New Year, Same Dream

I sent the manuscript I’ve been shopping around to another publisher today. The information I had said they were accepting unsolicited manuscripts; but about an hour after hitting “send”, I received one of those soul-crushing auto responses. They are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts at this time. Obviously, my intel was flawed. I guess it’s better than an outright rejection. I have great faith in this particular manuscript. I know I can get it published if I can just get someone, ANYONE, to read it.

And so, the year 2014 goes out with a pitiful whimper.

I just bought a new calendar for my office. So eager am I to see 2014 pack up and leave that I’ve already tossed the old calendar and hung up the new one. I love all the freshness and possibilities a blank calendar holds. There are no appointments scribbled into the boxes. No deadlines. No “musts”. Just birthdays and anniversaries. And dreams. Who knows what will happen by spring? If I pick a few more potential publishers from the list, might I have a contract by year’s end? How many stories will I develop from the index cards in the purple box? Maybe our financial situation will improve enough for me to work fewer hours at the day job. Who knows?

New year. Renewed dreams. Fresh courage. Original ideas. Great success. Joy in the process. Health to endure.

Wishing you (and me!) all of these things in 2015.

The Riot on 17th Street


Pop Lenahan

In light of recent events, I’ve decided to repost this true story from June 2014. It’s the view from the other side of the badge through a child’s eyes.


Copyright 2014, MJ Belko

My great-grandfather, Pop Lenahan, bought a home on 17th Street in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn at the turn of the last century.  It was a two story red brick building on a block lined by brownstones.  Both of my parents grew up on that block not far from Prospect Park.  It was a beautiful neighborhood back then, full of immigrant families who took a first-time owner’s pride in their homes.  Such a thing would never have been possible  in the Old Country.  The sidewalks were paved with a smooth, dark gray stone flecked with sparkles.  The idea that the streets were paved with gold was more than a…

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The Season for Illusions


I’m snuggled on the couch in an oversized chenille sweater.  I have before me a warm crackling fire, a cup of hot cocoa, and a writing pad.  A cold December sun is shining, hopelessly trying to warm the air outside.  People are putting up their holiday decorations and the radio stations are playing a steady diet of Christmas tunes.  It’s the perfect setting for writing, isn’t it?

Snap out of it.  I’m yanking your collective chain.  That crackling fire up there is from a DVD I popped in a few minutes ago.  If you look closely, you can even see the computer’s cursor in the middle of the frame. The only true thing about that paragraph is that I’m wearing an oversized chenille sweater.  It’s all about the illusion.

I believe the imagination fares best in an atmosphere that is wanting.  You learn to make do with what you have.

We never had a tree house; but the arrival of a new appliance to the apartment building meant the creation of a new clubhouse.  A steak knife swiped from the kitchen was the only tool we needed to cut in a door and a window or two.  The fun would last for days, until the box began to sag or the superintendent tossed it into the trash.

We always longed for a fireplace at Christmastime.  The closest we got was the yearly broadcast of “Yule Log” on WPIX.  It was a looped video of the fireplace at Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s residence), accompanied by Christmas carols.  We watched it every Christmas Eve, even when all we had was a black and white TV.  The image was enough to sustain the illusion for a couple of hours.  We were a remarkably creative bunch, my siblings and I.  We eventually put our love of cardboard boxes to use in making a fake fireplace, complete with mantel.  We painted it to look like red bricks.  The logs were discarded cardboard paper towel rolls.  The flames were orange and red construction paper.  A little glue, a little tape, and the job was done.  Our 3-D masterpiece was propped up against the wall, and we had our fireplace.  No need for the real thing now.  We were content with what our little hands had created.

It’s a strange thing for me to sift through these memories.  When I tell you a story like this, you may come away with the impression of a an idyllic family; but my parents are usually absent from these tales.  The world we made when we played was ours alone, stripped of the drinking, the fighting, and the pain.  We pulled together memories made of cardboard, tape, and glue.  A roaring fireplace emerged in our imagination that was so real for us we even sat in front of it reading Christmas stories.

I wonder at the strength of a child’s imagination.  I marvel at the ability to turn cardboard into brick and paper into flames.  And I rejoice in the adult who can skip over the bad memories and go back to that time of make-believe.

It’s all about the illusion.