And the #1 Un-Christmassy Christmas Song IS…

Finally! We have arrived at the pinnacle of Mt. UnChristmas. The only clue I dropped during this whole Top 13 countdown was song #7 (“Where Are You, Christmas?” by Faith Hill, from the 2000 remake of “The Grinch.”)

1.You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch- Thurl Ravenscroft (UNCREDITED!)

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The Grinch and Thurl Ravenscroft

Most everybody knows that the Grinch in the 1966 animated TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas was voiced by actor Boris Karloff. However, Karloff did NOT sing the special’s most memorable tune… although it was mistakenly credited to him. The song was actually performed by one Thurl Ravenscroft. While he may not exactly be a household name, those of us who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s will remember him as the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes cereal commercials. (“They’re Grrrreat!!!”)

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Thurl with Tony the Tiger

The reason for using Ravenscroft for the one song was, even though he and Karloff sounded very much alike, Boris Karloff could not sing. Legend has it that Dr. Seuss himself tried to rectify the situation and wrote letters to journalists to try and give the voice artist proper credit, even calling Ravenscroft on the telephone to apologize for the oversight.

Here are the full lyrics to the #1 most Un-Christmassy Christmas Song of All Time!

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

You really are a heel.

You’re as cuddly as a cactus,

You’re as charming as an eel,

Mr. Grinch.

You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel.

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch.

Your heart’s an empty hole.

Your brain is full of spiders.

You’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr Grinch.

I wouldn’t touch you with a

Thirty-nine and a half foot pole.

You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch.

You have termites in your smile,

You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile,

Mr Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you,

I’d take the seasick crocodile.

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch.

You’re a nasty wasty skunk.

Your heart is full of unwashed socks.

Your soul is full of gunk,

Mr Grinch.

The three best words that best describe you,

Are as follows, and I quote”

Stink!

Stank!

Stunk!

You’re a rotter Mr Grinch

You’re the king of sinful sots

Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots

Mr Grinch

Your soul is an appalling dump heap

Overflowing with the most disgraceful

Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,

Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr Grinch

With a nauseous super nos

You’re a crooked jerky jockey and,

You drive a crooked horse

Mr Grinch!

You’re a three-decker sauerkraut

And toadstool sandwich,

With arsenic sauce!

And with those unmatchable sentiments, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a healthful,happy New Year!

4… 3… 2…More Un-Christmassy Fun!

  1. Please Come Home for Christmas- the Eagles (and Charles Brown, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, etc.)  

 

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Bells will be ringing this sad sad News

Oh what a Christmas to have the blues

My baby’s gone I have no friends

To wish me greetings once again

 

Originally released in 1960 by blues singer Charles Brown (he co-wrote it with Gene Redd), the song rose to even greater popularity when the Eagles recorded it in 1978. That year, it made the Top 20 on the pop charts, the first Christmas song to do so since 1963.

This line always irked me:

Please come home for Christmas

If not for Christmas by New Years night

Complete cop-out! The song’s not even over and already he is buying time, because he knows she’s NOT coming home for Christmas!

 

 

 

 

  1. Blue Christmas- Elvis Presley (and, like, hundreds of other artists)

 

Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, the song was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. It enjoyed greater success the following year as a Country & Western hit by Ernest Tubb. Elvis originally recorded the melancholy ballad in 1957, but it wasn’t made commercially available as a single until 1964. (No iTunes in those days, kiddos!)

Here’s Elvis performing it live in 1968:

 

  1.  Last Christmas- Wham!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              last-xmas                                                                                                                                                                 This lil’ gem first wormed its way into our ears in winter of 1984. Written and produced by one-time heartthrob George Michael, “Last Christmas” was recorded by his duo Wham! and went on to become one of the year’s biggest seasonal hits (along with the all-star charity record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band-Aid… which, oddly enough, also featured Wham!)

 

“Last Christmas I gave you my heart

But the very next day, you gave it away.”

 

The very NEXT DAY??!!?? What a hussy!

 

The song has been covered over the years, mostly by young female pop artists… Taylor Swift, Hillary Duff, Ashley Tisdale, Ariana Grande and Carly Rae Jepsen, to name a few. But no other recording has quite captured the lonely disillusionment of the original recording.

 

And the video, with its classic 1980s hairdos and fashion? Iconic.

 

Well, we’ve almost arrived at the pinnacle of this un-merry musical mountain… Think you know my pick for Thee ultimate, most Un-Christmassy Christmas song of all time???
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this blog series!

More of My Top Un-Christmassy Christmas Songs. #7 is…

 

Aaaand we’re back! The good news is, we have gotten all the songs involving alcohol out of the way. (I mean, getting drunk is such an easy “out” if you are struggling to make it through the holidays.)

Snow is on the ground. Temps are waaay below freezing. Sure “feels” like Christmas, at least climate-wise. Yet, it all seems so artificial, so empty…

 

7. Where Are You, Christmas?- Faith Hill

In 2000, Dr. Seuss’s 1957 children’s book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was adapted into a live action movie starring Jim Carrey in the lead role. (It had previously been made into a cartoon TV special in 1966.) The Cindy Lou Who character performs the song in the film. Country Sweetheart-turned-Pop Diva Faith Hill recorded it for the soundtrack. The tune was penned by Will Jennings and James Horner, best known for their work on the “Titanic” soundtrack (Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” etc.)

 

faith
Where are you Christmas
Why can’t I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can’t I hear music play?

Ah, but I CAN still hear the music playing, Faith. It is hurting my ears and my heart. Hence, this blog series.

 

 

6. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)- Darlene Love
The Phil Spector Christmas 1963 album, “A Christmas Gift For You,” was a masterpiece. Featuring tunes by the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, and Bob B.Soxx and the Blue Jeans, this record epitomized the “Wall of Sound” well, sound, that *made Spector famous.

*This was decades before his ex-wife Ronnie (lead singer of the Ronettes) spoke publically about his alleged physical mental abuse, and Phil’s imprisonment for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson.

 

In 1987, the song enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, thanks to U2’s remake. Meh.

 

5. Merry Christmas Darling- the Carpenters

 

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Nobody ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever sang a sad song as convincingly as Karen Carpenter. Ever. That’s because she was probably one of the saddest, loneliest pop stars of the 20th century. Too bad no one knew that until after she croaked. (Read this book: “Little Girl Blue” by Randy Schmidt.)
Originally recorded in 1970, the song made the holiday charts in many years following. It was finally included on an album (The Carpenters’ iconic “Christmas Portrait”) in 1978.
The song’s deceptively romantic lyrics leave the listener– and Karen– hanging. It’s kind of like a love letter that comes back stamped “Return to Sender.” (Sigh.)

 

 

The theme of Loneliness will continue in the next batch of tunes.

Cracking Open the Top 10: My UN-Christmassy Christmas Song Playlist

Aaaand we’re back,with more Un-Christmassy fun! It’s time to start unveiling the Top 10. Ready?

  1.  Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day- Brenda Lee

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I fought with myself over whether to include this tune or not. After all, 99.999% of you who are reading this (which amounts to,perhaps ten or twelve people) have never heard of this little gem. But since this blog is about MY personal Top 13 Un-Christmassy Christmas tunes, it doesn’t really matter how obscure this tune is.

When it comes to seasonal songs, Brenda Lee (AKA “Little Miss Dynamite”) will be remembered for eternity for her hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” But my Mom was Brenda’s biggest fan, so I grew up with ALL of Brenda’s music. Even as a small child, I gravitated towards sad songs. So,even though Brenda recorded cheerful songs like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Marshmallow World” on this LP, my favorite, by far, was  “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day.” Key lyrics are in the bridge:

“I had a lonely September, October, November, too.

But December is twice as lonely without you.”

 

 

9. TIE!!!!!

Merry Christmas From the Family- Montgomery Gentry

Country music and drinking go together like, well rum and Coke! I can’t decide between these two intoxicating tunes…. They basically cancel each other out.

Country music duo, Montgomery Gentry recorded this nugget, written by Robert Earl Keen, in 2001. The title may sound like a line from a Hallmark Card, but once you hear Eddie Montgomery utter the opening line: 

“Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at a Christmas party…”

You know that this is not going to be your ordinary, warm-and-fuzzy holiday tune. Not in the least.

 

Drunk on Christmas- Big and Rich

Comedian/ talk show host Jimmy Fallon had already made this ditty a holiday staple on his late night show, when he teamed up with country singer-songwriter John Rich in December 2010 to make it a boisterous duet. At the time, John was taking a break from the duo Big and Rich to work on some solo projects. He and “Big Kenny” Alphin have since reunited, and in 2012, they released their own take on the song. It seems a perfect choice of holiday tunage from the act whose debut single was called “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.”

 

8. Nuttin’ For Christmas- Barry Gordon

 

 

 

One of the cool things about writing this multi-part blog is learning things I never knew before about songs I’ve heard for ages. In this case, we travel all the way back to 1955 (it’s the oldest song on this list). Barry Gordon was only six years old when he recorded this lil’ gem. Written by Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett, this song perfectly illustrates why I never had kids;  if I had, he’d have probably been something like the brat in this song. The precocious lad brags about all of the petty crimes he’s committed over the past year… putting a tack on his teacher’s chair, spilling ink on Mom’s carpet, filling the sugar bowl with ants, even using counterfeit money to buy bubble gum!

So, did this Barry kid grow up to be a hardened criminal? Was he some random schoolboy who could hold a tune, but who faded into obscurity after his voice changed?

Anything but!!! Actually, Barry Gordon may not be a household name, but he continued his showbiz career for decades, following his infectious pop hit, acting in TV and on Broadway, and providing voices in the 1980s for Smurfs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barry was also President of the Screen Actors Guild for seven years.

 

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Barry as a Grown-up

Tune in later this week for the next installment in our countdown!

My Top 13 Un-Christmassy Christmas songs, Part 1

Christmas music. Love it or hate it, you can’t escape it, unless you live under a rock from Thanksgiving through December 25th. For some of us, it gets us into the “holiday spirit” (whatever that means). But for others of us, whether we’re Pagan, depressed, or just lonely, it can be an annoyance! I am writing this on December 1st, and I’m already so sick of Christmas songs, I want to grab the next person I hear whistling “Jingle Bells” by the neck and shake them, screaming: “You can take your ‘Holly Jolly’ and shove it up your ‘fa la la la’ lovin’…” Well, you know.

I’ve compiled a list of Un-Christmassy Christmas songs that celebrate the Scrooge, alcoholic and loner in all of our hearts.

  1. Thinking About Drinking for Christmas- Kristian Bush

Kristian Bush hasn’t enjoyed quite as stellar a solo career as his former Sugarland mate, Jennifer Nettles, has, but he has released some cool, if not underheard, tunes on his own. One of them is “Thinking About Drinking for Christmas,” a clever ditty Bush penned with fellow singer Chris Young and Nashville hit songwriter Brett James. Kristian began including it in his live shows in 2013 and officially released it as a singer two years later. Kristian even includes a shout-out to his real-life Aunt Alice in the lyrics. He told Rolling Stone magazine:

kristian-b

“She was the kind of aunt that always hugged you too hard and wouldn’t stop talking, you know? There’s something about your family that can stress you out sometimes, but you still love them. You’re just not around them all year, and you don’t have the skill set to navigate them. Sometimes, you can start thinking about what’s gonna help you deal with all of that.”

I’ll drink to that, Kristian… Cheers!

 

 

  1. Christmas Always Makes Me Cry- Kacey Musgraves. This song is a brand new one, from Musgraves’s A Very Kacey Christmas CD, which just came out at the end of October. (See what I mean about retailers rushing the season??) The album includes classic holiday tunes, (there’s a duet with Willie Nelson!), plus four originals that Kacey penned herself. A stand-out among these is “Christmas Always Makes Me Cry.” Musgraves explains: “There can be a touch of sad feelings and memories during the holiday season for a lot of people so I knew when I went in to write I wanted to include all the emotions this time of year can bring out.”

 

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Kacey performed the song on this year’s CMA Country Christmas TV special. Nicely done.

 

  1. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer- Elmo and Patsy

elmo

I really, really, REALLY did not want to include this tune, because I am soooo sick of it! It has definitely lost its novelty since it came out in 1979. (Although it does still make me smile, to think how much my grandma hated the song, and how Grandpa, Mom and I laughed at her whenever it came on.) Composed by Randy Brooks, it was recorded by the then-husband-and-wife team of Elmo and Patsy Shropshire. They sold copies of their recording on 45rpm records at their live shows, until the thing went viral nationally (however things went viral in 1979).  “Grandma” in the accompanying music video is actually Elmo in drag. Trivia  tidbit: After they divorced, Elmo re-recorded the song, without Patsy. He was being nice… After all, he could have changed the words to “PATSY got Run Over by a Reindeer,” but he didn’t.

 

Next time, we’ll crack open the Top Ten Un-Christmassy Christmas songs! And probably a six-pack.

The Most Challenging of the 2016 Reading Challenge!

    The tenth assignment in the 2016 Reading Challenge was holding me up from accomplishing my goal… threatening to sabotage me from completing the challenge by December 31st! Why? Because it required me to read a book that has been in my house (well, apartment, really) for a long time that I never read. I have no such tomes. I buy ‘em, I read ‘em. Nothing goes unread, once acquired by my eager hands and inquisitive mind. What to DOOOO?????

    I don’t know if this is cheating, but I bought a bunch of books at two local library sales. I let them sit for a coupla days on my living room couch. Then I blindly reached into the pile and pulled out…

    The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson

 

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My reading buddy, Jinx

.

    I picked this book up for a quarter at a library in Boonville, NY. I was attracted to it because 1) I had seen the movie, 2) I am from Long Island, and 3) I was hospitalized for many months in Amityville in 1991, and it really was quite horrific! .

    If you’re unfamiliar with the story (or Urban Legend?) of the experiences of the Lutz family while they lived in their “dream home” at 112 Ocean Avenue for a mere twenty-eight days in 1975, let me bring you up yo speed. The family, which consisted of George and Kathy Lutz and their three children (plus Harry the dog), were surprised at the “bargain” price of the beautiful, three story house: only $80,000! (According to an inflation calculator, that would be equivalent to $392,258.01 in today’s money.) What could be wrong with the place? It certainly wasn’t falling apart, In fact, although it was slightly more expensive than what they’d been planning to spend, the house was all they ever wanted.

    The real estate agent explained the reason for the discounted price: the home was the site of a horrific mass murder the year before, one that made national headlines. On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo shot to death his parents, two brothers and two sisters while they were asleep. (He claimed he’d been hearing “voices” for months before the massacre.) He was consequently given six consecutive life sentences.

                          Ron DeFeo’s mug shot, and pictured on the far right with the siblings he                                                 murdered.

  Now, a lot of folks might be put off by such a story and decline the chance to live in a house where such a horrible event took place, no matter how good the price was. However, the Lutzes were not superstitious.

    Of course, supernatural occurrences began as soon as the family moved in. Some examples…

George’s demeanor changed from an amiable husband and good father to that of an irritable man who had no patience with his children. He stopped showering and shaving and avoided going to work.

Certain rooms in the house were inexplicably cold, no matter how high the thermostat was turned up.

All of the toilets in the house turned pitch black inside, as though they had been painted. No amount of scrubbing or Clorox would get rid of the mysterious stain.

Unexplained shadows… MOVING ones appeared, sending Harry into a barking frenzy.

While many children have imaginary friends, five-year-old Missy’s was not your typical invisible playmate; no, her “friend” was a pig named Jodie who told her that he was an angel. The parents might have brushed this off as their kid being a little “odd”…if it weren’t for the fact that the adult Lutzes witnessed Jodie’s red eyes glowing in the dark!

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George and Kathy Lutz with two of their kids.

A local priest, Father Frank Mancuso, was alerted to the fact that the Lutzes might be in danger. When he visited the house, to bless it with holy water, he was alarmed by a disembodied, masculine voice, ordering him to:”GET OUT!” Immediately after returning to the rectory following his eerie visit to 112 Ocean Avenue, Father Mancuso became inexplicably ill, with a fever of 103 degrees. Furthermore, whenever he and the Lutzes attempted to communicate by telephone, they were interrupted by static interference, making communication virtually impossible.

One might scoff at the Lutz’s story, writing them off as attention-seekers who wanted to capitalize on the house’s history. Why, then, did the family flee from the home,leaving all of their furniture and personal possessions behind? And why would a priest “lie” confirming their story?

Other families have lived in the house after the Lutzes. I’m not sure if they experienced supernatural or demonic activity. However, they were plagued by curiosity seekers. The vast amount of strangers wanting tours and pictures of the house was so disruptive that the new owners removed the house number and made changes to the outside of the house so it wouldn’t be as recognizable.

amityville-house-305x400-before-after

Earlier this year, the house made news again when it hit the market for an asking price of $850,000.

Any takers?

I have two books left for my 2016 Reading Challenge: A book that intimidates me, and any book that I’ve read at least once before. The possibilities are endless.

2016 Reading Challenge: I’ve NOT Given Up!

2016 rc

Earlier this year, I dove into the 2016 Reading Challenge with great gusto. I eagerly plowed through the different categories: Read a Book Published Before You Were Born, A Book That Has Been Banned At Some Point, etc. I was making such progress that I wondered if I was going too fast. I thought I’d better start pacing myself, otherwise I’d be done with the list in June or July and would be twiddling my bookless thumbs for the last half of the year.

 

Then– BAM!!!– I hit a wall. Part of it, was that I was trying to complete writing a novel of my own. Secondly, I realized that three of the four remaining categories were not so easy. But I got through number 9!

 

sh1

I’ve seen this book with 4 different covers; this is the one I have.

  1. Read a Book That You Abandoned at Some Point. This was tough one for me. I generally don’t abandon books. If I’m not enjoying a particular book, I may speed read it to get it over with, but once I open a book’s cover, I have made a commitment to finish it.

 

As it turned out, the solution was right under my nose all this time. Actually, it was under my bed. The book was literally covered with dust bunnies when I plucked it out.

 

I had picked up the book Schroder, by Amity Gaige (2013) in a bargain bin last holiday season to give as a hostess gift at a Christmas dinner. Not knowing the person I was giving it to, I could only cross my fingers that she would like the book.

 

Fast-forward a few months. I run into the same woman at my workplace. She thanked me for the book, then handed it back to me and said: “I really liked it. It’s an interesting story. You should read it.”

 

I was admittedly taken aback. I’d never had a gift returned to me before. But I sensed no sarcasm in this woman’s gesture. So I thanked her and accepted her unexpected regift of Schroder.

 

I attempted to start reading the books, but didn’t get very far. Apparently, I must have dropped the book behind my bed after dozing off while reading it. I unearthed it during a cleaning spree (along with several missing socks, eight colored colored pencils, three cat toys and sixty-five cents in change).

 

Shroder, the title character, is Erik Shroder, who, as a young boy, escapes embattled East Germany with his father in 1984. The two escape to the United States and settle in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Erik grows up feeling ashamed of his un-Americanness, trying to hide his German accent and fighting futilely to fit in. His life changes when he wins a scholarship to a summer camp, where he finally has a chance to reinvent himself. The kids there come to know him as “Eric Kennedy,” an identity that allows him to rewrite his own history. By summer’s end, he is a confidant, popular kid. Over the next three summers,Eric attends the same camp, still using the Kennedy alter ego. The facade should have ended with his graduation, but it doesn’t.

sh2

Same book, different cover.

Instead, Erik Shroder enters adulthood as Eric Kennedy. Using his false ID, he goes to college, falls in love, marries a woman named Laura, and enjoys a lucrative career in real estate. Most importantly, he becomes the father to a very bright and precocious daughter named Meadow. When she is a toddler, Eric and Laura start to disagree about how she should be brought up. Laura is angry that Eric has taught their daughter to read at the age of three, while Erik disagrees with Laura’s decision to enroll Meadow in a private Catholic school. A contentious divorce ensues. Eric has very limited custody of their daughter. His frustration with his situation leads to him to kidnap Meadow from school one day.

 

The author takes us along on a harrowing, dangerous roadtrip, a desperate journey that Eric plans as he goes along. It’s hard to keep track of how many laws he breaks as he crosses state lines with his frightened child. In trying to “rescue “ his daughter, he puts her very life in danger. While it’s easy to sympathize with Eric during almost the first three quarters of the story, his desperation turns scary to the point of near-insanity. Hmm… maybe full-blown insanity?

 

Told in the form of a very long letter Eric writes to his estranged wife  after his and Meadow’s disastrous odyssey, Shroder is a memorable novel that will make you think… and rethink.

 

It was also good enough to cause me to order one of Gaige’s earlier novels.

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Amity Gaige

Now I only have three categories left to complete in the 2016 Reading Challenge: A Book I Own But Have Never Read (Ummm…???), A Book That Intimidates Me (there are three candidates for this) and A Book I’ve Already Read At Least Once (well, that’s too many to choose from!).

 

Stay tuned…

James Patterson “Cradle and All”

I’m not normally a big James Patterson fan (although the customers in the bookstore where I work can’t get enough of him). I just never quite got into the Alex Cross crime detective novels. I glanced at his “Middle School” series, aimed for Young Adults, and didn’t find them at all amusing. However, the cover of his newest release, Cradle and All, caught my eye. A quick glance at the plot description sold me. I immediately purchased a copy and set about reading it during an eight-hour shift at the bookstore. I finished the little bit that was left the following morning.

all-orig-cover

This is NOT your typical James Patterson novel. It is a pure, true thriller, in every sense of the word!

 

The premise is this: two teenage girls, unknown to each other and living thousands of miles apart, find themselves pregnant. Not so unusual, except for the fact that they’re both virgins. Kathleen is a beautiful girl, living a life of wealth and privilege in Providence, Rhode Island. The other pregnant virgin, Colleen, lives in a small village in Ireland, where she barely scrapes by and cares for her dying mother.

 

After medical doctors confirm that both girls are, in fact, virgins, the Vatican gets involved. They are convinced that one of the girls will give birth to the Son of God, while the other will bear the spawn of Satan. All signs point to the End Times: a new strain of Polio is killing children in Boston and Los Angeles. There is a famine in Jordan. Civil War rages in the Middle East. A drug-resistant AIDS epidemic breaks out in other countries.

 

Ann Fitzgerald is a former nun, now a Private Eye, called upon by a Cardinal from the Archdiocese of Boston to meet both of the girls and investigate their claims. At age 24, Ann is a virgin herself. An interesting subplot involves Ann and the sidekick she is assigned: a handsome preacher named Justin, who she came close to having an affair with years ago. Needless to say, they still have unresolved feelings for one another.

 

The way the two pregnant teen virgins are treated could not be more different. The American media falls in love with Kathleen. They see her as a martyr, believing that her baby will save humanity. The media will not leave her alone. Conversely, the Irish church keeps Colleen’s pregnancy a secret from the world. The villagers, know, however, and they don’t believe that she is an innocent virgin. They are merciless in their treatment of Colleen, calling her hurtful names, shaming her with vulgar graffiti, even physically assaulting her at one point.

 

Your mind will ping-pong back and forth, as the good-versus-evil odds sway from Kathleen to Colleen and back again, until…

 

Two VERY big plot twists happen when both girls go into labor. Brace yourself for a couple of shocking revelations!

 

The final surprise occurs in the aftermath of the eventful births. All I’ll say is it has to do with the heroine, Ann. The incident leads to the book’s chilling epilogue.

 

Oh, BTW, I guess the bloody baby carriage cover was “too much” for some booksellers, so the publisher released this kinder, gentler version.

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I think this is my favorite book of 2016 so far!!!

Book Review: Jaycee Dugard’s “Freedom”

I’ve mentioned the book A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard in my blog before, back when I addressed the topic of Banned Books Week. I’ve reread this incredible memoir many times since its publication in 2011. In that book, Jaycee described, in painful detail, her eighteen years in captivity, following her abduction from a school bus stop in Lake Tahoe in 1991. During that time, she gave birth to two daughters, fathered by her captor, finding herself the mother of two by the time she otherwise would have graduated from high school. In August of 2009, her nightmare finally came to an end, thanks to the diligence of strangers, and Jaycee was reunited with her family.

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Dugard’s second book, Freedom: My Book of Firsts chronicles the seven years since her dramatic rescue made international headlines. Unlike its predecessor, which is best read in small increments, because of the disturbing subject matter, this new installment is a quick and pleasant read, containing equal parts laughter and inspiration. The author’s sense of humor is apparent from the book’s opening, where she states: “No, I am not a Duggar. I do not have eighteen siblings. Let’s get one thing straight: my last name is DUGARD.”

 

Jaycee chronicles her journey into the world as an independent adult, a right she never thought she would enjoy, after spending more than half her life as Phillip Garrido’s slave. All the things most of us get to experience as teenagers– learning to drive, to cook, to go shopping in a mall– were surreal adventures for Jaycee. She points out that driving, in particular, is “not a right, but a privilege.” In a weird twist of fate, her younger sister, Shayna, who was just a baby when Jaycee was kidnapped, is the person who taught her to drive.

The money she made from her first book, and from a successful lawsuit against the State of California, allowed Jaycee and her family and close friends to travel to places Jaycee had only dreamed of seeing: Ireland, Belize… It is so cool to see her pictures and read her HAPPY memories from these adventures. They are SO deserved!

Much of Jaycee’s incredible recovery can be attributed to animals. In particular, horses. Learning to ride was a liberating exercise for Jaycee. She is also a dog and cat lover. In fact, not long after her rescue, Jaycee asked authorities to round up the many cats that had lived on the Garrido property where she and her daughters were held captive. (Four of the felines were rescued as a result.)

One question that many have asked Jaycee, in one form or another, is: “Where is your rage? Where is the anger?” Certainly, she has the right to be angry, furious, even… or at the very least, bitter. In Jaycee’s words:

“There’s lots in this world to be angry about. The world is a very angry place, and there are some very angry people living here on this planet we all share. However, I don’t choose to live in an angry state all of the time. I don’t live there. I don’t wallow in self-pity and think of all the what-ifs of life. It’s a waste of time and energy.”

It’s safe to guess that Freedom will not be Jaycee’s last book… There’s still so much she hasn’t done yet! Like, go on a date, for instance. Yep, even after her horrid, unthinkable, unimaginable ordeal with Phillip Garrido raping her on an almost daily basis during her childhood, Jaycee still entertains the possibility that there may be a ‘Prince Charming’ out there, waiting to sweep her off her feet and live with her, Happily Ever After, even though she has never been on an actual date yet.

 

Jaycee ex

 

As for that so-called, “Happy Ending”… Let’s let Jaycee address that issue:

“My ending for this book is not an ending at all because my life goes on, even during the bad, hard, heart-crushing times. Even these moments have taught me something. I’m not thankful for them, but I’m tolerant of them because of this fact.”
I, for one, look forward to the next installment in Jaycee’s incredible story!

Picking the Perfect Name

Naming characters can be one of the trickiest parts of creative fiction writing. You can picture them in your head… but the perfect name eludes you. It’s kinda like when you meet someone familiar at a cocktail party, and their name is right on the tip of your brain. But… is it Jack? James? Joseph? Argh!!!

I always Google any fictional name I come up with. This actually came about as a result not of my writing, but my other career, in radio broadcasting. For years, I worked at a country station under the moniker of “Cricket.” When the opportunity arose for me to temporarily work at a Classic Hits station, I decided I wanted to use my real first name, Holly, coupled with a fake surname. The original name I came up with (I won’t say what it was) turned out to also be the name of an Adult Movie Star! Good thing I Googled it! Ultimately, I settled on the more innocuous “Holly Rivers.”

In a previous blog, I explained how I named my characters in my first novel, A Little Company. I named Pauline after a family friend. And Walter, her little brother, was a Newalis family name. With Tricked, I took the names Patrick and Mariah from two kids I only met once. Two of Patrick’s friends, Seth and Eli, were high school friends of my stepdaughter at the time. (As a matter of fact, I still know Seth. I’m not even sure he knows he’s in a book… I never ask permission!)

 

ALC cover 2

 

Sometimes I choose a character’s name because I see it spelled in an uncommon way. I once saw a business woman wearing a name badge that said “Christal.” I used the unusual spelling for the main character in my short Christmas story, Grace in the City. Another time, when I was apartment hunting, I saw a child’s artwork hanging on the refrigerator. It was signed “Karolyn.” I’d never seen the name spelled with a K instead of a C. I mentally filed it away and later used it for a supporting character in my as-yet-unpublished children’s book, Too Many Kitties.

The super-secret book I’m working on now (its code name is DFC) will be geared for teen girls. I always knew that my protagonist would be named Keri Hansen. Why? Absolutely no reason, other than it popped, crystal clear, into my head, along with an image of what the character looked like. With the book’s other characters, I envisioned what the looked like, imagined their personalities, then made lists of three to five names for each. Then I simply narrowed it down.

Baby name books are also a good source for writers. Or if you’re writing an historical piece, so to the Social Security website to find out what names were popular in the last 100 years, just choose the decade or year that applies to your story.

 

baby name book

 

Choosing surnames for my characters is really hard for me. Usually I “cheat” by scanning online news stories and searching for names in both the articles and the people who comment on them. 

It took me awhile, but I compiled a spreadsheet of girls’ and boys’ first names, plus surnames (100 of each!) that I want use in future writing projects. I doubt I’ll ever get to use them all… but you never know!