“Hesitant bursts, with long silences in between”

How lucky could a writer be to have a partner whose idea of a good summer read is the fiftieth anniversary edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style?

Just this morning he read to me from the foreword by Roger Angell, E.B. White’s stepson. Angell describes White typing his weekly New Yorker column as sounding like “hesitant bursts, with long silences in between.”  I can’t imagine a better description of what it is like to write, or a better statement than the one White frequently made about the result:  “I wish it were better.”

Actually “Strunk and White,” all the identification this slim volume needs, has its origins ninety years ago, when E.B. White took a course from Professor Will Strunk at Cornell University. One of the required texts was a roughly fifty page, self-published text by Strunk, presumably designed to help students write papers that would not be quite so painful to read. Almost forty years later, in 1957, White dusted off this little treasure, and with minimal updating, launched it into the realm of the true classics.

The fiftieth anniversary edition contains all Strunk’s original, pithy advice, plus an essay by White, who is perhaps best known as the author of Charlotte’s Web. “The  preceding chapters contain instructions drawn from established English usage,” White explains.  “This one contains advice drawn from a writer’s experience with writing,”  and is meant as “mere gentle reminders [of] what most of us know and at times forget.”

So here, dear readers (and writers), are a few of my favorites:

“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.  The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” So true! It is with these that we build a strong text, relying on modifiers only when the situation cries out for more than powerful, well chosen nouns and verbs can provide.

“Do not dress up words by putting ‘-ly’ on them, as though putting a hat on a horse.” I’ve made a point in my recent work of trying to avoid all use of “-ly,” unless to do so creates worse difficulties in producing crisp, succinct writing. This always has to be the ultimate goal, but it’s better to show what a sly smile looks like, than say “she smiled slyly.”

And my favorite, though most painful of them all: Revise and rewrite.  Remember it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurence in all writing, and among the best writers.” I’m in good company, apparently, because I think I spent more time revising Until Our Last  Breath than I did writing the original manuscript.  It’s no fun, and as I near the end of the first draft of my new novel, The Laws of Motion, I know much of the heavy lifting still lies ahead.  Everyone who’s ever written a book, or even a page, knows to expect to mess with it over and over again, and perhaps to end up throwing it away altogether.

Our first drafts are the pass in which all the potential of the material cries out and it’s our job to impose discipline on it.  Sometimes we don’t want to do that, and I think  we shouldn’t  worry about it too early in the process. Often it’s easier for others to assess a new work as a whole, and the person we become by writing it (yes we do grow and change!) frequently delivers some good messages about how it could be improved.

In the end, the taskmaster for all writers is the same one E.B. White listened to, the one that says “make it better.”  And every writer knows that such a taskmaster is never silenced just because a work has an ISBN number and a cover around it.  I wonder whether Strunk or White ever winced at their own published  writing.  I know I sometimes do at mine.



The Four Seasons, Until Our Last Breath

Grand Prize Winner at the San Diego Book Awards!

Last Saturday evening, UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH won best biography, and THE FOUR SEASONS won best historical fiction at the 2009 San Diego Bookcatnhat2 Awards.  But there’s more!  THE FOUR SEASONS won the Theodor S. Geisel Award for book of the year!  To be recognized for my writing with three awards at this event, and earlier this year at the Christopher Awards in New York, is so far beyond anything I’ve experienced as a writer that I’m still pinching myself.

Here’s a link to the San Diego Union-Tribune article, “Top honor to ‘Seasons’ at S.D. book awards” and the San Diego Book Awards site

with my sister (and my toughest critic) at the San Diego Book Awards
with my sister (and my toughest critic) at the San Diego Book Awards



Here I am with my sister Lynn celebrating the San Diego Book Awards wins, and later, with the  honorary hat!

Better than trophy, that hat of a cat!
Better than trophy, that hat of a cat!

Two Prophets, Two Novels

1I’ve been writing short reviews for the Historical Novel Society Magazine for several years now, but it was exciting to see my first full-length book review published in San Diego Jewish World.  It’s about a recently released novel,  THE SHALOM INDIA HOUSING SOCIETY, by Esther David, which has as one of its main characters a very amusing prophet Elijah.

Next up, a review for Jewish Book World of  DRAWING IN THE DUST, by Zoe Klein, a rabbi in Los Angeles.  Her novel, like Michener’s THE SOURCE, juxtaposes a plot involving a present-day archeological dig with another story about the subject of the dig, the prophet Jeremiah.  This will be my first review for Jewish Book World, the most important source for information about books of Jewish interest.  They’ve asked me to be a contributor and I’m honored to be part of what is sometimes described as the Publishers Weekly for Judaica.

The Four Seasons, Until Our Last Breath

San Diego Book Award Finalist–Twice!

I received word this morning that both UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH and THE FOUR SEASONS  are finalists for

With Sarah Landis, my editor for THE FOUR SEASONS.  Thanks, Sarah, for your great work!
With Sarah Landis, my editor for THE FOUR SEASONS. Thanks, Sarah, for your great work!

 2009 San Diego Book  Awards.  I’ve been told that being a finalist in two categories in one year is a rare accomplishment, and I am deeply honored to have my writing acknowledged in this way.


From A (Ackerman) to Z (Zoo)

Today marks the publication of my fifth article for San Diego Jewish World  in the last few months.  This one is about Diane Ackerman’s recent “One Book, One San Diego” visit in connection with her wonderful book The Zookeeper’s Wife.  Here’s a link to the article, or you can go to my San Diego Jewish World author page for links to all my articles.

With Diane Ackerman at a reception in her honor at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center
With Diane Ackerman at a reception in her honor at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center
Uncategorized, Until Our Last Breath

The Christopher Connection

At the Christopher Awards with my medal for writing Until Our Last Breath"
At the Christopher Awards with my medal for writing Until Our Last Breath

I’m sitting in the departure lounge at JFK thinking how glad I am I came to New York to receive in person my Christopher medallion for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH (that’s the award, pictured to the right).

I spent part of the morning of the awards ceremony with Sarah Landis, my Hyperion/VOICE editor, admiring the amazing view of the Empire State Building from Hyperion Books’ new digs in Lower Manhattan. It’s nice to see the publisher’s enthusiasm for THE FOUR SEASONS remains high, and that sales are holding steady.

Later I went uptown to see my agent, Meg Ruley. The Jane Rotrosen Agency’s digs are the opposite of the sleek, ultramodern Hyperion offices. Jane remodeled a multi-story townhome she bought many years ago (smart lady!) into a home for the agency, and a home it truly is. They’ve kept the cozy look, with a comfortable parlor filled with clients’ books, a backyard garden, and a creaky staircase with flowered wallpaper. The only thing that says not to expect a corseted matron to sweep in from an Edith Wharton or Henry James novel and ring the maid for tea is the posters of agency best-sellers covering the walls and stairwell. In every little cranny and back room of the house-turned-business, some of the nicest people in New York (including Meg herself) are hard at work helping their clients succeed. I am truly fortunate to be among them.

Meg and I went from there to the Whitney Museum to see the current exhibition featuring works by Jenny Holzer. Holzer is best known for scrolling neon marquees featuring her own aphorisms and quotations from others. The focus of this show was the occupation of Iraq, using statements from civilian and military officials, US soldiers, and Iraqis to portray the toll of war on human life and character. Since one is forced to read at the relentless pace of the marquees – slower than normal reading speed but too fast to absorb nuanced meanings – the overall effect is of being caught up in a wash of language that is both confrontational and elusive. It left me speechless, an amusing irony not just since Holzer’s foundation is words, but because as a writer I am not usually at a loss for them.

I walked back to my hotel through Central Park in springtime. The petting zoo was full of kids in winter coats they have not yet shed, but which now flop open with no more than a t-shirt underneath. For New Yorkers I imagine that’s as much a sign of spring as flowering trees and daffodils.

The Christopher Awards ceremony that evening touched me deeply. In the beautiful McGraw-Hill auditorium, I watched clips of the winning films and television specials with my companion for the evening, author Susanne Dunlap (LISZT’S KISS, EMILIE’S VOICE, THE MUSICIAN’S DAUGHTER). Michael Bart and his wife, Bonnie, were there as well, since we jointly received the award for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH–Michael for his years of research and me for my writing. Congratulations to you again, Michael, and to Bonnie as well.

Afterwards, Susanne and I partied with Oscar the Grouch, who said he didn’t see why he had to leave his comfortable garbage can just because the Sesame Street Group received the lifetime achievement award that night. Muppeteer Carroll Spinney, who had Oscar on his arm, confided to me when his little green friend wasn’t listening that he doesn’t think Oscar is really all that grouchy, since he knows how much Carroll loves him.

Susanne and I stayed until the clean-up crew ripped out the tablecloth under our empty wine glasses (well, not exactly, but they looked like they might). By then the pianist was accompanying Carroll, who was singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and “The Rainbow Connection” with Mousketeer-era people like me -all of us Sesame Streeters through our children and grandchildren.

With only about two dozen remaining guests, the room was quiet enough for a few last conversations, some of the best of the evening. I spent a little time with Father Dennis Cleary, the new director of The Christophers, which gave me the chance to tell him in person how thrilled I was that the themes I had tried to convey in UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH had been recognized by the awards committee. There’s a consistent message in all my novels as well as this book, that our decisions are what define us as people, and that principled choices enable us to become more than we might imagine possible.

I finished my stay in New York with a visit the following morning to the Frick Collection for what’s becoming a tradition for me and another author friend Stephanie Cowell (MARRYING MOZART and THE GREEN DRESS). We’ve been meeting at a different art museum each time I’m in New York, and we stroll around catching up with each other between stops to admire the paintings. Stephanie is a lifelong New Yorker, and she showed me a Rembrandt self-portrait, done in middle age, that has been a force in her life for many years – a heady blend of saint, sage, and bodhisattva, whose eyes hold her accountable for herself since her last visit.

As we left the museum, I was holding a rolled up poster of the Rembrandt, since I don’t think I’ll be at the Frick often enough for him to work that spiritual magic on me in person. After a quick stop at a deli, we took our lunch to Central Park and sat in the spring light talking about our books, both published and in progress, and about using our blessings well. The evening before, Father Cleary had ended by thanking the honorees for our creative expression, and offering a prayer that we all might continue to use our talents and skills to make future Christopher-worthy contributions as writers and filmmakers. I intend to do my best to live up to that challenge.

Time to board the plane for home. A very nice thought indeed.

Until Our Last Breath

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Title page of 2007 manuscript sold to St. Martin's Press
Title page of 2007 manuscript sold to St. Martin's Press

Recently I was sorting through some old files and came across several items that might be of interest to those aware of Michael Bart’s claim that he is the author of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. Shown here is the title page of the manuscript as sold to St. Martin’s Press in 2007 and the title page for the original 2004 book proposal. Both of these provide concrete evidence of my role as the book’s author.  The meaning of “by” and “with” is clarified inside the proposal:
About the Author

Laurel Corona is a tenured professor of English and Humanities at San Diego City College. She has also taught at the University of California at Davis, San Diego State University, and the University of California at San Diego.

Additionally, Dr. Corona is the author of approximately twenty books for middle and high school students, published by Lucent Books, a division of Greenhaven Press. A partial list includes the following titles:
World Religions: Judaism
American Immigrants: The Jewish Americans
The Cold War: The War Within a War: Vietnam and the Cold War
The Way People Live: Life in Moscow
Building History: The World Trade Center
Modern Nations Series: Israel, Poland, Norway, South Africa, The Russian Federation, Ukraine, France, Kenya, Brazil, Ethiopia, Peru, Afghanistan

Dr. Corona was a Charter Fellow in the San Diego Area Writing Project in 1977, and has won awards for her writing, including winning the on-site writing contest at the Santa Barbara Writing Conference in 1996. She has been active as an editor and contributor to the San Diego City College literary journal, City Works, which attracts submissions nationwide.

Title page of original 2004 book proposal
Title page of original 2004 book proposal (with contact information removed)


Dr. Corona has also been a guest lecturer on subjects relating to Judaism at local synagogues and community groups as a result of her authorship of books on Israel, Judaism, and Jewish immigrants. She has traveled extensively to Eastern Europe, Israel and elsewhere in the course of her research on Judaism and the Jews. A formal resume is attached as an appendix to this proposal.

About the Contributor

Michael Bart is the son of Eliezer (Leizer) and Zenia Lewinson Bart. He has taken information and original documentation shared with him by
his parents and spent eight years researching and interviewing Holocaust survivors throughout the world, and collecting additional documentation and photographs to help tell the story of Until Our Last Breath.

He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, where his parents had found sponsorship with American relatives. He has been a resident of San Diego for 37 years. He has a BS in Business Management and an MBA in Finance from San Diego State University. He has worked as a real estate investor and developer for 26 years. He is a current board member of the Second Generation of Holocaust Survivors Group in San Diego. He and his wife Bonnie live in Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego.

This is a truthful representation of the authorship of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH. Mr. Bart’s approval of both the proposal and manuscript title pages, as well as the author and contributor descriptions, is direct acknowledgment that throughout the process the word “author” (as that word is commonly used and understood in connection with books) applied to me alone, and that the book was “by Laurel Corona.”

The only “official” source of information is the book itself. A footnote in the preface states that I “did all the writing for the text.” The back flap states that I am “the writer of this book.” Instead of using his website and appearances to promote himself–and himself alone–as “the author” of a book that he did not write, Mr. Bart should be saying how fortunate (and grateful) he is to have found someone with my background and skill who was willing to take on this difficult, multi-year project with no assurance of publication, or indeed any form of reward except what comes from a job well done.

It would be painful for any author to see the arduous process of writing so disrespected, and to stand by watching years of one’s work appropriated by someone else. Given the many books and shorter pieces I have published as an individual author, and in light of what I presume is the obvious value of experience and expertise in producing work of award-winning quality, it is astonishing to be treated so dismissively. I  am not only professionally harmed but also deeply offended by Michael Bart’s abuse of the honorary title of “author”; by his refusal to acknowledge me as the writer of UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH; by his comments about my motives; and by his  insinuations that I lacked the competence and/or the willingness to write, revise, and edit this book in an acceptable manner, and that my work required major intervention by him to bring it to a publishable level. He is aware of my concerns but has not acted in any positive way to address them.

For more information, please visit the Q&As on this site

Uncategorized, Until Our Last Breath

Spring Housekeeping

People tell me they love my website, created by Gabriel Porras and Patricia Maas at Blue Jay Tech, but there’s always room for improvement!  While they’re working hard behind the scenes on the technical requirements to improve access, add information, and make the site more fun to rummage around in, I am doing some updating of the text.  For those of you who check in regularly, watch for a lot of changes over the next few weeks.  For now, I’ll point you to the first substantial change, which is my rewritten Q&As on Until Our Last Breath.  Go to the bookshelf button to locate the book,  and click Q&As once you’re there.  Or you can cut to the chase, and use this link.