The Characters Write their Story

Writing Yoga for Detectives: First Lesson was the kind of experience you’ve all had where it grabs you by the heart and you trip over your own feet, laughing, trying to keep up.

It was joyous and fun and refreshing.

I met Jaya, Arielle, Tal, Ansui, Rose, and all the others, along with my readers.

Friends of mine asked me if I had modeled Jaya after myself but, really, there’s some of me in all the characters. Sure, on some days I feel like Jaya. But on others I’m much more Ansui. At times I’m Tal, while at others I’m more Yitz. Sometimes 82 year old Rose and sometimes 9 year old Arielle. They’re all inside  me.

Mostly, they took on personalities of their own. Words flew out of their mouths via my fingers on the keyboard, not the other way around. When I tried to create their conversations through my fingers, they most often didn’t ring true and I had to wait patiently for my fingers to let go and surrender to the characters.

The story line tumbled out day by day. I was never quite sure where it would all end up.

These are all the kinds of realities that can be frustrating for would-be authors to hear.

What does it even MEAN? That the characters are in control of their actions and words in a book, and not the author? That the story tells itself, instead of the author making all the decisions?

I remember a Hebrew teacher telling my class, when asked how we know whether the plural of a word is the feminine ending “oht” or the masculine ending “eem”, that it just rings true or not. “How in the world does anything ring true to someone only just now learning the language?” I thought, in frustration.

Frustrating or not, it’s true of language and it’s true of writing.

I fell in love with the characters of my first book. And that’s what’s complicating my second.

The story is taking me to some dark and dangerous places this time. It’s not clear to me yet, as I begin writing Chapter 28, if all my beloved characters are going to survive. The plot is twisty and following an ominous path and there are some days when I’m too fearful for my characters to continue.

Several of my characters have begun to show less attractive traits, alongside the wonderful traits with which I originally fell in love. And that’s hard. In some ways, oddly, I’m finding it harder to expose their faults than it is to expose my own. (Someone has suggested that, perhaps, their faults ARE my own.)

We’re traveling to parts of India and Spain  where I’ve never physically been. How peculiar that after reading about these places, seeing photographs of them and writing about them, I feel that my characters have taken me there and shown me around, through their eyes.

Writing. Not an experience for the faint of heart.

As if self-discipline weren’t challenging enough, there you are, meeting yourself on the path over and over, in the most unanticipated places with the most unexpected feelings. Not all pleasant.

This time my characters and their story are sometimes dragging me forward reluctantly instead of grabbing my heart joyfully.

But I’m all in for the journey.



Dinner with Buddha

Dinner with BuddhaAuthor Roland Merullo has served Buddha breakfast and lunch and, now, in his new book Dinner with Buddha, dinner. Here we rejoin the characters we met and learned to love in the two earlier books.

The narrator is 52 year old Otto Ringling, former senior editor for a book publishing firm in New York. Otto is once again called on by his sister, Cecelia, to join her esteemed Russian/Tibetan monk husband, Volya Rinpoche, in an adventure.

From their North Dakota retreat and meditation center, they head out to the mountains, guided by one of Seese’s dreams, stopping along the way to meet people based on her directions. Otto’s skepticism, mixed with admiration, toward his much respected brother-in-law provides a foundation upon which readers can stand firmly.

Volya Rinpoche’s enthusiasm and joy in living in the moment, as expressed in his slightly off kilter English and newcomer’s understanding of American culture, repeatedly brings a smile to the reader’s lips. When he adopts the phrase, “Bet your ass, man!” from someone along their journey, Otto reflects on the trouble he could get into –

“I didn’t have the energy just then for yet another lesson in the American vernacular, though I found myself wondering, tiredly, if one day this new affectation would get him into trouble. In a week or two weeks, up in the mountains somewhere – Wyoming, Colorado, Montana – a tough waitress would ask him if he wanted anything besides butter with his oatmeal and he’d say, “Bet your ass,” and there would be a scene. Or he’d hold the hotel door for a bull rider and his girlfriend on the morning after a rodeo and the young woman would thank him, and he’d say, “Bet your ass.” Or we’d be in a library in New Mexico, there to do research on American Indian artifacts, and the librarian would ask, “Can I help you” Bet your ass you can. Or we’d be in a rest area, the kind that were peopled by lonely men in sedans, and Rinpoche would head for the edge of the trees, curious about some butterfly or bird he’d seen there, and one of the men would say, “Want to take a walk?” And so on. There was no end to the trouble a misplaced “bet your ass” could cause a person. This was my mind spinning. this was my mind.”

BuddhaRinpoche’s syntax in English is charming. Otto’s relationship with him is complex. Seese’s love for both her husband and her brother is generous and unconditional.

The reader learns, along with Otto, to appreciate and trust Rinpoche’s wisdom, even as he’s described as having a Speedo bathing suit which Otto describes thus,

“Given the inappropriately small size of Rinpoche’s Speedo, and the powerful torso and legs it revealed, and given the kind of antics of which my brother-in-law was capable, I said a small prayer of thanks, as we made our way to the elevator, that, this time at least, he’d decided to wear his robe over the bathing suit.”

Incongruously, Rinpoche Volya joyously yells, “Colorado!” as he cannon balls into the motel swimming pool and rises at 3 a.m. everyday to sit in silent meditation without moving a muscle for 3 hours. He loves his wife and daughter with all his heart and yet when Otto is consumed with worry about them, after hearing about a possible threat to their lives, says:

“Right now. In this minute, in this second, Chinese killing?”


Tapping three times on the table. “In this second, they killing?”


“They hurting Shelsa?” (his daughter)


“Worry is in your mind the pictures. You think you see these men but what you now in this minute see is this,” he pointed to his own face. “And this,” the teacup.”Worry is worry, man.”

Something is afoot. Changes are on their way. Hints abound but clarity is slow in coming. No matter. Every chapter is filled with gems for the reader to remember for her own life journey.

I loved this book. I didn’t want it to end. I worried about whether there would be “Dessert with Buddha” or if this was IT.  anxiety

The final Merullo book about these people I’d grown to love.

And then I heard Rinpoche’s voice and tried to integrate his instruction to “rest inside that love now, man, and we be quiet.” and not to “pay too much attention (to that feeling) or try to hold onto it because the part that wants to hold on is the part you letted (sic) go to have this feeling.”

meditation 11


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