Monday, December 23, 2013

Zane Grey ignored this advice!

“You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Zane Grey ignored this advice. There are believed to be over 250 million copies of his books in print.

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” With an additional 15 rejections, The Diary of Anne Frank was eventually acquired by Doubleday, who brought the translation to the world. 25 million copies have been sold.

“We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” Following this comment in a rejection, J.D. Salinger re-wrote The Catcher in the Rye, which has seen sales in excess of 65 million copies.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” An excerpt from a rejection letter sent to Dr. Seuss, who became the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.

“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years." Shunned by major publishers, Vladimir Nabokov landed a deal with Olympia Press for his novel, Lolita. The first 5,000 copies sold quickly and the book has now seen estimated sales of 50 million.

My plan? Keep on writing. Edit, edit, edit.

Continue to pursue traditional publishing while I also self-publish. 

Oh, and never give up!

How about you?


Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Do one thing every day that scares you.”

by Nib

This is what Eleanor Roosevelt said and I think it’s good advice.  Well, not the EVERY day thing. I only need so much challenge in my life. 

I like Eleanor Roosevelt. At least, I like the woman I perceive her to have been since I never met her in real life. She seems strong and capable, courageous and compassionate.

Inspired by Ellie’s nudge, I decided to take a stab at something I’ve been scared of for a long time. I shut my eyes, gulped down my fear and volunteered to teach a class on writing. It’s not a huge obligation, just a three-hour workshop. Only three hours. A mere… THREE LONG, EXCURITATING, TERRIFYING HOURS!

It’s not that I’m afraid of public speaking. I’ve read fear of public speaking ranks second only to fear of snakes. But I’m one of the lucky few who only get mildly nervous. My extreme discomfort stems from the deep-seated insecurity that I know nothing about writing. Despite having been at it long enough that my first completed novel would be eligible to vote and drink in any state, and having a published thriller and am midway through a three-book contract for a mystery series and have been included in several anthologies, I feel like a poseur. 

My generous and supportive Sisters of the Quill have been encouraging me to teach a workshop or two for quite a while. Karen Lin is a consummate teacher. She’s a sought-after presenter at writing conferences and has even scored a couple of gigs on cruise ships. Her knowledge is vast and her advice is spot-on. She’s got something to tell writers.

Both Julie Kaewart and Janet Fogg are multi-published and have years of experience. I know, from their adept critique of my work, they know their stuff and can lead any aspiring writer along the right path. I’d listen to any knowledge and advice they put out.

I sort of feel like I ought to be a super-star to put myself up as worthy of teaching. But I’m just a regular Joe (Josephine?) trying to improve with each book. I have shelves of books on writing, stacks of CDs from conferences, notebooks full from workshops I’ve attended. Every time I read a novel part of my brain is picking it apart, trying to identify why it works or why it falls flat. In other words, I’m the student, not the all-knowing teacher.

Yet, when I think about my writing journey, I’m grateful for all the writers who presented at the conferences I attended. They may not have been NY Times bestsellers (though some of them were) and they may not have known all there was to know. Some of them haven’t published a novel. But they knew stuff. Good stuff. I picked up bits and pieces and whole new ways of thinking from these writers willing to pass along what they know.

So allowing myself the benefit of not being an all-encompassing expert and realizing I’m traveling on the journey like everyone else, I’m going to do this really scary thing and teach a workshop. It doesn’t mean I’ve arrived at the Big Time. But I didn’t know anything about writing when I started and now I know a couple of things. So I’ll teach those and maybe they will help another writer improve a little.

I’m going to go out there and grow some character. Just maybe, along the way I might be able to help someone else, too.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the Hooves of Failure

That could be the title of my autobiography! It’s been a pattern. I wrote my first book while I taught high school (I used that in-class experience later while teaching writing workshops at conferences, retreats and on cruises). Though my agent was unable to sell my first novel, I had written its first draft while working as a weight loss counselor. That experience later helped in writing the proposal for a cookbook which didn’t sell despite three agents trying.

I wrote another book, food themed, and that led to my decision to try to sell the cookbook again. It failed with another agent. I raised two boys. As a writer, I was lucky enough to stay home, be involved in my boys’ educations, and speak at the schools. One thing I did was speak on writing topics. Along the way I failed to sell my third novel.   

On the side, I did some in-home cooking instruction. I coupled that with my experience cooking with my hubby's Chinese family and my weight loss counseling expertise, pitched myself, and was paid for my food thoughts and recipes. A dollar a word seemed like a lot of money for something that was sheer pleasure.

The cookbook set aside again, I started a suspense novel that involves food and Asian themes, then I tossed in an amateur sleuth who is a cooking instructor. Somewhere in the middle of all this I started a horror novel that instead became an award-winning screenplay that didn't sell, the same fate of eleven of my subsequent award-wining screenplays. But the experience improved my fiction, and my sample scripts ended up catching the attention of a producer which landed me a connection and job with an indie director and later script doctor work.

I have eight file drawers filled with all of my drafts. After writing for over 20 years, my “submissions” spread sheet has far more rejections on it than acceptances. My dear “sister,” Janet, made a great suggestion. I shouldn’t call them rejections; I should call them “declines.” So I changed the heading of that column. She was right. The publishers declined my submissions; that didn’t mean they’d rejected me or even my skills. They simply had declined that project. For whatever reason.

My life seems to have the theme of: OK start another book but do something else at the same time.

I continued to edit for others, becoming a script and book doctor.  I continued to teach writing. In fits and starts I wrote for newspapers and magazines and blogs. The exposure got me writer-for-hire gigs and allowed me to coach and midwife successful books for other writers.

Another agent took on the cookbook, she brought a contract to me, I signed and the photographer backed out at the last minute. The cookbook went on hold again. From the time I started writing to today, I’ve had poems, shorts, essays and flash pieces accepted and published, both in paper and on line. These were the little things that continued to feed my confidence that I would eventually sell a longer work and be able to do one of those fun key note speeches about my “overnight success.”

Last year, a client referred me for a celebrity ghostwriting gig that some would feel was the writing job of a lifetime. It might have allowed my husband to retire, but it ended up getting sabotaged and thrown into a tailspin.

Even that traumatic experience ended up being grist for the mill and there are 300 pages of that story in my memory stick now. Along the way I’ve been offered representation by seven agents. Yet none of my own book-length works--fiction or cookbook--has been published.

In true lemons-to-lemonade style, I don’t discount all the benefits I got along the way from those efforts. I am proof that success can follow on the hooves of failure, IF you parlay the experiences. Looking back on it, all my writing detours led to something good. If nothing else they gave me a theme for the column I write for BTS Book Reviews, appropriately name “Karen’s Writing Detours.”
 All I do now to make money, to forward my name recognition, to land that next cruise gig, to reach out for another chance to write, all my opportunities come on the hooves of failure.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Folio's Writing Detours

I began writing novels decades ago, and having just prepared my daily post for the 359th Fighter Group's Facebook page, I paused to consider how far I've traveled on my writing journey. And the directions I've turned.

My first novel was high fantasy, and when I won 3rd place in a contest, I just knew I was on my way, that editors would line up to meet me! Talk about high fantasy!  But I was smart enough to attend a Life Long Learning class on how to get published, and that detoured me into my first critique group and dear, dear friends of Uff Da Cum Laude.  Our writing has grown together as has our love and respect.

The path widened into a two-lane road as I attended conferences and learned even more about this [insert verb of your choice] business.  Years passed.  More close friends discovered.  I drafted my second novel, then a third, and I joined my second beloved critique group, the Sisters of the Quill.

And then, a highway exit loomed!  My first agent!  Down shift and accelerate!  Oops.  Hit the brakes. A complete re-write of my third novel, but no sale.  Alas, my agent had personal problems, so I made the difficult decision to let her go. A dead end?  No. Because the re-written book was better than the original.

Another conference, another agent, a fledgling this time.  She liked my voice and suggested I write contemporary romance.  I tried, but my heart wasn't in it.  We parted ways and she's now a successful agent representing only romance writers.  An opportunity lost when I didn't signal and turn right into romance?  Perhaps.  But I followed my heart. The highway was before me, and I sold that third novel to a small press.

Manuscript number four earned first place in mainstream in two contests, but the story remained firmly under 60,000 words.  So I never queried an agent, instead sending it to the long-term parking lot. I rolled on.

A detour loomed, one I never anticipated, and after transcribing the World War II diary of my late father-in-law, my husband and I drafted a book around it.  Non-fiction?  Me?  World War II?  Yep.

After learning how to drive in the non-fiction world, we contracted with a military history publisher, were nominated by the Air Force Historical Foundation for the best WWII book reviewed in Aviation History, and became firmly entrenched with the 359th Fighter Group Association and good friends with its Historian.

For several years now I've prepared a daily post for the 359th's Facebook page.  I've facilitated the return of an ID bracelet to the son of a fighter pilot, communicated with men from the Netherlands as they sought information about crash sites, and had the honor of becoming friends with 90-year old veterans.  Now, in my mind, I regularly fly Mustangs and Thunderbolts in addition to negotiating county roads, and it's fulfilling beyond belief.

This detour is special.  Preserving history.  Honoring the men that fought for freedom, who gave so much.

Yes, I'm a fiction writer and I adore it. In fact, I have three manuscripts in progress, with that long-shelved mainstream to be self-published in the spring. But I feel particularly blessed to travel in the wake of the 359th Fighter Group.  A journey I never anticipated.  A detour well worth taking.

~ Folio

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brave New World

by Nib

“Listen to this.” I rattled the paper and read from the classified ads. “Wanted: Finance and Accounting manager for village of Culbertson.”

My long-suffering partner raised his eyebrows. “And?”

“Culbertson is only eleven miles from here. I’m qualified. Maybe I ought to apply.”

He walked the three steps that took him from the far side of the kitchen through the dining room to the living room where he stood in the six inches between the sofa/desk/cafĂ© and TV to emphasize his point. “But you’re a full time writer. You don’t have time for another job.”

I shrugged.

“Right?” He pushed. “Right?”

Right. By now, I’ve been a stay at home writer for two weeks. I’ve written a ton of words and started to apply myself to all those writerly things I’ve never had time for previously. I’m studying about audio books and indie publishing. Making marketing plans and reading about the industry. I’m even trying to give myself permission to read a lot of books.

For many reasons, we made the decision that now is the time to drastically downsize our lives so I can devote my energy to writing. To make this possible, we moved to a small town in Nebraska where we plan to stay for 591 days until my partner retires and we head south. I’m thrilled and excited and full of ideas and ambition.

And scared to death.

I’ve enjoyed the push and rush of a business career. I like dressing for the office, having an excuse to buy shoes, needing a closetful of skirts and dresses and having places to wear them. I work well with schedules and routine. I really, really love a fat paycheck.

I’ve lived in rural places for big chunks of my life and I’m not too put-out with our 100 year-old house with 800 square feet of living space. I can do without the dishwasher, the automatic garage door (and in fact, the garage) and couldn’t care less about the lack of fine dining and shopping malls.

I get to live the dream. Days full of writing and time to invest in doing it right.

The awful truth, though, is that I’m not making any money. We planned for this and expected it. I've got the budgets and spreadsheets to plot my way through this new venture. My business plan doesn’t even call for income for another several months, perhaps a year, probably more. Even then, it won’t be as much as my MBA earned me. Ever. It won’t be reliable and steady.

That’s how business and life works. You take risks and do your best. You weigh quality of life issues and set heart and money on the scales. Make a decision and jump with both feet.The key for me is put away guilt and doubts. Set aside the fear and step out into this new adventure with confidence and courage.

I folded the newspaper and reached for my computer. If I’m going to write the first draft of this novel in a month, I can’t waste time reading want ads.

We all give up something to be writers. We sacrifice time with our families, money for conferences, trade-offs with recreational and relaxing events. What do you give up and is it worth it? Does it take courage to pay the cost for your writing dream?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

BTS Reviews Gets Great Review

My new post on BTS Book and Book Trailer Reviews affiliated with Barnes and Nobel is about Hollywood’s money game, how it works.    

And great news: 

The Las Vegas Guardian Express has recognized BTS for the great review resource that it is.

                                  All of us involved in BTS are proud of how the magazine is catching attention.



Saturday, November 2, 2013

Writing is Like Painting

Richard Diebenkorn's ten rules for beginning a painting:
1. Attempt what is not certain.  Certainty may or may not come later.  It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued--except as a stimulus to further moves.
3. Do search.  But in order to find other than what is searched for.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don't "discover" a subject of any kind.
6. Somehow don't be bored but if you must, use it in action.  Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can't be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

My good friend and great writer Tony Van Witsen sent this list to me.  
Stay tuned, I hope to apply these rules for beginning as I enter into a new contracted project.  More details on that later.     -  Hugs from the Inkpot 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I’m horrified if I’m ever late. I set my clocks 10 minutes ahead so it doesn’t happen.  I keep books or magazines in the car so I can sit there and read when I’m early to an appointment.  The positive: I’m considered reliable, which goes a long way in the worlds of business and friendship.  The downside is that when I do find myself late I practically go into tachycardia.

I used to get panic attacks over heavy college/work responsibilities.  I'd bite off way more than I could chew: obligations to myself and others and unrealistic goals.  If there was a chance of getting below an A on an assignment...oh boy, tachycardia.  It didn't help that I had undiagnosed Mitral Valve Prolapse and that raced beside my conscientious-fueled anxiety...literally.  I took everything as seriously as I do a spinal injection now. 

I tend to have a hard time putting things into perspective and I tend to see an email from anybody as something I have to answer right now.  Obsessive.  It is especially problematic now that I’m expanding my social media footprint.  I don't have a good filter for what is essential and what should be at the bottom of my list or not addressed at all.  I want to get back to everybody, respond to everybody’s post, read every loop message.  It’s a great burden to allow myself to take everything so seriously, as if it all needs my attention.  As if I somehow fail if I’m not helping or surpassing expectations.  My dad called me an overachiever.  I felt insulted…after all, doesn’t that imply my capabilities were not as great as my success would indicate?  See, I even feel I need to defend my conscientious nature.  

My fellow sisters are also very conscientious ladies.  Here I ask each of them about the subject:

From Stormy:

For me conscientiousness has to do with faith. I can either choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing, which for me feels as clear as choosing to stand in the light or the dark. I want to stand in the light, to be happy and close to God. The only complication sometimes is figuring out which right thing, of multiple right things, is the most right. Do you do what's right for one individual, or for a whole organization that affects many people? These are difficult situations, and sometimes personally costly. But in the end there always seems to be a clear right and wrong.

Here's an example of a time when people told me I was being ridiculously conscientious. My older daughter was invited on an amazing, exotic, luxurious vacation to a faraway island with another family. But I'd accepted another invitation for my children for that week that was less exciting, more a commitment than a vacation. Everyone said, "Just explain this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! You can't turn this down for your daughter, especially since you could reschedule your other plans for any time." But the relationship with the person we'd already committed to was important, too. We discussed it at length, agreed it was the right thing to do, and were at peace with the situation. Our family never let on that there had been another choice. I often think of this when those inevitable "better offer" situations come up. We stick with the one we accepted first.

Next time we'll hear from Nib

How do you feel about the topic of being conscientious?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writing Detours--My Monthly Column

I take detours as I write in many genres.  In August I became a columnist for BTS Book and Book Trailer Review Magazine (affiliated with Barnes & Noble). 

The first year of articles will be about screenwriting.  Hope you join me on this first leg of my journey.

The first article, in the August issue, was about making the choice to write a screenplay. I loved that BTS adorned the article with a picture of a sexy woman at the typewriter. Loved it!

September’s topic is format:

You can always find my latest column here:

Thanks for joining me!

Inkpot (AKA Karen Albright Lin – she who takes writing detours)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards Finalist!

Shannon Baker's Tainted Mountain is a finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards!

“A thoroughly satisfying mystery! Shannon Baker captures the grandeur and fragility of the western landscape while keeping the pages turning. And Nora Abbot is a fiery and tenacious sleuth whose future career in crime solving will be fun to watch.” — MARGARET COEL, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF BUFFALO BILL’S DEAD NOW

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Speaking of Public Speaking

I once mentioned that writers might want to hone their public speaking skills. This comment likely sent waves of horror through many a reclusive writer. Unless you’re a natural orator, politician, teacher, or well-practiced from your “day job,” the thought of speaking in front of a group can create fear and anxiety.

Early in my “day job” career I tackled public speaking, and while I still get hit with dry mouth before an event, my heart no longer palpitates nor do my hands shake.

A number of lessons learned have stayed with me from the Dale Carnegie classes I attended, the primary being practice, practice, practice. This means retreating to the basement or some other silent haven to practice your speech out loud. Over and over again. Trust me, if your speech is important to you, this repeated practice is equally important. The point isn’t to memorize what you’ll be saying, but rather to wrap your lips and tongue around the words and concepts so you feel more at ease, so you know your material and don’t have to “read” your speech, which bores an audience. Oh, and since I mentioned that terrifying audience, remember, they’re on your side. They want you to succeed! They’ve attended your event to be educated and entertained.

You’ll also find that the more often you speak in front of a group the easier it becomes. In fact, back in the dark ages when I had to speak publically at least weekly, I rarely even blinked. Just part of the job. But if you haven’t had the opportunity to orate, and you’re looking forward to book signings, speaking at conferences, and accepting countless writing awards (I hope we’re all looking forward to that!), then you might want to consider a class on public speaking.

Two options are Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters, though there are many other choices. One of Dale Carnegie’s mottos is “Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic,” and there’s a great deal of truth to that in many aspects of life, including public speaking. If we combine that with the Scout’s motto of “Be prepared,” now might just be the time to de-gloss that glossophobia!

Ahem... Is that an adjustable mike?

~ Folio

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Song Lyrics That Apply To My Writing

As I roamed around YouTube recently looking for songs to practice up for karaoke on my next cruise, I discovered some lyrics that reflect my life as a writer.  “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” as Fleetwood Mac advises, reminds me that writing is about moving forward, being available in all the right places, and doggedly persisting in the hard work required to have a successful career.  A support group of empathetic writer friends, especially my Sisters of the Quill, have been the “Wind Beneath my Wings” as Bette Midler called it.   

There are times when even my diligence and best laid plans are thwarted by a lack of time.  Jim Croce’s “If I Could Save Time in a Bottle” reminds me that finding time is unlikely but sacrificing sleep is possible.  I’ve been nurtured by seasoned writers, mentored.  And I believe in giving back.  As often as time permits, I help out, advising those who need it, and say to them “You've Got a Friend in Me” as did Randy Newman.  Donna Summers’ song, “She works hard for the money,” is self explanatory.  The Beatles remind me to “Let it be, let it be,” when it comes to receiving critique.  Instead of defending my words to agents or beta readers, I take notes and decide after digesting them what I want to do with those suggestions.  Though I can feel raw at times when hearing what I’m not prepared to hear, questioning input while receiving it is likely to shut doors in the faces of those who might otherwise help me in the future.  I listen and learn.

There’s one song that particularly applies to my journey; Smokey Robinson’s “I’ll Try Something New.” When one genre didn’t pan out, I tried another and another and another.  This train of “tries” freed me up for different successes.  I started with a mainstream novel.  My agent at the time took that novel to auction.  It failed to sell (which is another story).  I’ve written in numerous genres since, some now in a drawer.  Others met with more success: short stories, poetry, nonfiction articles, screenplays, and a cookbook.  It turned out I had nothing to lose in branching out and trying other genres.  It gave me experience in a wide variety of work leading to a part time editing job, publication in glossies, a produced screenplay, teaching opportunities at conferences, retreats, and on cruises, and ghostwriting gigs (including a life-lesson celebrity experience).  Exposure over time led to offers of representation by five literary agents, a Hollywood agent, and most recently an invitation to write a column for Barnes & Noble partner BTSemagazine—apropos, the column capitalizes on my many writing detours.  Additional forays have led to guest blogging invitations and other social networking opportunities that will help when a novel comes out, a screenplay hits the theaters, or a cook in England tries one of my recipes.  

That brings me to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” reminding me that I am and will continue to be rewarded for all my efforts.  And you will, too. 
What songs speak to your writing life?   -  Inkpot

Monday, August 19, 2013

Foggy Book Trailers!

Trail Winds
by Janet Fogg

Fogg in the Cockpit
by Richard and Janet Fogg

by Janet Fogg

Sunday, August 11, 2013


One of my favorite food related adventures was the Tuesday food exchange with my Columbian friend, Zahydee.

Every first and third Tuesday of the month, I tapped into my cache of memorized recipes and doubled up on a coordinated meal. I called Zahydee. She bounced down the sidewalk, sniffed her way through my door, down the hall, and into my kitchen. We sat down to one of my well-rehearsed spreads: Greek or Persian, sometimes Italian or Hungarian. All the time I’d spent experimenting paid off in her smile.

On the second and fourth Tuesdays, I was treated with an exotic array: Columbian empanadas, cucumber salad, and a no-holds-barred version of tripe soup quite different than the menudo I’d enjoyed in good Mexican restaurants.

Zahydee's tamales
 My favorite, by far, were the Columbian tamales. By now I’d wrapped a variety of husk-filled little logs representative of several Mexican regions. But her green bundles were new to me, each an enfolded bit of paradise.

Replacing the more familiar cornhusk with emerald green banana leaves, the steamed result delighted with uniquely flavored masa, onions, and chicken. Upon digging deeper, I found unexpected carrots and green olives.

  Though jobs inevitably took Zahydee and me to different states, ending our Tuesday swap, she gave me a parting gift I’ll be forever grateful for. She taught me how to make Columbian tamales. I couldn’t bear the thought of depriving myself of the occasional banana leaf wrapped wonder. Thank you Zahydee for teaching me one more recipe I could add to my cookbook!
-Good Cooking!  - Inkpot (AKA Karen Albright Lin)
Columbian Tamales

Thursday, August 8, 2013

COOKBOOK TALK: Why I Cook in Leaves

My infatuation over the Galloping Gourmet ended abruptly once I discovered three-dimensional real-time boys.
     Latino hunk, Manuel, swept me off my middle school, size five feet.  It was on his tie-dyed bedding, surrounded by black velvet rock art and the required black lights, that I had my first…
     The doctored masa with a choice of fillings steamed in cornhusk qualifies in my book as food cooked in leaves.  What’s a husk if not a glorified leaf with static cling?  I must have known I’d someday write this cookbook.  You could say I used Manuel for my tamale education.  But, he got even ten-fold using me for my social studies test answers.  Our mutual opportunism ended after a mouthwatering two weeks.
     I honed my taste for the exotic with Freshmen crush, Eric.  His Behemian father gave me smuggling tips for getting betal leaves into the US.  They are stimulants and anti flatulents (the latter, I joked, was the reason commercial importations are banned). 
betal leaves
The mildly addictive cousin of cocaine is commonly sold on the streets throughout Asia where people wrap betel nuts, lime and spices in them. 
Pate in Cabbage Leaves
A Hungarian defector helped me refine my stuffed cabbage galumpkies. At left is a later rendition, an entire cabbage stuffed with pate and served cold as an appetizer.  Later a twine-thin African American broke every food stereotype by eating only endives (sans the filling I offer up in the cookbook). 
Stuffed Endives
His anorexia made him much less appealing around meal times.  Then there was the Jewish intellect.  He liked kosher stuffed cabbages but not his mother’s corn flakes-coated gefilte fish.  He confused me with one set of dishes for dairy and one for meat, a yearly clearing of the yeast, and his inability to de-bone fish on the Sabbath. 
Then came first generation Christophoros, AKA Greek God.  I loved him as only a food-crazed high school girl can love.  Everything about him tantalized my senses. 
I could smell his house from a block away, like approaching the Greek Orthodox gate into heaven: garlic, onions and green peppers browning in extra-virgin olive oil, tomato and lemon juice simmering with bulgar, goat feta and something briny that turned out to be preserved grape leaves, which developed into an obsession that lasted beyond the six years we dated. 
Chris’s mother, Helena Papos, was an olive-chubby Cypriot who stood only as tall as my shoulders.  But she was a giant if measured by her pastichio and baklava.
She taught me what I needed to know to marry her son.  The path to his eternal devotion, she assured me, led right to his stomach.
No one could more skillfully incorporate kasseri cheese into bread, fold spanikopita into perfect triangles, or better teach the fine art of filling and rolling vine leaves into dolmathes.  
“Every girl should make dolmas,” Helena said with pinched Os and not-quite D’s. 
She instructed, “Pull the clump of leaves from the jar.  Rinse.  Flatten one out on the counter, veins up. Now add filling like this.”
I emulated.

“No, no, not enough.  You’ll starve my Christophoros to death with that pea-sized filling.”
I scooped more onto the leaf.
“Roll like this.  Like a cigar.”
I was suppose to know how cigars were rolled?
“Side near you up.  Two sides in.”
I copied her motions.
Over the next half hour, we rolled and wrapped and packed the Dolmas until we had enough to satiate all the circle dancing members of a typical Greek wedding reception.  We’d sealed the stuffed leaves, we’d sealed our friendship.
Thanks to Helena, I was hooked on cooking in Leaves.
Inky - AKA Karen Albright Lin