Tag Archives: joe niemczura

March 5 2014 update for the Junk Drawer

I have five blogs and I only write in this one when I have something to say about backpacking, or the Dixieland band (today is Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras is over. time to clean up the beads, vomit and hurricanes from Bourbon Street..)

I will say, I have transferred my psychic blogging energy to The Sacrament of the Goddess blog. It accompanies my second book of that title.

Here is one little photo, of the book’s back cover, that may entice you to check it out….

they say the back cover has to contain a tease to entice the casual browser to open it and find the wonders therein....

they say the back cover has to contain a tease to entice the casual browser to open it and find the wonders therein….


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Exhuming a skeleton and trying to make sense of it

Somerset Maugham once wrote:

“There are five rules of writing and nobody knows what they are.”

Which sums up the way I work.

My second book, The Sacrament of the Goddess, is a lot closer to completion than it was in August, when I logged the first 200 words. It’s been a hoot, and the first challenge was learning how to write in the third person. If you think that is easy, you try it. Go ahead!

He thought it was easy at first. Just like being God, he chuckled to himself. I can see into the brain of any character I choose. The person next to him on the bench at Starbucks asked him what was so funny.

“I can now control a woman’s thoughts,” he said, “and know with certainty what they are thinking.”

She got up and sat in a different part of the coffee shop.

I had a recent exchange with one of my beta readers that went like this:

If you really must know and will promise not to tell, it was only after the bones were laid out on the ground, sets of bones, sometimes a femur had been stolen by some stray dog, that I started looking for the organs of each character, I knew I would find them if I looked under the piles of leaves and after all, I enjoy the woodsy smell of mouldering plant life.

The bones

Autopsying a victim of By way of saying that I knew I would have to learn things as I went along and not think that it would all spring forth in a torrent that needed no editing like Kerouac. I wrote the plot first, just the action elements only. Other authors do it other ways.

I did know what the ending was going to be and I wrote backward from there. I got the action sequences down, just the events, the bones, and played with those for awhile. I wanted to have enough drama in the plot to make it a Bollywood movie. I had two heroines and the first impulse was that they would both be a love interest of the hero. Also, I included an inventory of women’s health issues specific to the setting. Between them, the two women were going to experience the Perils of Pauline.

Paying my dues

Over the course of four trips I have lived in the setting of the novel for eight months. I have lots of notes of daily life and culture there, and it is easy for me to conjure the setting. I scavenged my blogs for entries that could become book chapters, such as poisoning via Amanita Phalloides mushroom.

There were times when researching the background of the book required a detour, such as the military history of the Nepal civil war. Detailed factual exposition of how to go about attacking a town in a river valley. Likewise going over medical details of types of surgery that appear in the book. (don’t try this at home, folks!).

When I got to about 40,000 words, I needed to keep track of things more closely. From my first book, I recalled printing a copy every now and then, using it to make notes, and transferring the updates into the computer version at intervals. It is a good feeling to lug around a copy of the manuscript. At last something tangible. Yes, this phase involved killing of trees.

Mysteries of Nepali culture

I queried my Nepali friends on points related to cultural practices, and Skyped a bit with one particular friend on the subject of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, arranged marriage, the Gurkhas, Nepali slang, and courtship. This was helpful.

Should I have two heroines?

The idea of two heroines was unworkable. (Polygamy is legal in Nepal and at one juncture I considered the ending in which he marries both. Rejected. We need a happy ending!). I wanted to emulate the kind of page-turning twists of plot typically found in a Bollywood movie, but this got to be ridiculous. Especially since I wanted to use the book to discuss serious issues such as sexual violence against women, and the role of women in general. So anything that objectified female characters would be out. This does not mean they can’t be beautiful or feel attraction to the male characters. I means I have to respect them for who they are.

Deciding what to save for a future book – the sequel?

this also created a writer’s problem – to say the least. In real life, surviving a rape (which one does character does) is life-changing. She doesn’t simply pick up and resume normal life. But yet, though I have cared for victims of rape and assault, I knew I needed to research this as well. So I bought a book about the topic of recovery after sexual trauma, and studied it, along with doing a websearch or two. Now the book would also portray PTSD and counseling. All this was before the tragic and horrific events in Delhi this past fall.

Grasping just beyond reach

I was up to 115,000 words, and I was lost in the woods. I wanted to weave the two main women in and out but I simply didn’t know how – I am not that good a writer. I took English in college, but throughout my life I have not found much in common with English majors. I hang out with nurses and doctors.

That’s when I sought advice from beta readers. I knew I had a great story but I was picking at the edges of it. I had exhumed a pile of bones from a shallow grave, and was sorting them out like a forensic anthropologist. One beta reader told me I had more than one skeleton; another told me that a pile of bones doesn’t tell the story of the whole person.

In other words, clear out one major section involving the PTSD victim “…and save her for her own book – the sequel – which will do her justice and give her the space she deserves.”

She was clever enough to say “I fell in love with (the hero) and couldn’t get enough of him.” Ahhhhh…..

Excising the second heroine was brilliant advice. It took out about 37,000 words and left me with about 76,000 – enough space to fill out the remaining events. The goal is to end up with 80- 85,000 words these days.

Howls of wonderment and delight

The next beta reader turned out to be the truest possible friend.

“It was so bad I had to put it down,” she said, “You simply don’t have a clue how women think.”

And best of all, she got very specific as to why she thought that. She also got very defensive, wondering whether that was too blunt. She was expecting me to react the way a person does when they have received a fatal gunshot wound (but haven’t died yet). For the record, she is too kind to ever fire a shot at somebody.

Yes folks, I laughed out loud. Truth is, I don’t know how women think. Not a clue. Despite a lifetime of study. Despite eminent credentials. She had a point there! I want to meet the fellow who does.

My reply? “I need this feedback. I am trying to improve my writing, I am learning as I go.” And a lot of gratitude. When a simple thing such as writing in third person was new to me, I was going to have even more trouble with point of view. Even if you understand it, you have to be able to write it, which is also difficult.

To put it bluntly.

“Joe – you need professional help!”

One reader is a published author in her own right, and she suggested I get my hands on “The Breakout Novelist” by Donald Maass, and start thinking about the whole project in a different way. I had a story to tell, yes, that was for certain. But would anybody want to read it?

So the next two months of writing were focused on character development. Making each person three-dimensional and more nuanced. Relating this to plot trajectory. As they would be in real life. Even a good person can have bad days. A villain may have some redeeming features that create tension. Every person does not speak the same or have the same level of self-awareness.

I also subscribed to blogs by writers and read a few books recommended for me. The revision process included ways to re-tell certain parts of the story using point of view of the people who were in those sections, which was a gateway to the soul each time. In other words, I did a revision in which sections of cut-and-dry description were replaced by passages that focused on how the event was perceived. Shortened the technical descriptions of certain surgeries and the blow-by-blow of the battle.

I heard back from more beta readers, one of whom didn’t have as much to say about the characters but who found all the typos and fixed my problem with the way commas are used. This was also valuable.


The Goddess referred to in the title. You can't explore Nepal without delving into religious themes as they impact day-to-day life.

The Goddess referred to in the title. You can’t explore Nepal without delving into religious themes as they impact day-to-day life.

There are two passages where the physical attraction between the hero and heroine are explored. This is a major plot element and I felt I had to describe it. The anticipation, the tension, the nuances of emotion in the prodrome – these act to set up the climactic scenes. Writing erotica is fun. Not as easy as you might think. Probably not something you should write at Starbucks – too many people are watching. But – fun. Not easy to get feedback on though. It pushes buttons for some readers. Still needs work. I admit it, I don’t tend to read erotica on a regular basis, and not out of context. I certainly never wrote any in the patient’s charts at work, or in the policy and procedure manual or course syllabi. Some female friends shared with me the names of their favorite writers who excel in this area.

returning to the subject of PTSD

My beta reader who prodded me on the emotions also got me thinking about PTSD again. A major section is about the battle that hit the town. They all have PTSD. None of them will be the same. Oh. Maybe this was obvious for some folks, but it was still an insight for me. From my own experiences with death in the hospital setting, I know that medical folks don’t always think of death the way others might. So – let’s explore that for a wee bit.

Sound track

The book is about hospital care and deals with death. A couple of the deaths stand out for the personnel, and I wanted to portray the mixture of emotions to accompany. this will seem a shock to some lay readers I suppose, but the staff of a hospital does not weep for every single death. They don’t have time. How does their PTSD affect their coping? Again I wrote these sections at Starbucks. I used my headphones and listened to sad love songs in Hindi as I wrote and revised. Drawing from my own experiences in health care and trying to convey the essence of grief and loss.

Anyway, into the present day, I feel as though I myself have survived a major battle of the Nepal civil war and I am sadder but wiser. I feel as though I have also been through a(nother) major relationship with a woman which broke my heart and hers before we got back together. Oh, we’ll have some things to work out, but I enjoyed it. Along the way I reported for duty every day and stood at some of the same bedsides that were so familiar to me from Nepal. Or at least, that’s how it feels to create such events and bring them to life. All this without leaving Honolulu.

I am now resending it to other beta readers. I have something more in line with what the vision was. I know it will need more work. I am taking a break from intensive revision for a bit, until the next phase is revealed. Later this week i will send it to a professinal editor.

I will end this with a question to my readers.

Can you recommend any authors who do a good job of portraying the woman’s point of view? esp if they are a male? I need to get a feel for this…..

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writing process update 2013 New year’s day

Update on writing second book about health care in Nepal

Realize I haven’t updated this in a while. I have been busy with all kinds of things – wonderful things!

I finished the so-called first draft in early December. it was 113,000 words. I was at a point where I needed to get feedback on it before taking another look at it. but by no means ready to be sent off to an agent or publisher. One of the worst things an author can do is to send something like this before it’s ready. I needed to take some time away from this project and also to get some new perspective on it.

Beta readers

It was time to send it to some beta readers.  people who could critique it for what it was, and who could tell me if it was plausible, etc. so I did.

I still await some of the beta readers, but I did hear back from the early ones, and they told me two things:

1) get a copy of The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass. Which I did. Now, on the previous book, I knew I had a story to tell but I also knew I was a writer with limitations. For that project, I bought a book about writing, and used it to teach myself to be a better writer than I was. ( the book was The making of a story if you must know). I gave that book to my daughter when I was through.

Back to Maass. this book is engaging, and brings up the issues of point of view, conflict, and tension. He gives a set of prompts to apply to critiquing your own work, which I found to be very helpful.  I knew I had a story to tell, with great characters and plot, but I wanted this to be the best it could possibly be, and to do justice to the residents of this book I needed to present every single on as a three-dimensional person who the reader could love ( or hate. or at least, understand).  And so, the process of revision includes systematically applying those prompts to my Work-In-Progress. ( henceforth referred to as my WIP)

2) cut out 35,000 words. and save it for a sequel. It’s difficult for any writer to hear somebody say that a third of the book needs to be chopped, but my beta reader had the sweetest possible way to phrase this. she said “I fell in love with (female character number one) and I couldn’t get enough of (the male hero of the novel). I was so enthralled with those two, that I skipped over all the sections of (female character number two) to see what happened to them. It was only then that I read the sections I skipped. they were really great but I bonded with the first story so much that I just think you have the makings of a second book already.”

So, I removed those, and voila – the WIP got tighter and more readable and more fun. Also, it’s back to a manageable size – now at 83,000 words. At the original length I was going to have to do some serious editing. Now, I can focus on the story as opposed to getting forced to think about length with every single word that was put on the page.

anyway, the beta reader process continues.

about characters in 3-D

the people you meet in a book are memorable if they are real. In real life, there are heroes who have flaws. A hero can do something amazing part of the time and also be a jerk at other times. Likewise, a villain can have some redeeming feature; or else when you learn more about them you realize the tragic parts of their life story that made them into the jerk they are today. I desperately want to convey that in my book. And that is what I am working on now.

Anyway – thanks for reading this – and Happy New Year to everyone

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about the writing process Oct 16th


I’m now up to 70,000 words on my second book. The goal will be to get to about 110,000 words I think; but this does not mean that I am two-thirds of the way done.

For wisdom on this, I go to Winston Churchill.

Once I do get to 110,000 words, when I have written the whole thing out, I will begin the process of editing, which for me will mean re-writing it about a hundred times.

Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is the term for the second book. It will be set in a certain time and place,and there will be a high standard for accuracy as to what it would have felt like to be there then.  For me, this means placing the events, characters and plot in Nepal, since I have done a lot of research already. Does that surprise you?

The Civil War in Nepal

The story will take place during the recent civil war, with especial attention to the battle of Beni in 2003.

Collectivist culture

a theme that runs throughout is the tendency of Nepali people to do things in groups. Every time anything happens, a crowd gathers. If something is going to happen, people will gather a crowd. Exactly who is in the crowd, or not, is a very interesting question. People are defined according to the crowd to which they belong.


well, no. Not erotica, per se. But there will be a plot that involves romance. I think this will engage the reader. To write a passage describing romantic attraction between characters, has been a lot of fun so far. I need to become a better writer.

The Title?

has been chosen. It is “The Sacrament of the Goddess”  which refers to an episode in the book. Many of the key characters of the book are Buddhist, and the Goddess in question is Green Tara.


This not simply writing a story, it involves study and research. I have used the internet extensively for research. I use the notes from my four trips to Nepal. I have hired a guy in Nepal to do some specific research for me. I expect that I still will be working on this in summer 2013, and so I will visit some of the locales mentioned in the book and interview some people.

stay tuned!

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hiking the “Priest” with “Snafu”

Turn off the Television

I have been lazing around C’Ville since returning from Florida. I admit I got hooked into watching the Olympics…… I always do. Yesterday though, was Snafu’s day off and she wanted to go for a hike. I hardly needed to be asked….. of course I want to go, this is like being asked to play catch with Joe DiMaggio. Snafu is in the hiking hall of fame and is just plain fun to spend time with her outdoors.

We got out the maps and tried to visualize which hike to take. Shenandoah? nope, done the whole thing in 2010. something local? nope, we are going to go out with a bang. McAfee’s Knob? hmmm….. probably the single most iconic photo opportunity location on the entire Trail in Virginia; too far away though, likewise Dragon’s tooth. So we settled on The Priest. It would be a 9.6 mile roundtrip with 3,000′ of vertical.

Why the Priest, exactly?

because it’s there! (George Mallory, referring to Sagarmatha also known as Mt Everest)

enter it into the GPS and away we go. We did not get on the trail until 11 o’clock. A bit late……

When we got there we took a look at the Footbridge over the Tye River, then got set up for the hike. I brought just a day pack, but still wore my boots and used my poles. Snafu was very sporty in a hot pink top and a floppy hat from Brasil.

Snafu ran ahead of me the same way she did when she was eight. There was no cell phone reception on the lower part of the trail and she didn’t bring hers anyway. But there were other hikers coming down as we ascended, so we resorted to the ancient way of passing messages – each time she passed somebody going down, she would give them something to say to me (usually “I’m not that far ahead, don’t give up”)  and we also played Marco Polo a couple of times.

I used my solo hiking time to reflect on how much better I am, than in May. Yes, I still huff and puff, I still sweat; but I can go continuously uphill for 4.8 miles with much fewer stops. And my mental attitude is well adjusted. I am ready  to take on all challenges that await me for fall semester. When I do , I will get to the mountaintop!

Why climb The Priest?

“because it’s windy up there and when he tilts his head a certain way, it makes a whistling noise as it goes through the hole in his head” (George Mallory’s sister)

the summit was glorious, despite a rattlesnake which was also sunning itself. Wet Noodle was there, a section hiker who I had not met but whose log entries I had read. I missed him because he took time to attend the Rainbow Gathering, which was in North Carolina this year. Likewise, he’d read my log entries at shelters for two hundred miles, from the whole summer. Soon we were going over the list of names of other hikers we knew in common and and he was telling me what he knew about them. I felt bad to hear that Turbo Snail  had torn the ACL on her knee, forced to stop her hike. We laughed about Forrest and how I bestowed him his nickname. Don’t Know Don’t Care  and Lost Cause were accounted for. In it’s own way this was a perfect recap of my hiking trip….. as he repacked his backpack, I told him that he could leave his hikertrash near our car when he passed through the parking lot, and we would dispose of it.

I am still slow, and despite only having a day pack, i just can’t seem to speed up and fly down hill the way I used to. I gave Snafu permission to not wait for me, and she flew off downhill like Atalanta.

On the drive home I learned that Brasil Women’s V-ball team beat the USA  for the gold medal.  I would have loved to see the game, but I would not have traded the chance to hike with a champion, for anything!


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Some day I will organize my Junk Drawer

Gentle reader:

I have three blogs.

Nursing in Hawaii is where I give advice on issues of the day especially nursing labor force issues.

Nepal Critical Care 2013 is where I write about Global Health Nursing.

and then – this one.

I thank you for staying with my travels this summer. I return to Oahu and to school next week though, and I will be retitled and refocusing this one so that it is no longer focused on my backpacking trip. I enjoy writing about non-nursing topics. In the past I threw these in with the other two blogs – for example, writing about wanting to buy a Pocket Trumpet or attending a Capoeira class. But I wish to use the first two blogs to write about nursing and global health, and all the internet advice says you get more hits if you keep it focused and not so – quirky.



The price of being eclectic

If you have stuck with me, you should now by now that I am eclectic and I live on a sparsely-populated fringe of pop culture. I love music but not the stuff you hear on the radio. I am Catholic and have worked with Christian Missionaries but I have studied Buddhism and Hinduism. I keep up with current affairs but don’t watch much television. I can do masonry, electrical wiring, sheetrock, carpentry and plumbing but I presently own just a few tools. I can phonetically read Cyrillic and Devanagari and used to sing in Polish when I was with the polka band back east. I enjoy playing sports but not watching.  I know how to defibrillate but I try not to rely on the remote when watching television.

Yeah, that’s me.

Junk Drawer?

Sometimes I think my life has been like one of those junk drawers people have in their kitchen – the place where stuff gets thrown when you don’t have a better spot and you hope to sort it out later. So, this will now be the place where I write about: The Royal Elephant Brass Band; strange things that happen in Honolulu; interesting people I meet; the process of creating my second book which I hope to embark upon; my family; Brasil; and everything else.

and so, I am renaming this blog. “Junk Drawer” will be part of the title. I don’t expect to write here every day, and I can’t say what the topic will be. If you choose to unsubscribe, now is the time, and there will be no hard feelings…….




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July 29th confession about Wood Peewees and folk dance tunes.

A reader asked what you think about all day when hiking.

everything. and nothing. I will expand on this at some point. To hike awakens mindfulness, an awareness of basic body reaction to the environment explored by Buddhists.

for me, I will reveal a sort of automatic process that took place this time around.

there is a bird known as the Eastern Wood Peewee. click on the link and you can hear the sound it makes, captured on YouTube. this time of year, most birds are silent during the day because mating season is over. you will hear the dawn chorus at 0615, for about thirty minutes, then it dies down.

Spring is the best time to listen to the symphony of birds. they sing songs of love. The dawn chorus. something I have always loved.


as many of you know, I love music and have a lot of tunes on MP3. I don’t listen while hiking though, because it depletes the battery.

One song on my playlist is ” An Dro Retournee” which is a folk song from Brittany, the French province. I like the tune. Part of the YouTube commentary on it reads as follows:

The An Dro is an ancient fertility dance from, some say the Bronze Age’ and it was danced around the fields at festivals, sometimes all night, hence it had to keep the pace even, so the people will be led into a trance, rather than to exhaustion. In this version the footwork is more in and out rather than side and on the spot, and the dance is driven by the large spiral swing of the arms. I tell you from experience, it is very energising!

And there is on particular recording of it used by many International Folk Dance groups in USA, that includes some synthesized sounds. I think the synthed parts were intended to evoke the sound of a Brittany bagpipe, but to me it sounds like a bird call or perhaps a whale recording.

and here is the mystery: sometimes as I was hiking along I would find myself singing this song.  After ten minutes or so , I would make a conscious effort to think of something else, and ask myself why this was in my head?

the answer is, whenever I passed through a spot where there was a Wood Peewee, I would recognize the sound, subconsciously at times. Next thing I knew I was singing this tune. If I were one of Pavlov’s dogs, I would have been salivating.

it’s one of those aspects of free association.  there are many examples of tunes designed to mimic bird calls – including a famous passage from Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony which uses the woodwind quintet.  Wooden bird whistles are a staple of percussion in Brasilian samba music as well.


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