Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I knew Les about 20 years ago

Posted: January 2, 2016 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized

From Patty Yokoe Cozzalio 11/15/15

I knew Les about 20 years ago. Over 10 years, he’d been my boss, my friend, my ex-boss, my best friend and my lover for a short time, then back to best friend. What drew me to him? His eyes and his intelligence first. Then his humor after that. First he was a mentor of sorts, then we would see art movies, blockbusters, indie concerts, museums, readings, go to bars, clubs, anything that interested us. He was uncompromising, intense, romantic, blunt, harsh, compassionate, so intelligent, insecure, judgmental, silly, so fascinating to be with. I only found out about his suicide 3 days ago. I can’t see it happening. Les from 20 years ago would call his end maudlin. I want an explanation, but I know I’ll never get it. I regret our drifting apart but will always treasure those years growing up with him. I would like to add a pic but can’t figure out how. I’ll always love you, Plesko, and I hope you now know for a fact what you always mocked me for believing and that I’ll see you again in some way.


Nota Benes March 2015

The late Les Plesko uses the history of his native Hungary in this novel that follows a husband and wife through the pain and struggles of failed revolution and an emerging love triangle. The novel’s title is indicative of its themes—how events become unstoppable once they have begun and the fear of falling headlong into danger.

UCLA-magazine.2The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program would be famous enough if it were just the largest and most comprehensive continuing education creative writing and screenwriting program in the world. But it’s also an incubator for talent, a creative community, a symbolic shoulder for shuddering writers to cry on — and a primary catalyst for Los Angeles’ thriving literary scene. Sam Dunn, Writers’ Program alumna, teacher and esteemed author, takes us inside this iconic program.

“There is somebody in this room who will become a writer. There’s someone here seduced enough by the vision you see, or think you see, that you’ll keep going. You are the person here who has wanted this all your life.”

This is how Les Plesko began a letter to the students in his fiction writing workshop at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program one of the hundreds he taught there in the years before his suicide in 2013. Les — a onetime drifter, former drug addict, country and-western disc jockey and Hungarian immigrant — offered these words to would-be writers because he knew them to be true. Les himself had been that exact student, sitting in a class in the same writing program some two decades earlier.

By the time he jumped off a building at the age of 59, Les had mentored, cajoled, inspired and edited the work of more than 1,000 students and more published writers than I have room to list here, but among the novelists who started as his students are David Francis, Alice Greenway, Eduardo Santiago and Wendy Delsol, as well as nonfiction writer Donna Sozio. He was the author of three published novels, including the critically acclaimed The Last Bongo Sunset. But his magnum opus, No Stopping Train — the novel he’d worked on for years — sat in a drawer, passed up time and again by major publishers. -Continue-

No Stopping Train To Be Published in Spain

Posted: January 6, 2015 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized



LARBWHEN THE 63-year-old comic genius Robin Williams hanged himself this past August in the bedroom of his waterfront Tiburon home, the score of demons he was battling was said to include Parkinson’s disease, ongoing alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and fears of career failure. The Oscar-winning actor may also have been suffering from an undiagnosed case of Lewy body dementia, a surprisingly common condition involving mental impairment, personality changes, and possible hallucinations. After a lifetime devoted to making the world laugh, his suicide and sufferings came as a shock to his devastated fans, including me, a former entertainment reporter who had covered him at the start of his career.

Kitty-corner to Williams on the cultural grid was a writing and teaching colleague, 59-year-old novelist Les Plesko, who leapt to his death from his apartment building roof in Venice, CA, one September morning in 2013. Some of us who knew of his past sufferings and the troubles he faced that autumn weren’t questioning why he killed himself as much as what kept him going for so long. Now, a year after his death, the gentle natured, Hungarian born, American raised writer’s semi-autobiographical novel No Stopping Train (Soft Skull, 2014) has been posthumously published to the critical acclaim he’d dreamed of. It received a coveted starred review in the Library Journal as “a masterwork in language and imagery […] a powerful meditation on his country’s history and the expansiveness of humanity,” declaring “serious readers of literary fiction will rejoice.” -Continue-

I just finished and relished:

No Stopping Train by Les Plesko.

Hungary 1956: This magnetic book is about a love triangle that can’t be tugged apart at any of its corners, not by internal forces of jealousy or by external forces of political brutality. A month later, I’m still living inside this novel. —Dylan Landis Washington Independent Review of Books

Excerpt of No Stopping Train by Les Plesko

Posted: December 16, 2014 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized



The Nervous Breakout Posts an excerpt of No Stopping Train


You are the man who sang “God Bless the Magyar” after we lost the war. I watched you sway by a bullet-pocked door, heard you testing the national anthem’s loose notes, a lost war’s afterthoughts. I hadn’t heard it since school, and then school was called off. All up and down Saint Matyas Street, wind chased your song among tattered banners and plackards and flags. COVER-WEBElms cast their shadows on smashed cobblestones, windowsills lined with wash. A corpse swayed against a streetlight in accompaniment, its belt buckle clinking the pole, red-checked shirt cheery against the dull sky. Its urgent clogged smell permeated the air, the sad clothes on clotheslines.

I was twenty and blond, black hair showing through at the roots. I thought I could love you, perhaps, but I wanted to know: would it last? You wiped your nose on your sleeve as you sang. You didn’t see me but, Sandor, you would have been proud: I wiped tears from my eyes as I whistled along. When you looked up I stopped, I was shy. You scanned the sills for my face but I hid in the curtain’s torn lace, my feet crushing glass and mousedust. There was nobody left to accompany you but the dead; you did not seem to mind.

These haystacks bundled with twine remind me of our bed. These men playing cards on this train, they remind me of you with your hair in your face, but then everything does. Torn clouds your tattered pantcuffs. Scarecrows by the tracks guarding dirt wear your fish-patterned shirt. My palms on the train window’s glass scratched with lovers’ initials like ours are the same size as yours in my hair, in my mouth.

You used to say if wishes were horses beggars would ride. I’ve begged, now I ride, yet I still haven’t figured that out. My pale hands in this dicey Hungarian light, my finger’s indent where my wedding band used to rest, I hope you understand about that. If I had tears left, if you had hands that could help, I’d let you wipe them away from my eyes. Sandor, if I found my voice, I’d sing along with you now.  -Continue-

LARBFifty good pages thrown away like pale toast, jettisoned because the edges didn’t burn.

I felt my heart sag, thump onto his [Plesko’s] butt-stained carpet and linger in the doorway. But he’d warned me my words on a page would break me down then mend me, “or not.” My heart gashed so it might heal. Or at least form scabs. Encouraging me to write toward the abyss where I sensed Les had truly been. The least I could do was crawl toward the edge, stare down into it, inch forward, chapters building.   -Continue-

Another nice review of No Stopping Train

Posted: December 15, 2014 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized

Publisher WeeklyIn snapshot-like chapters that shift perspective, as well as mental letters from Margit “composed” after the revolution breaks out, we watch as the characters’ lives, already dreary to begin with, deteriorate. Sandor’s forgery lands Margit in a gulag, and as the revolution nears, a string of betrayals leads to injury, heartbreak, and death. …[O]ne ultimately comes away seduced by Plesko’s prose. Publishers Weekly

Library Journal gives No Stopping Train a starred review!

Posted: December 14, 2014 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized

library journal*Plesko, Les. No Stopping Train. Soft Skull. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781593765453. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781619024182. 

The writing world mourned last year’s passing of Plesko (The Last Bongo Sunset) with an outpouring of admiration for his courage on the page. Refusing to edit his fiction for marketability, the author fought a lifelong battle to see his stories published. Here, the reader will find a masterwork in language and imagery while struggling to piece together the chaotic world of 1956 Hungary. Set during the Hungarian Revolution, the narrative follows the lives of Sandor, Margrit, and Erszebet, who are ensnared in a love triangle, even as they rationalize their own behavior within the double helix of hope and despair promised by the revolution. The novel is written in fragmented chunks, mirroring the shattered lives of each character while creating a narrative whole that hints at resolution without absolution. VERDICT Bearing the weight of his literary career, Plesko’s long-awaited novel is a powerful meditation on his country’s history and the expansiveness of humanity. Though fans of straightforward historicals will be flummoxed, serious readers of literary fiction will rejoice.— Library Journal