About Lori Berhon

Lori Berhon is a New-York based novelist and playwright. Her work is distinguished for its intelligence and for the vivid humanity of even her most impossible characters. She is actually taller, slimmer and far more elegant than she appears to be.


The NYC summer is in full swing and with warm-weather acres of flesh on parade, the streets and subways are a gallery of the tattooist’s art.

When I was a kid, spotting a tattoo on a NY beach usually meant you’d come across a Hell’s Angel, a Holocaust survivor or someone who spent most of his time at sea. Like so much else in the years between the Surgeon General’s Report and vaping, this changed. Rock stars (of course) led the way, with artists and chefs and a new breed of geeks hot on their heels. The tattoo renaissance became a tsunami: wave after wave of teens and young adults leaping to show that they too were unique, just like everyone else! And that first inky flower or flag or motto (frequently, dangerously, in a language the bearer doesn’t quite know) is only an ice breaker. With tattoos, like potato chips, it seems to be hard to have just one.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the craving to mark your exterior with an indelible symbol of something that’s burned itself into your soul. The main reason I’m not tattooed is that I’ve never felt a symbol that I could commit to. What I don’t understand is the compulsion to collect tattoos as if they were medals or merit badges. I write my life on pages, not on my body.

The other evening, I exited the subway directly behind a young woman whose sleeveless top and short skirt displayed barely an inch of bare skin. The images were large and bold, but neither elegant nor graceful, not particularly interesting at all except for the quantity. There was something that looked like a Chinese dragon and something else that resembled a playing card but wasn’t (a symbol from a Mahjong tile maybe?). There were a couple of miscellaneous floral and vine motifs. All perfectly competent but nothing more. I had to assume, therefore, that for her to have had so much of her body embellished, there must meaning in each image and a purpose to the overall design; and, because it was a drizzly rush hour and there was only the one stairway, I was stuck for two solid minutes with nothing to do but try to find it. From a purely visual standpoint, other than the red and black color scheme, it all seemed random. There were formless gaps between the images; no connective filigrees or hatching, no rhythm of line and curve in the placement, which seemed to have been selected purely according to the limits of the size and shape of her limbs. Surely there must be a story the young woman was trying to tell. An autobiography of sorts. There had to be, I thought, for someone to commit to covering one’s entire body with art that couldn’t be removed, not to mention the cost of the work in pain and money. I assumed I simply lacked the touchstones to interpret it.

I suppose you’re wondering why I didn’t just ask her what it meant. I both couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Couldn’t because of that bone-bred New York City thing whereby, once we pass the innocent age of 6 (or thereabouts), we learn to shrug and accept that there are more things than we have dreamt of in our philosophy and let our eyes skip past what we don’t understand. And wouldn’t because those two minutes thinking on the stairs had been enough to, pardon the expression, get under my skin. Could someone who didn’t look to be out of her 20’s truly have so much life to commemorate that she was already running short of skin to ink? Either she did, in which case I was jealous as hell of the richness of such a life; or she was faking it in a peculiarly extreme way, making her both pretentious and stupid, both of which flip my personal hostility switch.

Moreover, this walking collage was pushing my angry artist button. If you’re going to make a public display of art, it ought either explain itself or tickle a subterranean spring of emotions that make explanation unnecessary. Her body art did neither and yet, meaningless as it was, as she walked through the street, people were forced to see it.

Oh, that really made me fume! My blood boiled with the same flavor of resentment I feel for subway dance teams, and street buskers, and the kinds of painters and plastic artists who create images that can be viewed in a single glance. Audience envy! I don’t know how many hours it takes any of those artists to create a piece of work. Maybe it takes the same couple of thousand hours for them to nail that dance routine or paint that landscape as it takes me to write a novel. The difference is that, once their art has been created, they can make people hear it or see it. I can’t. Reading novels takes too much time: time, which is limited and already has too many demands on it. The painting is displayed on someone’s Facebook page, and people can gaze at it long enough to decide they “like” it in less time than it would take most of them to read a single page I’ve written. You walk by the busker, the music catches your ear, you stay for the whole piece—less time than reading a chapter. If people enjoy what they see or hear, they’ll listen to or view it again, or they’ll find something else of that artist’s to consume. You could listen to Mozart’s lifetime of music or view Van Gogh’s entire surviving output in less time than it takes to read a single novel.

My stories, although available to the world, aren’t accidentally brushed by but have to be sought, and demand hours of attention to consume. While, whether I want to or not, whether I understand it or like it or not, I exit the subway and take in the incomprehensible story written by a tattooed girl.

Saying Goodbye to My Reading Diary

When I was in fifth grade, I had a teacher who loved books as much as I did. While the school and local public librarians could tell me about classics, only Mrs. Schwinger knew anything about contemporary books. It was Mrs. Schwinger who told us about  Island of the Blue Dolphins and A Wrinkle in Time and Harriet the Spy. She kept her own small library of recent volumes in the back of our classroom. If you finished an assignment before the rest of the class, you were encouraged to pick one up and read at your desk. For Florence Schwinger, as for me, reading wasn’t a chore but a delight. Every Friday afternoon, when we returned from lunch, we’d push back our desks and have a “sharing” session to tempt others to read the books we’d particularly enjoyed: individually or in pairs, we’d perform a sketch or a song, show a diorama or poster, or simply stand up and speak. You read, you grow; you share; you remember. 

To help with that last piece, Mrs. Schwinger had us keep a reading diary. We kept them in slim, soft-covered booklets of square-ish proportion, very similar to the blue books I’d someday be given for my college history exams except that the cover pattern was the mottled black-&-white “composition” print so familiar to several generations of American school kids. Every time we finished reading a book, we were to record the title, the author and the date, plus as little or as much as we wanted to say, so long as it showed that we’d read the actual book and not just the jacket blurb. Mrs. Schwinger periodically collected these notebooks, to keep on top of what we were reading (and presumably what we were thinking). When a notebook was complete, she’d keep it and hand us a fresh one.

Sometime between senior year of high school and heading off to college, a surprising manila envelope appeared in the mailbox: one of my 5th grade reading diaries. I can only think that Florence felt that the threshold of adulthood was a good time for us to touch base with our pre-teen selves. What it did for me was show me how many books I’d read that I’d entirely forgotten—at least consciously (I often question whether my subconscious has forgotten anything I’ve ever read). I decided that, as a freshman in college, I would resume the habit Florence had encouraged. I would keep a reading diary again. Anticipating that there would be a great deal of class-related reading in college, I further decided that my Book Book (as I called it) would be limited to books read for pleasure.

I’ve kept up the habit over the decades since college. Thanks to my collection of Book Books, I can verify whether I really read the book or only think I did because I saw the movie. I can confirm that I was not at all amused by Confederacy of Dunces and was completely perplexed by everyone else’s enthusiasm for Fear of Flying. I know that, for catharsis during a bad break-up, I binged on Jean Rhys; and that I waited far too many years before picking up my first Terry Pratchett (it was Moving Pictures). It can be fascinating to look back and see not only what I was reading but how much time/energy I felt like putting into commenting on it. There are flashes of envy, when I had to acknowledge how meagre my own gifts were by comparison to a specific writer…and sometimes envy of a writer who left me thoroughly unimpressed but who nonetheless had the power to command an agent, a book deal and what I felt were ridiculous accolades from reviewers. Sometimes the diary entries are a glimpse into my heart, but other times they amount to little more than a plot summary, concluding with “a pleasant enough read.”

For the last couple of years, it’s been increasingly difficult to maintain these records. I still keep a list of what I’ve read (mostly in an effort to vary my reading, which is especially challenging during sad times when I want to binge on mysteries or fantasies) but I’ve often found myself lagging months behind in writing down my thoughts. The longer the lag, the more arduous the act became, to the point where I realize that I’ve effectively quit. And yet, I’ve hesitated to turn the key in the lock and officially call it closed.

There’s always been a significant archivist quotient to my nature. The Book Book is only one element of this. I’ve also historically kept elaborate photo albums and preserved other artifacts. Only recently have I begun to question who I’ve been keeping these archives for. When I began, I must have imagined they’d have some value beyond my own lifetime. As it’s turned out, however, I have no children and I’ve made no mark on the world. My memories are of interest to no one but me. It’s a shocking realization, very bruising to the ego, that once I’m gone none of these archives that I’ve so carefully (and often arduously) compiled will amount to more than a very large bin of recyclable paper.

Maybe at this point in life, the way to grow up isn’t to start a new venture but to accept that it’s time to put some things to bed. So I’ll finish off the Book Book entries for 2016 (yes, that’s how far I’ve lagged behind; here it is August and October – December are still pending) and set that notebook aside. And the notebook that had already been purchased for 2017 will be used to keep lists: because I still like to enforce some kind of variety in what I read, and there’s nothing like seeing five scifi stories in a row to send me running to the non-fiction TBR pile!


Mission Accomplished!

I’d like to say that I’ve been so focussed on writing that I haven’t had a minute to spare for blogging in the (gulp!) two+ years since my last post. It’s more honest to say that when I find myself drifting off topic during my writing hours, it does me more good to mess around in the kitchen than to turn to another kind of writing (I’m a very good kitchen-messer!)

Today, however, I am thrilled to be blogging! Because today I’m sharing a major life achievement.

If you were with me during  the Great Agent Fiasco of 2010-11, you’ll know that, after I finally finished licking my wounds, I accepted that if I ever wanted to see my work published I was going to have to do it myself. And, half measures never being my way, I vowed to not only publish that book but three others that were in various degrees of completion. Well, in April 2012, I did indeed put out The Breast of Everything. Followed by “Merle Darling’s” alternative history/fantasy, The Upsilon Knot, in August 2013. February 2015 saw the launch of Under the Bus. This week….astonishing as it is to contemplate, I can hereby declare the mission a wrap with the release of Chasing Fireflies.

And, as they say on game shows, there’s more! Not more book (though there will be more books in time; I’m currently deep into work on an Upsilon sequel, The Omicron Negative)  No, there’s more significance than the conclusion of a four-book writing/publishing marathon. I began planning to write Chasing Fireflies so long ago that…Well, let’s just say I was still in college when the seeds were planted. It took years for me to feel ready to write it and, more critically, to be able to write it. I was nearly at that point when I made my decision to begin the four-book marathon, and very deliberately made this book the last lap. So you could say that Chasing Fireflies is, for better or worse, the achievement of my lifetime. I tend to gag on the word “closure,” but I suppose that’s what I feel: oddly peaceful, like lounging on a pool float on a not-too-hot afternoon with a tropical cocktail in my hand.

Pretty amazing, huh? It’s been one hell of a ride. All of it. Was it easy? Not in the least. Fun? Only sometimes. Am I glad I did it? Very!

It’s been wonderful to have so many supporters with me throughout this adventure. When it go hard to keep going, you cheered me on. When I doubted myself, your reactions to the work gave me the confidence to push forward.

Thank you so much for your love and support!