Modesty, Chastity, Young Love and the taliban

Tom Avitabile | SetaraRight smack dab in the middle of editing my fourth book The Devil’s Quota – which is set in New York City, upper New York State, Canada and Afghanistan – I felt I had constructed a beautiful love story between an American G.I. and a local Afghan girl. It was all very lovely and very soft around the edges. I was positive that I had captured the true euphoria of that first spark of love, infusing into the relationship the electric sensation two soul mates tingle with every time they meet. I topped off that exchange of energy with its titillating aftermath and breathless anticipation of their next encounter. I even threw in a dash of the fanciful ‘what if’ and the ‘what when’ dreams that occupy their every idle moment.

From a plot perspective, I had set their encounter at the community well, literally at the most nurturing and central location of a war-ravaged, dirt poor Afghan farm village. I had Sgt. Eric Ronson, the perfect male hero for a love interest; a strong, strapping young warrior buck.  As for my femme extraordinaire I had an incredibly radiant, simple farm girl, Setara.  I even had over-arching symbolism in their meeting across not only the walls of the well but the one million walls between their cultures.

So I had it, the forbidden love, fighting to survive against the prejudices, mores and  traditions of the times in which they live.  And then….

The burqa happened.

Or more correctly my editor, Sue Rasmussen happened …  to come across in her research that, according to the taliban, which is known to shoot you if you do not comply, women have to wear a burqa in public. That means fully covered, without the tiniest slit for the eyes! However, the inherent slapstick comedy of women walking into walls and bumping into things is avoided with a dark mesh over the eyes. (See, the Taliban isn’t totally unreasonable.)

But I, however, walked right into a wall. The whole “their eyes met” gone, the descriptives like “the radiance on her face” gone, the insightful “he could see her attempt to suppress her elation over seeing him,” gone!

Conclusion: There is absolutely nothing on the romantic attractor side of a story if the taliban were to write it. One of many good reasons never write a Taliban-based love story, because in a world lousy with taliban, all marriages are arranged. The young-ins have absolutely no say with whom they shall grow old. In short, romance, as we would artfully construct it, becomes a charge listed on an order of execution, read aloud before the stoning to death of the young girl.  

So you can see that the Western-accepted, innocent, G-rated acts like two kids smiling at one another, God forbid holding hands, a scandalous peck on the cheek or the public humiliation and spectacle caused by him merely gazing upon her naked face, in the taliban world, puts a crimp in my romantic story. It is also a fatal AK47 bullet wound through my entire book because I need that relationship in Afghanistan as the emblematic inciting incident for the rest of the story. Those characters also become major players as the story unfolds.

At this point, I’ve got a lot riding on Afghanistan and it’s being spoiled by a thin veil of mesh fabric. That means my two love interests will pass in the night or at least the darkness of the taliban-imposed morality police.

So I took my case to the Google World Court and I looked up images of Afghan women and right there in vivid, living color, in stills taken recently, are images of many women in burqas, but then my heart stopped, almost like my male character’s, when I saw the one woman among them in the hijab. Then, I found many photographs of hijab-clad women among the populace.

The hijab saved my life.

The hijab, more like a loosely worn scarf around the head, allowing full facial features rescued my love story. Now I actually have photographic proof that hijabs and burqas can co-exist with men in the same public space.

Saved! Book back on course. Everything’s good with me. Not so much with the women living under oppression though. Hmmmm, maybe that’s another book?

You gotta Have Heart!*

*and soul, tooTom Avitabile | You've got to have heart and soul too

News Flash: When you write you can’t avoid writing about heroes, or heroics. Even when writing antagonists, you may be reflecting a reversed mirror image of the heroic. I mention this as a segue to today’s blog, which was inspired by a dear friend who reminded me of the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said:

“The mind is the last part of yourself to listen to.
It thinks of everything you can lose.

The heart thinks of everything you can give, and the soul thinks of
everything you are.”

As for the quote, I love it! Today it brought clarity to me. That quote is the prima facie case against “intellectualism.” A mental disease that is infecting our country from our young people on up to our leaders. It metastasizes when only the intellect is stimulated and nurtured vis-à-vis higher education, secular studies and culturally correct programs, to the exclusion of spirituality, connectivity and humanity.

When only the intellect grows, it dominates the person because it goes unchecked by equal growth in the heart and soul. The real damage is done because the ego, which resides solely in the mind, is also expanded as intellect grows. The ego feeds off intellectualism and without being buffered by Spirituality or Humanity, eventually takes over all. Omnipotence and greed become “intellectually” justified. Think of most of the bad guys, madmen, or evildoers in classic literature, even the most heinous ones are convinced that what they are doing is “the only way.” It could be said that their intellect was guided by their ego, which was built by their intellect. For a literary character, and unfortunately those living beings who have succumbed to this mental disorder, the weaker elements of heart and soul become manipulated into being slaves of the ego.

More and more, Harvard, Yale and the like eschewed spirituality, leaving only the development of intellect to rule the roost – and eventually the souls under its influence. Those institutes of ‘higher learning’ need to also be ‘institutes of higher spirituality and higher humanity.’ As I have alluded to in my books, without some kind of moral guidance package, pure intellect is up for grabs to be seduced by the forces of ego and greed. Now don’t mistake Spirituality or Humanity for any one idea, as in God, or Universal intellect or Scientific evolution. Spirituality is nothing more or less than a firewall against, or antidote to, Ego. By guidance package I mean whatever element within a person that guides them on a moral path, or at least a non selfish one, to the exclusion of, or abridging of, others’ rights.

As an author, one good way to define character is through the mix of Heart, Mind and Soul.  What is the percentage of impact that each of these has within the character? I think you can see which of these aspects may motivate a character through their actions.  Since I am quoting, one of my favorite Grooks (don’t ask – but a trade paperback of obvious wisdom in rhyme I was given in the 70’s by Carla Chase) is the following:

To be brave is to behave bravely even though your heart is faint,
So you can only really be brave, only when you really ain’t!

Applying Emerson to the lowly Grook: to be brave is to overcome with your heart, that which your brain is telling you you’ll lose.  Is that not a recipe for heroics? The first responders who run into the burning building while others flee, comes immediately to mind.  This is good meaty ground for planting the seeds of heroism in your characters!

AutoSynopsis Deficiency Syndrome

Open book with charactersI create, write, pitch, produce and direct ads for a living. It pays for my writing. Everyday, my whole universe is usually 75 words or 30 seconds. Someone spends millions on a company, idea, product or service, and turns to me to sell it in 75 words or less. So when I am asked to do a two page synopsis of my 106,000 word thriller, The God Particle, you would think, “Easy. Do it all day long. A snap!”

Well, three attempts later, and what I have created is a shorter book, 70 pages. Next it was a 10-page rambling, confusing essay on something based on my book and finally…a two-page ‘treatment’ that, unfortunately, reads like it was written on a roller coaster with a fountain pen.

So I got nothing. The ability to encapsulate the work of others is my bread and butter, but the ability to do my own is a crap sandwich.  I do not have the ability to perform autosynopsis. I am too close to the work. I know and birthed every one of the 106 thousand words. I know how interconnected and woven into the fabric of the story they are. As I try to summarize one thread, it leads to another, which, at this point in the garment I have sewn, is equally important. So off I go, pulling on that thread. Do that 10 or 20 times and you get to a short, crisp 70 pages without even approaching the climax.

But wait, a synopsis is not a legal contract, nor is it regulated by any federal law. And really isn’t the job of a short version of your book to sell the mother lode? So why not be more dramatic? Leave out the connectors; hit the big points, the flashy and the showy. Wow, I got it. The Synopsis isn’t the book, it’s a road map of the book. Great, with that kind of thinking…wait, that went nowhere. (50 pages of maps)

Okay, I got it, what does it matter? I mean, lets say I write the following synopsis.

Boy meets girl they have sex, more sex, good sex, then bad sex, somebody gets killed, the other wrongly accused, then the dead one reappears, they have sex again, get married, live happily ever after (or words to that effect).

The agent, publisher or reviewer reads it and the document does its job, and gets them to read the book. Which of course is nothing like the synopsis, except what I just outlined is the plot of a book one of the characters is reading in my book. But they like the whole book.  Who’s going to bitch? Which publishing professional is going to say, “Hey, you know, you turned the tables on us, like we do with practically every cover where we put a sexy girl, a gun or the American flag, to lure the reader, but once they buy the book, we’ve succeeded, nice job doing that to us. “

Eventually I solved the problem of not having been born with the synapses in my brain to perform autosynopsis. I hired a pro to do it.

Tom Avitabile, AutoSynopsis Deficiency Syndrome

Tom Avitabile

Tom Avitabile’s Gluck Radio Interview

Episode 3: What does a modern day Renaissance man think about? Meet Tom Avitabile.


He’s as close to Da Vinci as we’re going to get. He lent his mind to Congress, he directed Hollywood stars, he wrote a crime trilogy, he has white-collar success… oh, and he plays in a band. Welcome to this man’s mind.


I Love A Parade

This is a very important election for New Yorkers. They will be deciding who will tie up their traffic for the next four years.
– Barack Obama

Recently during Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg respectfully requested that the President come nowhere near New York City. That’s because a presidential visit has an inordinate impact on the infrastructure and connectivity of the City on the best of days. During a storm, it would have been positively lethal. The mayor was 100% right.

Tom Avitabile, The Hammer of GodAs Mayor Bloomberg alluded, to live in New York is to curse the President. Especially when you’re in traffic. Even more especially when you’re watching the meter in your cab go past the $20 mark because a cop three blocks away has cordoned off your street in order for the president to get from one hotel to another. And you sit back and you think: Why are we doing this?

As written elsewhere in this blog, my first exposure to anything presidential was in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson flew over my head in the blue and white Air Force One 707 (Tail number 26000). Just seeing the plane created a sense of awe and wonderment, and since those early days I’ve been hooked by all things presidential.

That doesn’t stop me from thinking critically, though. Is this visit worth spending millions of dollars in security? Is it worth tying up all this traffic? Why put up with this terrible impact on the City of New York’s ability to generate wealth for an entire day? And why are streets blocked off for hours even after he’s passed? No one has ever explained that one to me.

And then I begin to wonder if he is even in that limo. Wouldn’t it make more sense to drive Continue reading