Tag Archives: fiction

You Can Practice, Practice, Practice and Never Reach Carnegie Hall.

DSCN0213I seldom deny my HOBL when he asks for a simple request, but whenever he has pleaded for me to play the piano, I have always said, “No.” No cajoling or flattery from him has ever changed my mind.

It’s the same answer for anyone who comes to our house, and, upon seeing the stately 1934 upright in the corner of great room, asks. I can’t play for others. I haven’t been able to since I quit lessons at age 14.

My love for the piano started when I was four and sang along as my grandmother pounded out hymns on my great grandmother’s piano in her small bungalow in South Norfolk. She played everything by ear, from the cheery “Jesus Loves The Little Children” to the heart-wrenching “Just As I Am.”

When I was seven, Santa Claus brought me a piano, an old, flat black- enameled Charles M. Stieff upright, and I was thrilled. My parents placed it our remodeled garage and hired a piano teacher for my older brother and me. No one asked if I minded sharing. If I dared touched one of his gifts, I could count on receiving an Indian burn on my wrist or even, worse, a tickling until I screamed from pain and someone grew tired of the sound. Little did my brother or I know that, in time, he would receive his comeuppance, and so would I.

Our first teacher was a minister’s wife who taught us in her home a few miles from where we lived in Princess Anne County. After we got past the business of learning notes, playing basic scales, and flying through a series of piano primers, we started on hymns. But they didn’t have the pep of my grandmother’s music, and I told her so. She showed me how to add a zippy swing bass. I took the most dirge-like songs from the hymnals and put my own spin on them until they became joyous and almost danceable. In another time and place, such as on The Voice in 2013 , Blake Shelton or Adam Levine might have been praised interpretations, or not. But this was back in the 1960s South.

One Sunday when the pianist for the Sunday School assembly didn’t show up, I was asked to play for our group of nine- to twelve-year olds at our Southern Baptist Church. Both the teachers and kids had a hard time with my unique pacing, and as I played “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” I could feel and hear their struggle as they stumbled over the words. Afterwards, one of the teachers suggested that maybe my style wasn’t what Jesus had intended for hymns.

During my third year of studying piano, my mother switched my teacher to a woman who had moved down the street from our house. She was not a preacher’s wife. In addition to being a pianist, she was the concertmistress for the Norfolk Symphony, a first-class violinist and member of a well-known chamber quartet. She also commuted to New York to teach music at Julliard.

For a couple of years, all went well, even though she had banned the playing of swing bass during lessons. Instead of church music, she brought out sheets of classical music, compositions from Mozart, Beethoven and Bartok. It was soon after that my brain lost it ability to grasp new musical concepts and mathematic formulas and to understand much of my science texts. It was as though something in my brains had frayed. I went from being a good student to borderline mediocre one.

Exactly what happened, I’ll never know. Perhaps I was tired from the nine-hours days of school and the travel involved, or the lack of sleep from coughing night after night for no reason that our family doctor could discover. The hour of daily practice, which I was never allowed to skip, felt like a slow never-ending torture.

My teacher, whom I admired greatly and hated to disappoint with my lack of progress, threatened to send a report card to my parents, and I thought that was a fine idea. Maybe my folks would see it was time for me to stop lessons, to stop wasting their money. But my teacher didn’t follow through on her threat. I slogged on, even though my brother was allowed to quit.

By the time I was 14, my pleas to give up lessons had worn down my mother. The last time I intentionally played before another person was during my last lesson. I don’t think my teacher was sorry to see me go.

But I didn’t stop playing. A friend I visited in D.C. had a lovely-sounding piano. While she ran her son to afterschool activities, I stayed behind to play it on the sly. One of these times I played for a least two hours the music I heard in my head, and when I stopped a moment to rest and breathe, I was broken from my trance by the words, “What was the name of that?” She had been listening for almost an hour, astonished to hear me play for the first time in our decade of friendship.

One of my brothers also had a fine baby grand, and on holidays when the family was gathered in another room, I would slip off to play until I was swarmed by kids, at least two of them crawling onto the bench with me. I’d stop what I was doing and hammer out Jingle Bells so they could sing or teach them how to play “Chopsticks,” but I played nothing more.

Once I had a house with enough room for my upright, I had it moved to there. For years I played it out of tune before calling Charley “The Tuner” Garrison, whose father had done the job until he passed. Charley came again last year for the last time. Not much later, he, too, died. I cannot look at my old piano without seeing Charley seated on its bench, hearing him praise the workmanship that went into the making of such an instrument. He never minded its yellow keys.

I still play when I am alone. Not everyday. Not every week. I play at times when I need to be calmed, to stop from thinking of the past or future, to be in the moment. Sometimes the music comes from my head. Other times it comes from sheet music I’ve downloaded and tinkered with. But I only play when I believe no one is around, listening, breathing, because it’s the only way I can.

Notes: Want to win one of three free paperback copies of Cooley & Rose. The Goodreads.com First Book Giveaway continues until Sept. 15, 2013. Surf on over, and add your name to the drawing. Here’s the link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17997446-cooley-rose.

Cooley & Rose is available in ebook format for all readers and in paperback from all online stores. You can also order paperback copies from your favorite neighborhood brick store.

By the way, the library bookcase in the Presidential Suite of one of the world’s most famous hotels has Cooley & Rose on its shelf! How cool is that. . .

If you’ve read and enjoyed Cooley & Rose, please help the indie cause by spreading the word or writing a review or two. Such kindness would be greatly appreciated.

Michelle Obama came to me. . .

Maybe it was the fish tacos and too much pinot gris at dinner. Or the craving for dark chocolate and crushed peanuts that followed. Who know why I, or anyone else, spent Tuesday night tossing and turning between fits of waking and sleeping

That was the night I found myself in the living room of an old two-story house with a stoop, its exterior shingled in navy 448px-Michelle_Obama_official_portrait_headshotsquares of asbestos. Inside was a group of people who were dressed as though they were going to church, one that required dresses for women and suits for men. A woman in a royal purple wrap and black patent leather pumps, sat on an olive green couch. She looked familiar, much like someone whose face I knew from Goodreads.com but had never met in real life.

I didn’t know what I was doing in this place more than an hour from my house and feared it was a start-up church, the kind that focused on the Old Testament, perhaps used the New Testament in ways Jesus would not have liked. I’d been done with bad news churches for decades and had no interest in squirming through a sermon that would leave me snippy.

Now, the good news in this story is that these people, all middle-aged and white, had gathered in the middle of nowhere in a starkly furnished house to play a kind of charades that involved no alcohol or shouting. Even the silent gestural clues were modest. Such civility intimated me into silence. I had no idea a party game could be so dull. When there was a break, I plotted my getaway and stood to leave, but something amazing happened before I acted on it. As I opened to door to leave, President Obama and the First Lady came through up to the door and entered. I decided to stay a while longer.

Rather than shake hands or politicize, the Obamas, too, came to play charades. They were crazy about the game. Before taking a seat, Michelle said to me, “I heard about your novel, Cooley & Rose. I want to read it.”

Thrilled – how did she know me? – I excused myself to go to my car to grab a copy, even though, until that moment, I had no idea how I’d driven there. Dreams are like that. Details come when you truly need them. All the way to the car and back, I reminded myself to take a photo of Michelle holding my book, to ask someone to take a picture of the two of us. Once I was inside, however, I was so awed by the power of word-of-mouth, especially the mouth that knew a First Lady, that I forgot my intentions. I left with no recorded memory of the moment, and nothing to help sell my modest indie undertaking. The disappointment was crushing.

And it was the next morning, too, when I woke from my dream. I still wanted those photos.

cover final 3-2-13Note: Cooley & Rose is available as a paperback and ebook EVERYWHERE. If it’s not on the shelf of your favorite store, ask the customer service rep to order it for you.

Goodread’s All Author Blog Blitz – Meet Lisa Day

June 15 is Goodread’s All Author Blog Blitz which means Lisa Day, an author with whom I was paired a few days ago, is posting on this page, and my post is appearing on the blog of sci-fi/fantasy/ horror writer David Nicol. Lisa lives in North Carolina. David is in Wales. I’ll be back here in two weeks.

My name is Lisa Day. I’m fairly new to the writing game. Some great people helped me along the way. They saved me not only time in learning what a new writer needs to know in this relationship between the writer and social media, but they helped me not to fall victim to the many scams out there.
The first thing I learned, after setting up your Facebook Page or pages is to begin blogging and grow an audience. But when I began my blog, I discovered I am not a blogger in the normal sense of the word. This knowledge left me with a dilemma. Now what?
As you move through the pages of my blog you of course will see my books. You will also notice there are pages showcasing other writer’s works. These are the pages that give me more pleasure than I realized they would. Each new writer who lets me share his work validates me, not as a writer, but as a person. I find pleasure helping others. Today’s social media is now one of the fastest ways to spread the word about anything, especially books.
I hail from New Jersey before ‘Jersey Girls’ became famous. Having lived in the south for so many years, I now think of myself as a retired southern belle, just born in the wrong century. So, what else am I to do but write those pesky stories that live my head?
Please take a few minutes and explore the pages of my blog. You will find my latest book. Wolfkeeper’s Woman there. Below is the blurb from the back cover of my book.
“Cassie was now alone with her husband dead and son abducted. She stood before the one she hated. Her only goal: Her child must live.
The instant Wolfkeeper took the child all three of their lives were forever changed. To save them all, Cassie had to make the ultimate sacrifice.
As a warrior without a heart Wolfkeeper took from her everything she loved. As a man he discovered she filled his heart. How will he ever be able to make amends?”

Website: http://lisaday.weebly.com/
You can also find me here and there:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisa.day.718
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/LisaDayAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaDay12
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/lisaday123/
Blog: http://lisaday12.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1998.Lisa_Day
To purchase Wolfkeeper’s Woman
b&n http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wolfkeepers-woman-lisa-day/1115113080?ean=2940044429536

Miscellany of Life – Lyme, Sleep, and Talk

IMG_0418A week ago I underwent more vibrational testing for my Lyme’s Disease and started a homeopathic treatment to kill off the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in my muscles, plus other stuff in my brain and CNS that you don’t want to read or hear about. All of this is progress, but by noon I am so weary that all I can do is sleep. So, please excuse the absence of my regular blogs. I’ve started three, have completed none.

Also, Cooley & Rose is available as an e-book and as a paperback. For the time being, the latter is only available through Amazon.com. I should be promoting this like crazy, but that, too, will have to wait.

Spring is here, and I am happy the pollen has come and gone with the heavy rain. Today, despite predictions otherwise, the sun came out. Soon there will be beach days ahead, I hope.

Happy May days to you all. Talk at ya soon.


Writing and Talking With a Lyme Brain is Hard Work. Ask Amy Tan & Rebecca Wells.

This week I’ve been spending my time making changes to the e-book version of Cooley & Rose and working on a format for a paperback version.images

While doing this, I struggled with my Lyme brain where years ago babesia bacteria took up residence, wreaking neurological havoc in so many ways, especially on my ability to recall words. This is a challenge for a writer. Amy Tan and Rebecca Wells have written about their experiences. When Wells created Ya-Ya in Bloom, the sequel to The Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, she had already developed advance neurological damage. 1103_rd_tick

My brain was already frazzled by the time I started working on the novel-version of Cooley and Rose. Still, I pushed on and finished that, then wrote The Wyatt Sisters Songs of Sorrow, a story that is even more complex than the one that I’m hawking these days.

People say, “Oh, everyone forget words now and then.” True, but I will give you two brief examples of what happens with a Lyme brain.

Yesterday I was telling my husband about my new cell phone and all the tricks it could do and how I carried the instruction book around to read whenever I had to wait somewhere, like the drive-thru at the bank or a doctor’s office. He cocked his head and squinted his eyes and said, “You have a clock that does all that?” Years ago, I would have accused him of losing his hearing, but now I know better. Even though my brain thinks one word, often another comes out. This happens everyday. Unless I can’t find any semblance to the word I want. Then I just shut up. And sometimes he’s grateful for that.

A couple of days ago I came across “squawling babies” in Cooley & Rose and decided to look up the word “squawling” but could not find it. Then my mind told me to look up “squalling,” hoping it had a secondary or tertiary definition that would fit my meaning. I had no luck there with that either. Then I started going through the alphabet, and when I came to “B”, I stopped. “Brawling babies,” I said and imagined two little diapered fatties, lying on their backs, flinging their arms and kicking their legs. I was wrong again, but the strain of thinking was exhausting me. And then the word came. “Bawling.” It was the right word although a bit bland. I had to jot it down, because my brain kept insisting on returning to “brawling.” DSCN0143

With this path of thought written down on paper, it came to me that somewhere in my mind, the words “squealing” and “bawling” had merged to become “squawling.” Now, after having taken care of my corrections, I wished I’d stayed with the original because even though it’s not a legit word, it seems more expressive than “bawling.”

What do you think?

Oh, The Places This Novel is Taking Me!

cover final 3-2-13My novel, Cooley & Rose, is now available as a paperback from Amazon.com and as an e-book from Amazon, ITunes, Sony, Kobo and seven other online sites, including one specific to the United Kingdom. Both reader and mobile formats are available.

Included at the end of Cooley & Rose is a book club guide. For those groups on the southside of Hampton Roads who decide to read this novel and would like me to attend their meetings, I’ll be glad to do so. By the way, the novel begins and ends in South Norfolk, Virginia, and, with the help of historian Raymond Harper and my aunt, Ruby Ene, I tried to capture the essence of that area as it was in 1948. I’ve also tried to do the same with the other settings — Clinton, OK; Los Angeles; and Palm Spring, CA.

As I write this blog, I feel almost too calm, especially since I wrote the first pages of this book almost 20 years ago. I should be punctuating this entry with a lot of exclamation points !!! But a lot has happened during that time. More than enough for a book or two. But none of that matters now.

After the death of my second agent, I decided to take on publishing Cooley & Rose by myself, and I don’t regret it for a moment. That decision pushed me to start this blog, something I had thought about but had lacked the energy or motivation to do. In the few months that it has been online, more than 2,500 people from at least 49 countries have visited this site, accidentally or not. Still the idea, that as an electronic community we are one, awes me.

I’ve also received several dozen comments on my blog and many more emails from friends and strangers with kind words and, sometimes, their own stories, which I greatly appreciate.

So far this is one wondrous ride.

Now, before I end this buy-my-book blog and return to story telling next week, I ask those of you who read and like Cooley & Rose to post reviews or ratings on the site from which you purchased your e-book and on Goodreads.com. It’s not easy for an indie to market her work, but your words could help a lot.

Thank you.

How to Make a Story: A Recipe That Calls for an Obituary and Curiosity

DSCN0115Last Saturday a friend of twenty years, asked if the stories I have written for this blog are true. They are.  Because I have the kind of big blended family and unusual ancestry that represents the diversity of the United States, I have a deep well from which to draw.  If I ever write fiction here or tell a story other than my own or create an imagined ending for one that started as truth, you’ll know.

But back to last Saturday.  Her question led to a discussion about when we became interested in stories and how differently our minds work in creating them.  L. is a talented short story and non-fiction writer.  Maybe in the future she’ll offer her thoughts in a guest post here.

But today I’m going to tell you how my mind started shaping stories because it might lead those of you who believe you’re not creative enough to come up with a song lyric, a short story, a novel or a narrative painting to think again.

When I was a kid learning to read, I preferred the newspaper to school primers.  Every day I studied three sections of The Virginian-Pilot:  the comics, Ann Landers and the obituaries.

My affinity for the obituaries started when I was young and still small enough to sit on my maternal grandmother’s lap as she read some of them to me.   In my adult mind, it seems that everyday she knew at least one name that appeared on that page.  After she read the notice, she would elaborate with what she knew or heard of that person.  She never spoke ill of the dead.  She did, however, list trials and tribulations not included in the bio.  A run-away husband. Bouts of diverticulitis. A stillborn child. A face burned by an exploding cook stove. A loved one killed in the Great War.  Back then I might not have understood the specifics of these revelations, but I sensed that they mattered.

All of this fascinated me so much more interesting than the See-Spot-Run books my brother read in first grade.  Although I didn’t know the language to use, I understood how obituaries, especially the way my grandmother presented them, held more plot and deeper characterizations.

Every so often – let’s say two months because a kid does not have a good concept of time unless he’s being sent to bed – my grandmother would gasp upon seeing certain names.  “Oh,” she would cry, “Freddie Rogers died.”  She would shake her head, “He loved me so!” before telling me how handsome he was. Or she would exclaim, “Jimmy Murphy!  He wanted to marry me, but my mother didn’t like him.”  I liked to imagine these boys hanging around my grandmother, begging for her attention, adoring her the way I did.

Months turned into years, and still my grandmother would spot the name of a former love, and it appeared she had more boyfriends than Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe could ever expect to have.  It seemed a bit much for a woman so devoted to God and her evangelical faith and the radio sermons of Ernest Amsley.

Finally, I said, “Grandma!  How could you have so many boyfriends?  You got married at fourteen.”  She pursed her lips, closed her eyes and smiled.

So you can see why my fondness for obits continued long after I was too old to sit on her lap, on past her dying at age 83 and still remains with me today.

As a writer, I see every obituary as a story in need of details.  If I read of a man who is survived by eight children, all scattered across the country, I wonder why not even one child stayed at home.  Where they all trying to escape horrors of poverty and abuse? What regrets did he carry to his death?

Or a woman doctor who died at 90, never married, and spent her life doing medical research? What kind of family did she come from that encouraged her studies in an age when homemaking was the usual career of choice?  And how did her family make or inherit so much money that they could afford to buy so many years of education?  Had she ever been in love?  Had a broken heart?  Did she live with a lover?  Or a house full of cats?  There are always so many questions to ask, blanks to fill in.

Of course, it’s impossible to know the full story of anyone’s life, even those loved ones you know better than anyone else. But it is possible to take the clues offered in an obituary and make it a story of your own.

Go on.  Try it. You’ll see.