Happy Birthday, Dad.

Happy 77th birthday to my Dad, Adolph Robert Cordova, Jr.  We spent more years apart than together. There’s no making up for that much lost time, especially taking into consideration his Alzheimer’s/ Dementia/ Paranoid Schizophrenia. Also, the physical distance between us. I hope they did something nice for him in his nursing home in Brookline, Massachusetts. A slice of cake, a scoop of ice cream, a “Happy Birthday” serenade. Last visit was so painful. He thought that I was 15 and that he was 58. Dream on, if it makes you happy. I wish my father peace of mind and the realization that he has family that loves him, even though we can’t be there physically to keep him company (most of his family is far out west, in Wyoming and Utah). I send him cards and letters, plus cookies on holidays. I never hear a word back. I pray for him silently, privately, constantly.

I love you, Dad.

 

Happy Birthday Dad

Month #2 of Reading Challenge

I  don’t want my readers to think that I have abandoned my self-imposed challenge to read at least 4 books a month throughout 2017. I posted a pretty extensive report of the books I read in January. I don’t have the time or energy to post as detailed a commentary on the books I’ve read in February and March, but here is Part 1 of my two-month lapse. Thanks for your patience!

  1. Hearts in Suspension, by Jim Bishop with Stephen King This was a birthday gift from my bookstore boss. I was surprised and delighted to receive it… and doubtful as to whether I’d like it or not. I’d heard that it was comprised mostly of essays by old friends and teachers who knew Stephen during his days at the University of Maine. I thought the book would be of regional and scholarly interest, for a very limited audience. Fortunately, I was wrong. The thick tome not only contains essays by Steve’s college professors and buddies, but a lot of words from King himself, as well as his novella Hearts in Atlantis, in its entirety. It made me feel as though I’d lived through the tumultuous 1960s myself!

King Cover 2.jpg

 

2.  Misery, by Stephen King  Most of us have seen the movie with Kathy Bates and James Caan. If you found the movie terrifying, but have not read the book, be prepared to be even more horrified, chilled, repulsed and even traumatized by the novel. NO movie can ever capture the intricacies and grisly details of any of King’s original books.. especially since so much of the text is (literally and figuratively) mental.

stephen_king_misery

 

3. The Buffalo Blizzard of 1977, by Timothy W. Kneeland, A local history book, mostly photographs, but also full of of fascinating historical facts about the world-stopping upstate NY snowstorm of 1977. The title is misleading, as the book also mentions other areas affected by the storm, including my home city of Watertown.

Feb reads

 

4. Annie Oakley Comes to Watertown, by Garmon Lord This one falls loosely into the “historical fiction” category, as it’s 95% a true story about the sharp-shooting legend and the time she really, truly brought her awesome skills to the eager Watertown masses (WOW!). Lord takes the liberty of including an endearing short , fictional story about his Grandma as a young girl meeting Annie and even having breakfast with her idol. The story is so convincing that it wasn’t until I read the disclaimer at the end of the book that I was able to separate truth from fiction.

(Both of the books mentioned above were found in the “Local Authors” section of the bookstore where I work.)

5. Unraveling Anne, by Laurel Saville  I had never heard of Anne Ford or Lauren Saville before when I picked up this book I found l found lying on a bookstore shelf. Anne was a model, beauty queen and fashion designer in the wild & free 1960s. Daughter Laurel paints a devastating, heartbreaking picture of what it was like growing up among eccentric adults, more than children her own age, with a mother who seemingly disapproved of her and was unable to provide compassion and love. As an adult, Laurel set out to find the truth about her mother’s life and sordid death.

anne

6. Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner, A disturbing tale of a long-separated sister and brother, Sharlah and Telly Ray Nash, torn apart by the murder of their parents eight years ago… at the hands of Telly. They haven’t seen each other in all that time. Now, just when Sharlah is in the process of being adopted by an ex-FBI profiler and his wife, more murders start happening, and Telly is a suspect once again.

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Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, Simply, this was a children’s book I never read as a child, but always meant to. Sweet, quaint, and reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Sarah-Plain-and-Tall

Take Two

I think readers would be surprised to learn that many authors don’t read their own books once they finish writing them. I’m one of those authors. My reason is, I’m always moving on to the Next Big Idea.

However, there’s always exceptions. Since I made the decision to add new chapters to my 2011 book, Finding My Father, I kind of had no choice. And I am cringing through every chapter. I guess I’ve become a better writer (or proofreader, at least) over the past five years. I see a lot of poor sentence structure throughout the book, and just things I could have said better.

So, in short, the new version of Finding My Father will not only contain all-new chapters, but the original text will be improved!

I can’t say I’m bubbling over with excitement, given the sadness of the topic, but I will be personally satisfied and proud when I’ve completed this project.

This one’s for you, Dad.

hugs

Dad and I in 2009

 

 

 

God’s Umbrella

beacon street

Beacon Street, my home away from home

The weather forecast had called for perfect, sunny weather for the four days I’d be in Brookline. When I arrived in the city, however, the scenario changed. Now it looked as though Tuesday (my third day there) was going to be a washout. Since I don’t drive, I was counting on my feet, and Boston’s convenient Public Transportation System to get me around. Granted, there was a T station right across the street from where I was staying, but still… I’d have to walk a couple of blocks from my stop at Coolidge Corners to Park Street, where Dad’s nursing home was. So on Monday, I made sure to pop into a CVS drug store, where I purchased a hot pink umbrella.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning… I brought my trusty new umbrella with me as I walked the few blocks to get breakfast, then back to my rented room. As I sipped my coffee, I reflected on yesterday’s visit with Dad and his care team. It had been a depressing mission; my heart was still heavy from seeing him in such feeble condition. I needed to find some uplifting way to spend the morning before I returned to visit my father again. I opted to make my way across town to Quincy Market, which always bustling with tourists and food vendors, selling delicious wares.

So, I’m standing on the platform, waiting on the Green Line, when I notice that a young man also waiting for the train is holding something in his hand that is missing from mine: an umbrella! DANG! After spending $8.99 on a brand new umbrella, I’d left the stupid thing on my bed! Well, no time to go back for it; the train was coming. It was just starting to drizzle as I got on board.

As my eyes scanned the train car for available seats, I did a double take. Hanging practically in front of me was… an umbrella!

brella

The umbrella that magically appeared just when I needed it.

I looked around, expecting another passenger to grab it, having recognized it as their own. But as the train started moving down the tracks, I realized that some unfortunate commuter must have accidentally left it behind. I felt guilty taking it, but by the time I reached my stop, the rain was coming down steadily. Grateful for the cover, I hurried into Quincy Market. I took my time wandering the length of the building, surrounded on both sides by delicious aromas of every type of food imaginable: Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, and of course, dishes that Boston is famous for, like Boston baked beans and authentic clam “Chowdah.” I smiled as I watched a bunch of kids who were there on a field trip, their excitement apparent in their eyes and smiles.

I exited the busy market and crossed the way to Faneuil Hall, one of the countless historic sites in Boston. I’ve walked the Freedom Trail during previous Boston visits, but my heart wasn’t in it that day, between the rain and my worries about Dad. So, under shelter of my newfound umbrella, I searched for the nearest T station and rode back to the other side of Boston.

As I trudged up the steps of Dad’s nursing home, I felt a sense of doom, like I was walking up the steps of a morgue. I took the elevator up to the third floor. When the doors opened, Dad was right there, his wheelchair parked directly in front of me! There’s no way he could have known I was coming at that exact time! My heart gave a little leap of joy.

“Hi, Dad!” I said, as if I saw him every day, and not for the second time in five years.

He mumbled a greeting. He was just being served lunch… a tray of typically unappetizing-looking hospital food. He had trouble feeding himself. As much food ended up in his lap as in his mouth. He ate less than a quarter of what was on his plate.

His spirits seemed to have declined since the day before. Nothing I said made him smile. I got to talking with some of the other nursing home residents in the rec room, and they, too, tried to cheer him up. Even when the art/ music/ games lady, a vivacious woman named Beverly, whirled into the room and put on some Earth, Wind and Fire, Dad was one of the few patients who didn’t react to the infectious groove. My father had always loved music.

There was no engaging him in conversation. I asked if there was anything he needed, anything I could do for him. He just shook his head “no.” All I could do was tell him I loved him.

“Good!” he said, still avoiding my eyes.

I hugged him as best I could, with him slouched over in his wheelchair. I didn’t say “goodbye.” He already seemed to sense I would not be back.

I was relieved to get out of the gloomy building. Once on the sidewalk, I took a deep breath of fresh air. It was a freedom my father would probably never enjoy again.

By the time I walked to the T station, it had stopped raining. The sun winked down from the cool March sky. I folded my “borrowed” umbrella and hung it on a metal gate next to the train stop. It would be there for the next person who needed it.

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My Dad

Boston Bound

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My father didn’t raise me; he was gone for most of my childhood. Before he disappeared, we made many happy memories together. Trips to the beach, where I could play on the swings and the slide. Getting soft ice cream in a dixie cup at Magic Fountain, and racing to eat it before it melted in the hot summer sun. Dad teaching me to skip while he sang “Skip to my Lou.” (My young ears heard it as “Skip to Maloo.” Maloo? Where’s that?)

One of our favorites destinations was a toy store called Tic Tac Toys, which located on the improbably named Love Lane in Mattituck, NY. Dad bought me a funny-looking stuffed duck, with yellow feathers, eyes that bugged out the sides of his head, and disproportionately short wings. I named him Disco Duck. Mom hated that ugly thing… which only made me love it more.

dad-me-a-few-months-old

Dad moved to Boston when I was six or seven. This coincided with the time my mother married my stepfather. I would get cards on Birthdays and at Christmastime, with personal messages scrawled inside, in Dad’s infamous chicken scratch. I always felt awkward when I opened them, because my mother, Grandma and Grandpa would read them as well, and make fun of whatever he had to say. They referred to him as “Dopey.” They expected me to share their opinion of my father. I didn’t know how I really felt. Eventually, the cards stopped coming.

Fast forward thirty years or so, when my Dad and I were finally reunited, thanks to a 1-800 number I’d heard on the radio: “We can find ANYBODY, or your money back!”

I’d tried to find Dad myself, when I was nineteen and old enough to form my own opinion about the man who was my father. I hit a dozen dead ends. (Although I discovered he– I— had a huge family out west.) So I’d almost given hope of ever finding him.

There was a good reason I had such a hard time tracking him down; he was homeless for many years. He lived in shelters and under bridges. Finally, he was “rescued” by an organization called Pine Tree Inn. They reach out to the homeless population in New England, giving them a place to live, and even job training. Dad was living in one of their rooming houses in the Dorchester area when I found him.

Our reunion was a bittersweet one, full of awkward hugs and long pauses in conversation. I had dozens of of questions bottled up inside me… only to have them scatter like spilled marbles once I was actually face-to-face with Dad.

To make matters worse, I’d learned that my father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He couldn’t tell me much about his current life or his recent past. He tried to introduce me to friends of his in the neighborhood, but had trouble remembering their names. Yet, he could tell me the detailed story of how he and my mother drove from Seattle to Long Island, NY in the middle of winter when I was just a baby. His long-term memory was excellent, but he had little or no retention of Now.

Besides the Alzheimer’s, my father is afflicted with Parkinson’s. His hands shake so badly, I was amazed he could feed himself. He is unable to write back to me when I send him cards and letters. I’ve begged him more than once to please dictate messages for me, and have a trusted friend write it down and mail it to me. Let’s just say my dad doesn’t trust a whole lot of people. 99% of the communication between me and my father has actually been by way of his care team in the nursing home where he is now. I am his health care proxy. They are obligated to let me know everytime he falls. This happens often, as he’s not supposed to stand up without nurses’ assistance. As soon as their backs are turned, he’s up out of his wheelchair, and down he goes.

I’ve only visited Dad twice since I found him again. My budget doesn’t afford the luxury of traveling from Watertown, NY to Boston often, especially since I don’t drive. The two times I went to see him, it was with my ex-husband. But a recent turn of events has forced me into action. In spite of some pretty huge obstacles, I must make a trip to Boston… all by myself.

I don’t know too many details yet, but it seems Dad recently had a brain aneurysm. I’m not sure how much this latest medical malady has affected his ability to function, but things aren’t looking too good; dad has now entered Hospice care. It felt weird to me, giving consent for this; I’ve always associated Hospice with the end stages of cancer. The small piece of good news in all this is that Dad still remembers he has a daughter. Maybe he doesn’t remember my name, and maybe he he won’t recognize me when I walk into the room, but I must do this. Partly because I didn’t get a chance to say “goodbye” to my mother, who died in a car accident in 2006. Another reason is the guilt I feel for not making an effort to see him more. That guilt would be greatly augmented if Dad passed away before I got there. That’s why I’m not waiting for warmer weather; it had crossed my mind to put it off ‘til his birthday in April. I decided I don’t want to take that risk. Time is precious and fleeting, and tomorrow is never promised.

And so, I will face my phobia of train travel and try to work around my penchant for getting hopelessly lost (If I were a lab rat, I’d never find my way out of the maze), and trust in my Higher Power to keep me safe on this trip. I know I have angels on my side here on earth (they know who the are). Hopefully, I have some “Up There” as well, looking out for me and Dad.

 

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4 Books a Month? Why Not!

If you followed my Reading Challenge in 2016, you might have noticed I got a little frazzled at times. Some of the topics were challenging for me, especially “Read a book that intimidates you.” There were only twelve categories, and I normally read more than one book per month, so I’m not sure why I had such a tough time.

Nevertheless, I wanted to do it again this year. I toyed with the idea of making up my own categories, like “Read a book of a genre you normally don’t read.” But I decided to do away with silly labels and genres, and instead concentrate on numbers.

I’ve pledged to read four books per month for the rest of 2017. Notice I didn’t say “a book a week.” That would be close to impossible when the books are in the 600- 1300 page range! (And two of my January picks were!) Fortunately, the other two were easy to consume in a couple of days. Here’s what I read this month…

January Reads:

Book 1: It, by Stephen King

it

 

I first read this in the 1980s or ‘90s. When I heard that the movie is being remade, my interest in the book was renewed. Clocking in at 1473 pages, the story flies back and forth between 1957 and 1985. Something bad happened to seven friends (Ben, Bill, Stan, Eddie, Richie, and Beverly) in Derry, Maine, the summer they were eleven years old. A lot of kids died that year, including Bill’s younger brother, Georgie. Most of the dead kids washed up in sewers about town. Only the children know what’s going on, because… well, adults can’t see the evil clown, Pennywise, who’s been murdering young ones for centuries.

Somehow, , in spite of being dubbed “The Losers Club,” the kids survive. Not only to they move on to (mostly) very successful careers in adulthood, they ALL… FORGET… EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED that awful summer!!! Until… IT starts happening again. Children in Derry are turning up dead. Mike Hanlon, the only one of the bunch to have stayed in Derry, phones the others one by one and reminds them of a promise they made, sealed in blood. That if IT ever started happening again, they’d return to Derry and kill IT properly this time, even if it meant losing their own lives. Only then, do the unspeakable horrors of that awful summer slowly come back to them. For one of the old friends, the terror of those memories cause him to promptly end his life in a grisly fashion, rather than go back and face IT.

From the get-go, it is clear that Pennywise is NOT happy to see the return of the old gang of ‘57, as he plays upon their deepest-set fears to create monsters and delusions that will either drive them crazy… or kill them.

For the record, Stephen King says he is afraid of clowns.

 

Book 2: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

 

fault

This 2012  Young Adult novel was both a critical hit and a best-seller among its teenage target audience. I read this book when I was oh, shall we say, old enough to be the parent of a teenager. It kind of just fell into my hands. I work in a bookstore, and often our customers place special orders that get set aside until they pick them up. Well, I spotted The Fault in Our Stars on the shelf and figured it’d be a light, easy read to pass the evening. After all, it was just a kids’ love story, right?

WRONG! The main characters, Hazel and Augustus, meet in a cancer support group. Not exactly typical. Hazel is fighting cancer that has spread to her lungs, while Augustus is a cancer survivor and amputee. (He was a basketball player before he lost his leg.)

I’ll avoid giving any spoilers away for the five or ten people who may not have read the book yet. Suffice to say, after reading half the book in one evening, I was concerned enough about the characters to check it out of the library to finish it. An important part of the plot centers around Hazel’s obsession with a book called An Imperial Affliction. Its main character, Anna, was a young girl with cancer, just like Hazel herself. It torments her that the book ends abruptly, without a clue of what happened to Anna. The author, the reclusive Peter Van Houten hasn’t written anything since and lives in Amsterdam.

Knowing how much it would mean to her to meet Van Houten and get some answers, Augustus arranges a surprise trip for them to Amsterdam. However, when they arrive at the authors house… Things. Do. Not. Go. Well. Van Houten is a mean, abrasive, verbally abusive alcoholic. Hazel and Augustus flee the house in shock.

I won’t tell you what happens after that. I won’t reveal if anyone dies. I will say that Van Houten does try to redeem himself…. Or at least he explains himself, sort of. But after that fateful trip, nothing is ever really the same for Hazel and Augustus. I highly recommend this book for readers of ALL ages.

Book 3: Call Me Anna, by Patty Duke

anna

I’ve never had much interest in Patty Duke as an actress. Her show where she played “identical cousins” was before my time, and I’m not sure I saw any of her movies, other than “The Miracle Worker.” But at the end of 2016, I was reading an article about celebrities who’d passed away that year, and I hadn’t realized she’d died. I vaguely remembered hearing that she’d had a hard life and had struggled with mental illness, so I decided to find out more about this interesting lady.

Born Anna Marie Duke, she was renamed “Patty” at age eight by her managers, the Rosses who bluntly told her: “Anna Marie is dead.” Then they essentially took Patty away from her parents, which may have been a good thing, considering that her father was an alcoholic and her mother was unstable, due to depression. Unfortunately, the Rosses didn’t treat young Patty well either, abusing her, overworking her and eventually stealing the money she earned from her movies and TV shows.

As a result, Duke grew up to battle anxiety and depression herself. She was one of the first well-known actors to speak publically about having manic depression (now referred to as Bipolar Disorder). She remained a Mental Health advocate for the rest of her life. She was an inspiring lady.

Book 4: Helter Skelter, by Victor Bugliosi (with Curt Gentry)

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Touted as “the Best Selling True Crime Book of All Time,” this thick tome covers the sensational, horrific murders committed by Charles Manson’s appointed “Family” in 1969. I decided to read it after hearing that Manson, now 82, was on his deathbed in prison. (As of this writing, he is still alive.)

The most famous of the string of killings in California, was the mass murder that occurred on August 9, 1969 at the home of movie director Roman Polanski. Among the five dead bodies discovered on the property was that of Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant when she was slaughtered. Bugliosi was the Attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson in the Tate murders (as well as the LaBianca murders)… seven deaths in all.

Besides the extreme violence of the bloody murders themselves– one victim had been stabbed fifty-one times– it is shocking to read how the investigation was so badly bungled. The crime scene was compromised by police who recklessly stomped about the grounds, making it impossible to determine whether footprints had come from the cops’ shoes or the murderers. They also overlooked important clues that linked the Tate murders to those of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a couple who was murdered in their home in the same shocking fashion the very next day. In both cases, words had been written on the walls in the victims’ blood. Still, the cops did not think the cases were connected!

These atrocious murders shouldn’t have happened at all, because Charles Manson should not have been a free man. In the first place. Since his teen years, he’d constantly been in and out of juvenile detention centers. His crimes included breaking into grocery stores to steal money, stealing cars and burglarizing gas stations. Later on, he made a living as a pimp. At one point, he was under FBI surveillance. So how was it that Charles was free move into an old ranch, owned by an 80-year-old blind man, with roughly a couple dozen of his “followers” and nobody batted an eye?

The fact that this wild-eyed, puny (he stood only five-foot-two) could have so much power over his followers is almost unfathomable. He convinced them (and himself, I guess) that he was Jesus Christ. He had sex with all the girls he wanted. They killed for their “Charlie.” He gave them instructions, but never did the dirty work himself.

Manson was obsessed with the Beatles’ “White Album.” He was convinced that the group had hidden messages in the lyrics relating to the ninth chapter of Revelation in the Bible.

“Helter Skelter” is the title of a track on the White Album. Manson interpreted as a call for a race war. The details are too sickening for me to write about. But if you are intrigued by abnormal psychology, true crime, and the American Justice System, this is the perfect book for you!

Bonus Book 5: (Because I never said I’d read ONLY four books a month. Besides, I found it while cleaning up under the bed.) Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

451

 

I first discovered Ray Bradbury’s writing last year, with “The Illustrated Man.” I’m normally far from a sci-fi fan, but the intertwined short stories had elements of horror, and I made it a point to grab another of his books.

Published in 1953, the story takes place at a time far in the future… the 2000s perhaps? Books have become not only obsolete, but are banned outright by the Government. Their reasoning is that they’re not needed anymore because people have shorter attention spans than they used to and they’re more interested in “new media” than books. (Wow, could Bradbury predict the future or what?) Anyway, the information in those old books is woefully outdated now; of what use are they?

Guy Montag is a fireman. Firemen aren’t the same in the future. They’re into starting fires, not putting them out. And what do they burn? Books, of course. Owning books is illegal, and any resident found in violation of the law has their house torched by the firemen.

One night, Montag is on a routine run… a woman has a stash of books in her home. But things do not go as usual. Instead of stepping away from her home, as ordered, the woman sets herself on fire. If her books are to be burned, she’ll join them in the inferno.

Montag is shocked and emotionally shaken by this event. Oh yeah, and he steals a book from her burning house. (It happens to be the Bible.) HIs boss, the intimidating Captain Beatty suspects Montag has a book and gives him a deadline to turn it over without punishment.

But it turns out that Montag has accumulating a stash of books over the years that he kept hidden, even from his wife, Mildred. She is horrified by the revelation and thinks her husband has gone crazy.

Montag realizes there is no way he can ever go back to being a fireman, and he is too stubborn to surrender his beloved books. He goes on the run to get help from perhaps the only person he can trust, who understands, who maybe… can save him.

Reminds me somewhat of a George Orwell type of book. Creepy and scarily believable..

Revamping, Restarting…

With the recent publication of My Life With Cats, I’m “starting over” in many ways.

It’s been four years since I’ve had a new book on the market. Previously, I’d been averaging a new book every two years. Because of life changes (a divorce and a job loss) and numerous health problems, I was too depressed to promote my older books, maintain my author website, or complete any book I started.

Now that that’s changed, I have been tentatively been dipping my toes back into waters which were once familiar… but now seem foreboding. Let me tell you: it is NOT  “like getting back on a bicycle.” It’s more like, starting from scratch.

 

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Self-promotion has never come easy for me.I was raised to be super-modest. My mother apparently confused “confidence” with “conceit.”Any form of talking about my accomplishments was considered “bragging.” To this day, when customers come into the bookstore where I work, inquiring about the 90 local authors, I can’t bring myself to mention that I am one of them. One time, someone bought a copy of my Young Adult thriller, Tricked, and as I cashed them out, I could not tell them I wrote it. I felt embarrassed, awkward and tongue-tied.

This new book is a little different. It’s not just about promoting myself as an author; it is also raising awareness of a cause. $1 from every copy of My Life With Cats will be donated to the local, non-profit agency, Caring For Cats. Among the wonderful things they do for the feral cat community in Jefferson County, is to capture, spay/ neuter the animals and re-release them into the neighborhoods where they were found. (Most feral cats are unadoptable, but this procedure cuts down on the rampant breeding and inbreeding that would otherwise occur.)  Feral kittens are salvageable, if rescued when young enough, and Caring For Cats volunteers foster these baby kitties until they are ready for adoption.

Tragically, the founder of the Caring For Cats charity, JoAnn Reed, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She has helped others in the Cape Vincent/Three Mile Bay communities for decades, and now she needs OUR help.

joann-with-kitten

JoAnn with a kitten that was adopted

So, as uncomfortable as it might be for me, I am rebuilding my website and contacting press, little by little. I feel like I’m playing a character, like I do on the radio. Pretending to be happy and confident. Psyching myself up for interviews and such. I had a ton-load of people– co-workers, friends and strangers– come through for me to raise funds when I needed surgery. It is my turn to give back.

Watch for my revised website soon, plus personal appearances… Wherever. If you know of local gift shops or stores that might sell my book, please let me know.

Meanwhile, I am planning a future book signing and cat food drive. Stay tuned for details!

Pray for JoAnn and the feral cat community.

 

kitties

Picture Courtesy of Caring For Cats

 

 

Stop the Presses! Here’s My New Book!

I’ve been trying to write a cat book for what feels like Forever.

 

Actually, I HAVE had a completed “cat book” sitting on the shelf, for more than two years. It’s a children’s book (whose title I’ll keep to myself for now), and its plot revolves around a specific cause which I am passionate about. The reason I haven’t published it? ARTISTS! This is a book that requires illustrations– LOTS of them!– and I’ve had cruddy luck  with illustrators. At least a half-dozen signed up for the project and then backed out for various reasons. So I gave up on that project. Maybe I’ll get back to it someday.

 

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Clip art image

After this disappointment, I tried to work on a couple of novel ideas. One was an adult romance/ mystery based on some old love letters I found. The other was a cutting-edge YA shocker that I intend to get back to at some point. But in both cases, I kept hitting walls after a few chapters.

kitty_is_sad

“That’s sad!”

 

Then, I had the blind luck to organize a fundraiser for a local feline rescue group, Caring For Cats. I rounded up a trio of local authors who have published animal-related books. While thumbing through the pages of their nonfiction books, I had an epiphone:

 

I had enough cat stories to fill up a book! Was my Muse trying to send me a sign that I was going in the wrong direction with my lightweight fiction piece?

Aside from my blog, the only real cat of mine that I ever wrote about was Deej. His story appeared in an anthology called The Third Kingdom, a collection of animal stories by Northern NY authors, published in 2014.

 

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This limited-run book is no longer available.

The results: Two months or so of scrambling, scavenging, sweating, brainstorming, remembering, and crying long-overdue tears for the kitties who’d crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

THE RESULTS….

My Life With Cats: True Stories of Real Cats Who Left Pawprints on my Heart is probably the quickest book I ever wrote. The hardest part was digging up old pictures and getting them scanned, then getting the manuscript properly formatted. I’d never realized before how many cats I’ve loved in my lifetime, since many of them were not actual pets but feral cats that I worked hard to try and rescue. It was certainly an emotional undertaking! I found myself crying over kitties I have not thought of in almost twenty years… like Brutus. 

 

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Brutus, my Sweet Love….Wish I could have saved you, buddy.

 

I wouldn’t dream of asking you to purchase my book based on my WordPress blog– which is mostly lighthearted, unlike the sentimental book– so I’m letting you read a free sample here. It’s part of Chapter Four: Kittens! And involves my attempt to tame two feral cat families in y neighborhood. I was stopped in my tracks by a mean neighbor.

 

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1988

One day, when I was home alone and Mom was at work, I was startled by a rapping at the back door. An unfamiliar old woman was standing on the deck, scowling through the glass at me. She had a large, hooked nose, and her square face was framed by a faded, old-fashioned kerchief. She wore a long dress, paired with ugly, orthopedic shoes. She was clutching a broom in her right hand. Even though she saw me coming to the door, she continued to rap at the glass with the broom handle. I was worried she’d crack it; then we’d be in trouble with the landlord.

Hesitantly, I unlatched the door and opened it a crack. “Yes?” I asked.

“Your cats?” she fairly shouted, pointing an accusing, crooked finger at me.

Even though she’d spoken just two words, I realized that English was not this woman’s first language. Her accent was very thick. There was a large Greek immigrant population in the area. A Greek Orthodox church stood on Breakwater Road, the main drag.

I guess I must have been staring at her blankly, because she repeated: “You have cats?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her. Technically they weren’t my cats, but they might as well be. Of course, there was no way to communicate this to her in a way that she would understand. So I just nodded “yes.”

“They dig up my garden!” She turned and pointed across the backyard, indicating that she lived beyond the trees that marked the end of our property line. “They always digging!”

“I’m sorry,” was all I could say.

“You better keep them away from my garden! Keep inside!” She nodded at my enclosed porch.

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Stock photo of mean old lady

“I- I’ll try,” I said, knowing this was an impossible request. Even if I violated the landlord’s No Pets policy by keeping the kittens inside, what about Alexis and Miranda? I watched the old woman as she hobbled away, half-expecting her to ride her broomstick home.

I told Mom about this frightening encounter when she got home from work. She reminded me that cold weather would be here before we knew it.

“What are we supposed to do then?” she asked. “We can’t keep them all in the house.”

I suggested we let them stay in the garage. It wasn’t heated, but it would be shelter, at least, from the snow and wind.

“But in the spring, they’ll want to go outside, and they’ll go right back to digging up the lady’s garden,” Mom reasoned.

We had to come up with a better plan.

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If you are  curious to read more, here is the link to purchase the book on Amazon. It is equal parts laughter, heartache and humor. Every dedicated cat lover will find a story that speaks to their heart!

LOCAL FRIENDS AND FANS, I urge you to support our little, independent Watertown bookstore, The Reading Room, by BUYING IT THERE!!!!!! (It’s in Salmon Run Mall.)

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FYI, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Caring for Cats, and other cat rescue groups as I stumble upon them.

Thank you so much for your support!

 

Authors We Lost in 2016

We lost a lot of great authors in 2016. Here is a tribute to some of the unforgettable writers we lost in the past year.

 

Harper Lee (died Feb 19)

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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won a Pulitzer Prize the following year. It is considered a classic in American literature. In 2015, a manuscript that was thought lost or destroyed, Go Set a Watchman, was published. It was actually the first draft of Mockingbird.

 

Elie Wiesel (died Sept 30)

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Weisel was a Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate and political activist. He was also the author of more than 50 books, the most famous of which was Night.

Jackie Collins (died Sept 19)

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Jackie Collins was a controversial romance novelist whose career spanned five decades. Her first novel, The World Is Full of Married Men, was published in 1968 and was widely banned and criticized as “smut.” Her best-selling book was 1983’s Hollywood Wives. In 1985, it was turned into a miniseries by Aaron Spelling.

Anna Dewdney (died Sept 3)

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Anna Dewdney was the author of the popular children’s series that began with Llama Llama Red Pajama in 2005. Subsequent titles included Llama Llama Home With Mama and Llama Llama Time to Share. Dewdney died of brain cancer at the young age of 50.

Michael Blake (died May 2)

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Michael Blake wrote the 1988 novel, Dances With Wolves, which was turned into an epic film by Kevin Costner in 1990.

Pat Conroy (died March 4)

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Pat Conroy was the author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini. Both were made into Oscar-nominated films.

Gloria Naylor  (died September 28)

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Gloria Naylor’s most famous book was 1982’s The Women of Brewster Place. It won a National Book Award the following year, and in 1989 was made into a film, spearheaded by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

The great thing about being a writer is, while a body may die and a mortal soul depart… books and stories live forever. Therefore, authors are as close to immortal as a human can be.

2016 Reading Challenge… DONE!!!!

 

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Well, 2016 is just about over, and I am happy to announce that I have FINALLY completed the Reading Challenge that I so eagerly undertook in January!

The second-to-last step of the Challenge really held me up. “Read a Book That Intimidates You.” At first I thought this was a preposterous notion… I never realized how many books could, in fact, intimidate me! Many of these fell into the Self-Help category. One had something to do with “Ex-aholics,” and another was a “classic” by Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) that mysteriously showed up in my mailbox with no return address. I made it only part-way through the former and read the latter in its entirety. I don’t feel comfortable using the Louise Hay book in this category, because it requires one to “do the work,” so to speak, and I was not willing to do the tasks it required. (One involved looking in the mirror and saying positive affirmations every day. No can do.) I guess you can say I was still intimidated by the book after reading it. I felt like a failure.

 

Ultimately, I resorted to an old high school enemy: William Shakespeare. Of all the books I was forced–I mean ASSIGNED– to read in High School, I only remember hating “Wuthering Heights” and every book by Shakespeare. I guess it’s because of the mind-bending Early Modern English he utilized in his writing;  it’s sort of like reading a book in a foreign language that you barely have a grip on. If you have to pause to mentally translate every sentence, it certainly takes away the enjoyment that ought to come with reading a book (or in this case, a play). So I decided to “cheat.” Rather than the original Shakespearean text, I checked out a modern translation by a local author, David Andalora. Dave is a special education teacher who has translated several adaptations of Shakespeare’s works into “Today Speak,” so that they can be read quickly and easily, with none of  the original content lost in translation. Rather than the over-exposed “Romeo and Juliet,” I decided to take on MacBeth, a play believed to have been performed as early as 1606. . I much prefer tragedies over comedies, and Will Shakespeare was renowned for both.

 

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Reading MacBeth in “plain speak” was surprisingly easy and even fun. It was a darkly interesting psychological study into what atrocities humans commit when driven by greed, and how Evil can snowball and spiral out of control. I was surprised at the extent of the violent, bloody nature of Macbeth’s crimes, and wondered how they could have believably pulled this off onstage four hundred years ago. I understand that the three witches were there partly for comic relief and more so, because they foreshadowed how Macbeth’s downfall would come about. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if Shakespeare’s portrayal stoked the public frenzy that caused hundreds of supposed “witches” to be hunted, unjustly tried, and killed from the 1500s to the early 1800s. (No wonder Modern Day Wiccans are usually very secretive about their religion!) Anyway, I would still not read Shakespeare’s works in their original form, but I’d give another of Mr. Andalora’s translations a try.

 

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Finally, I came to the twelfth– and the easiest– of the challenge. “Read a Book You’ve Read at Least Once Before.”

 

How many times have I read Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Who knows… a couple dozen, at least, starting at around eight or nine years old. At first, I was curious to read it because of the TV series “Little House on the Prairie,” but even at that young age, I realized that Laura’s real-life childhood was very different from the television portrayal.

 

As an only child with a “Ma” but no “Pa,” I completely immersed myself in the happy little Ingalls family– which then consisted of just Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and little Baby Carrie.

 

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I wanted to live in that little log cabin and eat fresh bear meat that Pa had hunted, to help churn the butter, to sleep in a straw mattress bed in  a loft, and to ride in a covered wagon to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, deep in the deep Wisconsin woods. Even though Pa was stricts and spanked Laura when she was bad, he would gently explain afterwards why she’d deserved it. There was no questioning the love in that family, even though they never actually uttered the words “I Love You.” It didn’t need to be verbalized to be understood and felt.

 

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The closing passage,  in LHITBW touched me profoundly as a third grade girl, and still brings tears to my eyes everytime I read it.

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

 

Such profound thoughts for such a young girl! But, as we know… time marches on. Every Today will become a Yesterday, and eventually a blip in history, entirely forgotten.  Unless we make a difference in our own way.

And so concludes my 2016 Reading Challenge. I think I will create my own categories for next year.
Happy New Year,Kind Readers! Best of luck with everything in your lives!