaseous; the forces of nature – attraction, repulsion, motion and rest; the elements of which there are thirty-six and finally of nature’s energies: electric, magnetic, light and sensual. All this is subject to three fundamentals: knowledge, logic and will …”

But isn’t the ability to write something like this with such simple words and with subtle reflection of the world as a wonder, a miracle in itself?

Picture: my father in his young years.