Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Gift to You: Sarah's Sacrifice

I'd like to thank everyone who has purchased my Christmas story, SARAH'S SACRIFICE. Your support means the world to me. Yet, I want the message of this story to go far and wide before Christmas, so I'll be offering free downloads on Amazonbeginning tomorrow and running through Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Sarah's Sacrifice

Back in the early 1990s there was another recession. Unemployment was high, shops were closing, and houses were foreclosing. My husband, just out of the Marine Corps, was looking for a civilian job. Funds were scarce around our place and Christmas was on its way. It crushed my spirit that we couldn't afford the My Size Barbie that my five-year-old daughter wanted for Christmas. I sought a way to explain to her that Santa Claus doesn't always bring that big thing that a child's heart is set on. One day I sat down at the computer and wrote her a story and called it Sarah's Sacrifice. I read the story to her and my three-year-old son later that night.

Over the years I've thought about having Sarah's Sacrifice published. Advice I received from publishing professionals was grim. I was an unknown author with a book that has a sales window of about one month. Had I been Mitch Albom or Fannie Flagg or another well-known author, my book would have been considered. I looked into self-publishing the book, but back then, the costs were prohibitive for someone in our financial strata. Sarah's Sacrifice lingered in the back of my mind every Christmas and I even brought out the story to read for each of my children's fourth grade classes.

Publishing is undergoing a revolution right now. Print on demand (POD) technology, the birth of the e-reading device (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony), and social media marketing has tossed the ball to authors without a mainstream publishing contract. Although I did publish a short story for e-readers earlier this year just for the experience, I've been dodging the ball. Until now. Last week I jumped into the game with a digital version of Sarah's Sacrifice now available through Amazon and a print book available through Lulu.

About Sarah's Sacrifice 

When ten-year-old Sarah Marshall donates her beloved doll to an organization that refurbishes used toys to distribute to needy families at Christmas, she learns that joy comes as much from giving as it does in receiving.
Sarah's Sacrifice weaves the spirit of Santa Claus with the Christian nativity tradition. It's a story about caring and sharing, blessing and believing for children and those who cherish the wonder of Christmas.

You can purchase Sarah's Sacrifice for Kindle here.

You can order a printed copy of Sarah's Sacrifice from Lulu here.

If you enjoy the story, would you please leave a comment or review on the site from where you purchased it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Eyes in Mexico

Standing before the entrance to the National Museum
of Archeology, are me and my traveling companions (l-r):
Rob Hard, GiAnna Wyatt, me, Yusfia Jimenez, and
Matthew Thomas.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I'll never forget how my eleventh grade English teacher, Mr. Ted Mann, introduced our first reading of Shakespeare. He paced across the front of the classroom, his eyes shimmering with the overflow of his admiration. He said, "I envy each one of you. Shakespeare is the most important figure in English literature. His themes are as powerful and relevant today as they were 400 years ago. I wish I could go back and experience Shakespeare again for the first time."

I've just spent the last three days with a trio of journalists visiting Mexico City for the first time. The group included Matthew Thomas, a veteran journalist of many years; Rob Hard, a business travel writer in his early forties, and GiAnna Wyatt, a recent journalism school grad who's landed her dream job with Prevue, a travel magazine.  GiAnna bubbled with joy for her new job, her first press trip, and her craft. Her enthusiasm overflowed onto me, drawing me back to my early days in journalism, my first job as a writer and editor and settling into adult life.

The Aztec Calendar can be seen inside the National Museum
of Anthropology in Mexico City.
I've been to Mexico City several times, yet the exuberant reactions to this grand dame of cities from individuals with such diverse backgrounds pervaded my vision during the trip. We all effused over the magnificent statuary, upscale decor and sparkling marble at the Marquis Reforma Hotel & Spa where we had spacious accommodations and superb food service. I found my eyes widening along with my companions at the broad, tree-lined streets and nodding with gusto as our tour guide, Jose Alfredo Martinez, extolled the virtues of his city like a husband whose love for his wife grows stronger as the years go by. We went to several places within Mexico City that I had never before seen--Chapultepec Park and Castle, the Zocalo, the National Museum of Anthropology. I tingled with the cosmopolitan vibe and marveled anew at how Mexico infuses the ancient with the contemporary as if the two are the yin yang of Mexican culture.

Each of my travel companions had similar concerns about safety and security before arriving in Mexico City. The US news media frequently over blows reports of crime and violence within Mexico, casting dark shadows to the safety of traveling here. It's a fact that drug cartels wield enormous power,  political corruption is legendary, and Mexico has a high rate of violent crime. The execution-style killings that make headlines in the US happen in outlaying areas where tourists seldom visit. There are neighborhoods within minutes of my home near Durham, North Carolina which I avoid because of rampant crime and violence. As we drove and walked around Mexico City my travel companions repeatedly remarked at how they didn't feel any more threatened here than in their own neighborhoods within San Francisco, Chicago and Miami. 

Seeing Mexico City through fresh eyes over the past three days, I was reminded of how powerful a first-time experience can be. You can never do something again for the first time. But you can always open your eyes and understanding to fresh impressions.

So I ask again, when was the last time you did something for the first time?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A Stunning New Voice in Fiction

A good Southern story is set in a place as realistic and vivid as the characters are colorful and meaningful, yet it's the author's voice that gives Southern fiction its distinctive flavor. From this trinity of setting, character and voice comes Tara Staley's debut novel, NEED TO BREATHE.

Where else but a town called Union Cross, North Carolina can a guardian angel named Millie Rose look over the premature infant of a dysfunctional teenage couple? When that premature infant is born with chemical burns across her body, her lungs bursting to breathe, it's Millie Rose who gets beside her and chants, "you need to breathe." After several harrowing minutes of neonatal heroics, breathe she does. The miracle of breath fills her lungs, pumps her heart and haunts her imagination throughout her life.

This 26-week-old preemie is named Claire. Her parents, Mick and Mandy, haven't a clue about their own lives, let alone raising a child. Saddled with the special needs of Claire--medically challenging, intellectually precocious, socially awkward--they sink into the abyss of too much responsibility at too young of an age. This is where Millie Rose works wonders.

For all her Southern wisdom, Millie Rose is a Yankee. She'd dreamed of being a mother herself once, but died in childbirth in 1922. Officially she is a "Corporeal Agent," and though she answers to God, there's very little angelic about her. She has demons of her own that sidetrack her from her mission to watch over Claire and lead her to her future soul mate.

Despite her having a guardian angel guiding her--or attempting to in the case of the headstrong Claire--Claire manages to mess up her life as much as her mother and father had their own. Her father hides away in his muscle car projects, while her interior designer mother is obsessed with finding the perfect shade of white. Each of them are riddled with shame from the secret they won't even discuss among themselves behind the reason for Claire's premature birth.

Characters such as the endearing geriatric twins Gerta and Grace enrich the Southern voice, while the geeky Charlie and the androgynous Big Mac strike a contemporary chord.

The American South has produced some of the world's finest writers and NEED TO BREATHE secures Tara Staley's place among them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moussaka My Way

Earlier this month I went to a writer's retreat in the North Carolina mountains with three women writers. With more than one woman in the room, it's a given that the conversation will feature family and food, but not necessarily in that order. Although we talked a lot about writing, and each of us wrote in solitude for hours each day, we came together each evening for dinner. Each of us was assigned dinner preparation for one night, then we'd eat left-overs on the final night.

Our first night's offering was supplied by Billie Hinton, who picked it up at Angelina's Kitchen in Pittsboro, NC. Billie brought a beautiful moussaka and a greek salad with traditional dressing. It had been so long since I'd had moussaka, my mouth watered while I sipped my wine in wait. Angelina's moussaka was everything I'd remembered. Like many of the delicious meals I find while traveling, I made mental notes on the taste, texture and resolved to replicate it when I got home.

I scoured the internet for recipes that would combine the taste memory with ease of preparation. I discovered there just isn't a shortcut method to moussaka. With my three eggplants, my ground beef and red potatoes as essentials, I picked and chose from recipes until I came up with this. While I enjoyed the whole combination, from breadcrumb base to bechamel sauce topping, my husband preferred the meat and potatoes sans bechamel.

Here's the recipe. If you try it, please post a comment to tell me how you liked it.

Requires 3-4 eggplants, 1 1/2 lbs of ground meat.
Preparation time: 2 hours

Meat filling:
1 1/2 lbs ground beef (or lamb)
1 eggplant
2 large onions, chopped fine
8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I use cilantro)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 bayleaf, crushed into sauce
1 24 oz can of tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Vegetable and cheese layers:
2-3 eggplants
1 lb potatoes (I used three large red potatoes for smooth consistency)
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese (I used blend of Parmesan and Romano)

Bechamel Sauce:
1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
4 cups milk
4 eggs, beaten
1/8 cup Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese (I used blend of Parmesan and Romano)
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Prep eggplant:
Begin with the eggplants. With a sharp peeler or paring knife, peel 1-inch strips about 1 inch apart down the length of each eggplant. Slice the eggplant about 1/4 inches thick. The moussaka cooks best when the excess moisture is pressed from the eggplant. To do this, lightly salt each slice, then lay the slices upon a very absorbent towel about three-slices high. Lay a cookie sheet upon the slices and weigh it down evenly at each corner. This will press much of the water that can make the moussaka layer too watery.

Boil Potatoes:
Next, place the potatoes into a pot of water, cover and bring to a boil. Lower temperature to medium and cook potatoes until soft, but not mushy.

Cook the meat filling:
While eggplant is being pressed and potatoes are boiling, begin the meat filling. Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil in large skillet until transparent. Add meat and brown into small chunks. Before adding spices, drain off excess fat from the meat. Sprinkle in the cinnamon, allspice, oregano, salt, pepper, and mix well. Mix in the tomato puree and lower temperature to simmer. Stir in the wine and sugar, then crumble the bay leaf into the mixture. While the meat filling is simmering, take 6 to 8 of the eggplant slices, and cut them into cubes. Add parsley (cilantro) and eggplant cubes into meat filling and stir them into sauce. Allow meat sauce to simmer until most of the moisture is reduced.

Bake the eggplant slices:
While meat is browning, lay the eggplant slices on greased cookie sheets. Bake eggplant at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until slices are soft.

Prepare the béchamel sauce:
While meat filling is simmering, begin preparing the béchamel sauce. Begin by melting butter in large saucepan. Whisk the salt and flour into the butter until smooth. Stir in the milk and cook until thickened to consistency of gravy. Pull off stove before boiling. Add the cheese and pinch of nutmeg and set aside to cool to touch. While the white sauce is cooling, begin preparation of vegetable layers. You will add the beaten eggs once the béchamel sauce is cool, just before ladling over finished layers.

Assembling the layers:
Spray large lasagna pan with vegetable oil. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly across bottom of pan. Slice potatoes about 1/4 inches thick and overlap them across bottom of pan. Lightly sprinkle potato layers with grated cheese. Layer and overlap the baked eggplant slices across the potato layer. Sprinkle the eggplant layer with the shredded cheese. Ladle the meat filling over the eggplant evenly.

Finish layers with béchamel sauce:
When white sauce is cool to touch, whisk the beaten eggs into the cooled white sauce. Gently ladle over the prepared moussaka layers.

Bake moussaka for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is puffy and evenly browned.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Food Memories: Sako's BLT

BLT from Bassborough Kitchen, fashioned after the World's
Best BLT made at Sako's diner in Iwakuni, Japan.
The area surrounding the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, where my husband and thus, I, were stationed from 1987-1990, was renowned for several sumptuous dining spots. My mouth still waters when I recall weekly date nights at our regular spots, Sanzoku, which the Americans called the Chicken Shack; Coq D'or, sublime french cuisine prepared before your eyes; and Sako's. Sako's wasn't really a date-night place, but a lunch spot for the world's best Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato (BLT) sandwiches.

Begin with fresh, thickly sliced white bread. Since I can't find
bread suitable for a Sako's BLT, I baked my own.
Urban legend has it that Sako's was once featured in Playboy magazine among a list of the best diners in the world. I spent several minutes searching the net to see if I could find a link to any such article.

There are raving reviews and food memories from people who visited Sako's through the years, but I found nothing to substantiate the claim. Here's my take-away. If Playboy had done a feature on the world's best diners, specifically searching for the best BLT, they would have featured Sako's.
Tomatoes must be large, red-ripe, and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
Bacon, the essential ingredient of the BLT. To get flat
bacon for sandwiches, I bake the bacon in my convection
oven until it's fully cooked, but not crisp.
When food memories get too much for me, which is to say, when my cravings for certain remembrances of food get too strong, I try to replicate the food item. Last Saturday as I fried bacon for BassMan and son, my craving for Sako's BLT piqued. This was predicated by the purchase of a large, truly ripe, homegrown tomato from one of the roadside stands that spring up here in North Carolina every summer. The holy trinity of sandwich elements were in my possession at one time--or at least in my grasp.

A Sako's BLT is the confluence of three thick elements: Thickly sliced white bread; thickly sliced ripe tomatoes, and thickly sliced bacon.

I had the thickly sliced bacon, the tasty ripe tomato, but bread? I have yet to find a bakery in North Carolina that sells the thickly sliced (Texas toast-style) white bread so commonly purchased in Japan. So I did what I always do when I can't find a specific ingredient. Improvise. I threw the ingredients for white bread into my bread machine and clicked "BAKE." Three hours later I had a perfect loaf of fluffy, white bread that I cut into thick slices.

In addition to the holy trinity of the BLT, one needs crisp lettuce and copious amounts of mayonnaise over the lightly toasted white bread. Sako's cuts their BLTs horizontally, but I prefer a sandwich cut diagonally.

The result? What do you think?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I Write

A form I was recently asked to complete asked me this: What are your writing goals (to get published, for creative expression, to stop the voices in your head, etc)?

I long ago gave up the idea that I'd ever get rich from my writing, so that was out. After a moment of self-reflection, I came up with this:
Fiction is the manifestation of wonder, imagination, and the great "what if." I write to explore that wonder and I reach out with the words of my wonder to others who share, but may not have the means to express, the wonder along with me.
Are you a writer? How would you answer this?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father's Day Favorite Reposted

In thinking about Father's Day this year, I can't help but reflect on sons as much as fathers. My husband is a retired Marine. A few years ago, our son thought he'd follow his father's footsteps right into the Corps. Interestingly, neither my husband, or myself, thought the Marine Corps was a good fit for Jonathan. Before he signed on the dotted line, he realized that also and went back to college instead.

Fast forward several years and across a continent. Jonathan never lost that desire to follow in his father's footsteps--or in this case, the footsteps of his grandfathers. My father, my stepfather, and my husband's father were all in the Air Force. We learned this week that Jonathan was accepted into the public affairs division of the Air Force and will be heading to basic training in October.

So today, as I thank my husband for being such a good role model to our children, I'm also looking forward to the day Jonathan becomes a father. The following is a Father's Day card I made for BassMan back in 2005. I think it bears reposting.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

River of Knowledge

I saw this lovely image from my friend Jose Bográn's Facebook and had to share it here.

River of Knowledge

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May Tribute: My Sister Angie

Angie is the smallest girl, sitting next to our  mother.
Angie would have been around three years old here.
May is skin cancer awareness month. It’s also the month when my younger sister, Angie, was born. Angie died in 1990 from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. When I remember her birthday each year, I am saddened that melanoma is still the easiest form of cancer to detect and treat early, but still one of the deadliest if treated late.

Angie was a freckled child, with blue eyes and auburn hair. We were California girls and our frequent trips to the beach often left Angie with angry red sunburns that blistered and peeled. It was the age of Coppertone—the 1960s—when billboards and magazine ads iconized that cute little girl with the frisky puppy nipping down her bathing suit bottom to reveal that distinct tan and white demarcation. While Gidget lived it up under the sun, the rest of the world burned and baked their skins to achieve the “perfect” tan.

Angie never got that perfect tan. My parents smeared her down with sunscreen while she compared herself to our older sister, Robin, and me, who tanned easily. As a teenager outside the watchful eyes of our parents, Angie tried her skin again at sun tanning. The results were always the same—scorched skin.

At the age of 15, a mole on Angie’s back began oozing a clear, sticky substance. The doctor didn’t seem overly concerned, telling my mother Angie was “too young” for skin cancer, but thought that removal was a good idea. Following the removal, I remember Angie telling me the doctor said the mole was so deep he couldn’t get it all out. When the biopsy result came back, it said, “Juvenile. Melanoma. Benign.” The doctor told my mom there was nothing to worry about.

Years went by. Angie went to college, married, had a son, and obtained a job as a medical assistant for a large medical group in Southern California. When she noticed odd swellings in the lymph nodes under her arms, she received immediate medical attention from her friend and physician for whom she worked. When a battery of lab tests didn’t identify a source of the swelling,  the doctor decided to remove the troublesome nodes and do a biopsy.
My sister Angie (28) and her son Jacob (5) 1989.

The results of that biopsy shocked and dismayed even that seasoned physician. At age 29, Angie was diagnosed with advanced melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer. What pathologists erroneously deemed “benign” back in 1976 was actually an early malignant melanoma that would raise its hideous head 13 years later.

By the time my sister’s melanoma was correctly diagnosed in 1990, she had already lived 12 years beyond most advanced melanoma patients. Perhaps it was her youth, her love of life, or being a mother; or maybe it was the lives of those she touched and cared for in the clinic which helped her surpass her life expectancy. Nevertheless, it was less than four months from the time of her diagnosis to the day of her passing.

Angie’s premature death at the age of 29 compelled me to share her story with anyone who has ears to hear. I know at least one blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who routinely wears her sunscreen—my own daughter Elisabeth.

Angie would be 51 years old today if the lab at Kaiser had correctly interpreted the melanoma diagnosis and the doctor had been more proactive about his own education in skin cancers. You can learn about your own risk for melanoma or other less deadly forms of skin cancer here:

Basal cell or squamous cell: American Cancer Society.

The majority of this piece was first published in Focus magazine, May 1997.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three Views Of An Iris

Okay, it's true. I'm on an iris kick. But how could I not be when these amazing beauties are blooming all around? Have you ever smelled fresh irises? They have the most delicate scent; like newborn fairies, I'm told. I got my nose nice and close to these today in my front garden.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Ode to Joy

On this Easter morning I set out to find one video clip of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" portion of his Ninth Symphony to post on my Facebook. I found such a wealth of expression for this musical masterpiece, it was hard to select just one. I narrowed it down to a vintage clip of the legendary Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, posted it on my timeline, then decided to bring a selection of the diverse expressions over to Ovations. If you have the time to listen, here's a musical tour of this magnificent classic.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony's "Ode to Joy."

Opening ceremonies of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, World Chorus symphony conducted by Seiji Ozawa.

Here is Zubin Mehta with Italian Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra, a concert to benefit Japan earthquake relief in 2011.

The complete "Ode to Joy" sung in German, with English subtitles.

From the 1994 film Blessed Immortal, the scene when Beethoven recalls his childhood.

National Children's Choir, Ireland 2007.

Children's recorder choir from Arden Cahill Academy.

Ode to Joy as expressed by the National Ukulele Choir of Great Britain.

Folk singer Pete Seeger's banjo and whistling rendition of "Ode to Joy."

Soulful funk now from the film Sister Act 2, choir conducted by Whoppi Goldberg as Sister Deloris.

Traditional choral by Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir.

Concert harp by Jon Kovac.

Celtic harp by Mike Gurule.

Folk expression on the autoharp.

On the mouth harp (harmonica) by Chris Mayka.

By Jamie Turner on "glass harp" (water-filled glasses).

Beaker the Muppet in Sesame's Street's "Mee, mee, mee."

A Clockwork Orange "Ode to Joy."

On organ by M.P. Moller at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Hudson, Ohio.

Smooth jazz by Larry McDonough Quartet.

Matt Lemmler's New Orleans Jazz Revival Band at Williams Trace Baptist Church, Sugarland, Texas.

Samuel Ramey solos in German.

Steady breath from 2008-2009 East Peoria Woodwind Quartet.

Contemporary rock expression by Casting Crowns.

Happy listening on this Easter day.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Again To Spring, A Columbine


Again to spring, a columbine raises its pure white face. A reminder that life cycles through the fevered brushes of love, the falling leaves of failure, the frigid grip of fear. That after death there is life. (Photo c 2012 by Carolyn Burns Bass)

Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fools Circa 1967

Enjoy this April Fools Day excerpt from my yet-to-be-published novel, The Sword Swallower's Daughter. This scene is from protagonist Sheila as a nine-year-old girl. In later years Sheila pulls the same trick her grandmother uses here to get back at her sword-swallowing father.

Mama hated April Fool’s Day and let it be known she would not tolerate any jokes at her expense. She said that growing up with Uncle Teddy had been like April Fool’s Day every single day of the year. That didn’t stop us from pooling our tricks on Grandma.

A penny in a gumball machine had recently rewarded me with a black plastic spider about the size of a quarter. Holly and I tied a long piece of thread around one of the spider’s legs and placed the prop on the kitchen floor just under the counter in front of the coffee percolator. Holly held one end of the string while we sat at the kitchen table eating Cheerios and waiting for Grandma to appear in her fluffy robe and floppy slippers.

“Good morning, Grandma,” I said, as she stepped through the kitchen door.

Holly tugged the string just enough for the spider to appear out from under the cabinet.

Morning, girls.” She cast us a sleepy smile and headed directly to the coffee pot.

Holly tugged the string again.

Grandma’s face went white. She lurched forward and stomped onto the spider with her floppy-slippered foot, while Holly and I went into peals of laughter. Grandma lifted her foot and Holly pulled the string again. Holly and I doubled over as Grandma shrieked and repeated the stomp and twist. When Grandma pulled her foot away the second time, Holly pulled again and Grandma’s eyes followed the spider’s movement to Holly’s hand. Her face went hard, then soft, then relieved, then something I couldn’t read. She collapsed into a chair and exhaled.

“I’m too old for this.” Grandma shook her head at us. “Go on now. I’ll make your lunches today—just leave me alone to gather my wits.”

Grandma gathered her wits and put them in our sandwiches. Sitting next to Dorris and Tracy at lunchtime, I bit into my bologna sandwich and couldn’t pull the bite away. I drew the sandwich back and lifted it apart to find a slice of brown shopping bag cut in the shape of bologna. Printed in big black letters were the words: “April Fools.”

Later that afternoon I was up in the bedroom reading when the phone rang. Most of the time I raced Holly to the phone, suffering her shoves of the shoulder or elbows in the chest. Today I let the phone ring, immersed in the problems of Julie Trelling in Up A Road Slowly.

Holly burst into the room and said, “It’s for you. It’s Lee-roy.”

I laid my book aside, raced down the stairs to the kitchen, and picked up the receiver resting on the floor in a tangle of cord.

“Hello?” I accentuated the question mark, hoping to mask the exclamation points of excitement.

“Hey, baby. Wanna braid my hair?”

So off was the voice, so un-Leroy-like the question, that it took a moment to sink in. “Who is this?”

“Not that long-hair hippie freak. April Fools!” I heard a cacophony of laughter before the phone clicked on the other end. It wasn’t until I noticed Holly staring at me with mocking eyes did I get it.

Holly burst into laughter, doubled over, and pointed to me. “You should have seen your face! You can thank Cassius for that.”

I slammed the phone into the cradle and stormed back up the stairs and closed myself away with my book.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dr. Frankenstein of Typewriters

My stepfather was a typewriter repairman when I was growing up. He still is, in fact. The inside of his shop, Montclair Business Machines (in Ontario, Califorinia), looks remarkably like the one in the video of Typewriter Man below.

Harold gave me my first clickity-clackity beast when I was in seventh grade. It was a huge Underwood that he'd repaired from a heap of junk machines he'd purchased in bulk. He had a knack for the exacting work of setting springs, replacing screws, and oiling the parts that made the keys strike cleanly, the platen turn smoothly, and the carriage return with a single swipe. He could take an old iron chassis, clean it of rust, oxidation and inky grime, then shine it like a showroom model. Some machines needed more than just a cleaning, though. From the stacks of old machines in our garage, he would cannibalize the terminal machines for the good parts, and place them into shined up or repainted frames. He was the Dr. Frankenstein of typewriters. Every Christmas he made extra money for gifts from refurbishing and selling from his stockpile of broken typewriters.

I can't say I wrote my first novel on that seventh-grade typewriter, but I did hack out crazy stories about kids and animals, fashion models, rock bands and movie stars. And aliens. I sure did love the idea of escaping earth and starting a new life somewhere else in the universe. I wish I had some of those old stories to reminisce and laugh over, but back then, I never saw myself as a writer.

Typewriter Man from Daniel Lovering on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

March In Like A Lion

If it's true that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, then we're in for more roaring weather. Fog descended across the Piedmont of North Carolina last night, draping the hills in misty gauze. The tall pines poked through the shroud like the sentinels they are. I snapped this shot of my backyard with the mist settled into the pockets beyond the treeline. I awoke this morning to the tap-dancing of rain on the roof. Bring on the spring.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

World Read Aloud Day 2012

LitChat, the discussion community I started on Twitter, is joining thousands of other individuals and organizations throughout the globe to support World Read Aloud Day on March 7, 2012. If you're in the Hillsborough, NC area you can catch a live reading event at the Depot in Hillsborough from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The Hillsborough event includes readings from local authors John Claude Bemis, Bill Floyd, A.J. Mayhew, Clay Carmichael, Aaron Belz, Barbara Younger and Linda Hanley Finigan.

At LitChat, we recognize the power of the written word spoken aloud to people of all ages and are eager to participate in any effort that encourages reading for pleasure and purpose.

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Imagine a world where everyone can read. 

On March 7, 2012, LitWorld, a global literacy organization based in New York City, pioneered World Read Aloud Day. World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.

The flagship World Reading Aloud Event will occur in at New York City’s legendary Books of Wonder, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with readings and presentations by dozens of authors, educators, and entertainers throughout the day.

LitChat encourages donations to support LitWorld’s mission for global literacy. If you donate $10 or more to LitWorld between now and March 7th, specifying LitChat as a reference, we will send you a free book. To donate, go to If you do this, please email a copy of your donation receipt to, along with your mailing address so we can send your free book. LitWorld is a 501c3 registered non-profit.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Excerpt from The Sword Swallower's Daughter

This excerpt from my yet-to-be-published novel, The Sword Swallower's Daughter appeared in the October 2007 edition of Breath & Shadow magazine. In this section you'll meet my protagonist Sheila as a young girl, her two sisters, and her mother and father who are divorcing. It's a bittersweet glimpse of love and longing.

* * * 

Daddy’s motorcycle in our driveway on Valentine’s Day could mean only one thing; he was here without his girlfriend, Marnie. I rushed inside and wrapped him in a hug. He handed me a red, heart-shaped box with a picture of a girl whose eyes winked and her mouth kissed when you turned the box this way and that.

We sat around listening to Daddy tell us about the hospital and all of the people who came to see him, including a couple of newspaper reporters. He handed Mama a newspaper clipping with a headline saying, “Neon Tube Snaps inside Sword Swallower and Horrifies Crowd.” Underneath the headline was a photo of Daddy lying in the hospital bed, his index fingers pointing up and spread apart to show the length of tube the surgeons had removed.

“Never mind the crappy headline. You weren’t horrified were you, girls?”

Holly and I took cues from each other and shook our heads. Candy said what I wanted to say and I wished once more that I could get away with her unaffected honesty. “I was so scared for you, Daddy. I thought you were going to die.”

“Thing is, the doctor said there’s going to be some scar tissue in my gut. Could be a problem in the future. I’ve been practicing with knives.”

“Swallowing knives?” I said.

“No, no, no.” Daddy shook his head with each ‘no.’ “Throwing knives. Mario Morelli says I’m a natural.”

Mama brought Daddy a cup of coffee. Daddy blew across the top of the cup and then sipped up the cooled surface. “Perfect. You always knew how much sugar I needed.” He looked up at Mama with his flirting eyes and winked.

“Least I could do your coffee right,” was all Mama said back.

“You did a lot of things right, Edie. Damn, I miss your cooking.”

Mama almost smiled. Everyone said she was a great cook and a fantastic singer, but the only thing I think she believed was the cooking part.

“We’re having meatloaf tonight,” said Candy. “I helped Mama smush it together.” Candy held up her hands and wiggled her fingers. She turned to Daddy and asked what I wanted to ask, but feared the answer. “Can you stay for dinner? It’s Valentine’s Day.”

I glanced at Mama and sure enough, a red flush crept up her neck like it always did when she got flustered.

Daddy glanced at Mama. “Sorry, Candy-kin, can’t do that. But I sure would like to hear your Mama play and sing something.”

“Cum’on, Mama, it’s Valentine’s Day.” Candy jumped off his lap and opened the piano cover. “Play ‘Yellow Bird.’”

Mama dug in the piano bench where she kept her sheet music, and pulled out a folio. Candy sat on the bench next to her; Daddy relaxed on the sofa and lit another cigarette. I snuggled next to him, inhaling the mélange of scents that was Daddy in those days. Old Spice, Camel smoke, and Brylcreem lingered as incense to a god, forever sacred in my memory.

“Yellow bird, up high in banana tree. Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me. Did your ladyfriend leave the nest again...”

Mama sang. Daddy drew in the cigarette and fixed his eyes on Mama with the exhale, the smoke lifting and twisting and reaching toward her like I wanted him to do with his arms. The smoke dissipated before it reached her, as the deepest part of me knew he’d never reach out for her again. Mama’s voice lifted the notes of the song with such sadness, like she was the yellow bird and someone was singing to her. Then I wondered if maybe Daddy had come here on Valentine’s Day because his ladyfriend left him and this was the only nest he’d known. I broke the spell when I asked him.

“So where’s Marnie on Valentine’s Day?”

Daddy looked at his watch. “Waiting for me.”

Mama finished her song, lifted her hands from the piano with the grace of a diva, and turned to him. “Now, don’t keep Marnie waiting.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Something's Different About Sheila"

An excerpt from my yet-to-be-published novel, The Sword Swallower's Daughter appears in this week's edition of MetroFiction. In this scene you'll meet protagonist Sheila, her sidekick Tommie, and their parents. Sheila's coming home from college with a secret her mother intuits the minute she walks in the door.

Read the excerpt, "Something's Different About Sheila."

Did you ever have a secret your parents intuited? Or perhaps, like the childhood secret that cuts through Sheila's core, one so painful and terrible, she both wishes it would be exposed, and yet fears the discovery.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Travel Tuesday: February 7, 2012

Twitter's been running a Travel Tuesday (#TravelTuesday) feed for several years now. I thought it would be fun to run a little Travel Tuesday Photo Trivia contest through Ovations. When I updated my Facebook timeline, I posted this photo as the cover banner. Take a good look and if you are the first person to identify the location of this photo, I'll send you a $5 Starbucks card. Hint: It's a place on Earth.

To participate, click the COMMENTS button below and add your suggestion. Suggestions must have city, state/province (if applicable) and country to be eligible.The first person who guesses correctly will win a $5 Starbucks card.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Still Life With Lovers

Several years ago I wrote a short story for one of the writing contests run by the online writer's group, Backspace. That story, "Still Life With Lovers," tied for first place along with a story by my friend, author A.S. King. The story has sat on my hard drive for several years now, whispering for an audience, but I've been so focused on writing and revising my current novel in progress, that I never submitted it to literature journals.
Click here to buy "Still Life With Lovers" for Nook.
Click here to buy "Still Life With Lovers" for Kindle
Click here to buy "Still Life With Lovers" for  PC, iPad or other ebook reading devices
During my writer's residency at Weymouth last week, I was encouraged by the success of authors Billie Hinton and Dawn DeAnna Wilson, who have published several brilliant and thought-provoking novels through Amazon (please click on their name links above to see what they've done). I'm not quite ready to go that direction with my full length fiction, but thought it would be fun to try this route with a short story. When I began thinking about which short to submit, "Still Live With Lovers" whispered again. More than a whisper, it was a shout.

I don't really know where this story came from. Many of my stories are born from ideas that have gestated in my head for years before they're birthed. These characters, two French couples a hundred years apart, spoke themselves into existence as I wrote, while one of my favorite painters came to life beside them. If character's lives could be channeled from the creative zone through an author, then that is what happened with "Still Life With Lovers."

If you buy and read the story, please let me know what you think--good or bad--I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Keyboard Creativity at Weymouth

Camellia garden at Weymouth.
Everything worth value takes time. Time to write, compose, paint, design, prepare, study. Practice. I left my home on Monday morning to join a group of three other authors for a writer's residency at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, North Carolina. I brought my work in progress, The Sword Swallower's Daughter, with intentions to find out why agents are turning down the manuscript. Some of the agents have written me notes saying how much they enjoyed my writing, that the premise intrigued them, the characters were endearing, but ultimately, they were unable to connect with the story in the 30 pages they read. As much as I've clung to the original opening, I realized that opening was blocking delivery, and I needed to cut deep in order to birth this book.

Monday night the group let me go first in our reading. After explaining the feedback I was getting from agents, I asked them to listen as I read the opening and then give me suggestions on how I could heighten the urgency and sharpen the stakes for my lead character, Sheila. As Billie, Dawn and Lela shared their impressions, lights went on in my head, confirming what I had already been suspecting about when to open the main storyline. Just before going to bed that night, I opened my email to find a letter from my friend Brian, who is now reading the manuscript. So close to what the other three writers said, his comments became a stamp of validation.

My sunny writing nook at Weymouth.
The next morning I awoke early and found a position in a sunny nook just under a window overlooking the camellias blooming in the gardens here at Weymouth. I opened the manuscript file and got to work moving sections, deleting whole paragraphs, and inserting new insights gleaned from the previous night. Sometime in the morning I became aware of vigorous classical piano music flowing down the hall of the old stately mansion. Thinking one of the other writers was playing something from their room, I swelled at what a wonderful group I'd been invited to join. Billie came down the hall a few minutes later and gestured toward the sound and told me the music was coming live from the Yamaha concert grand downstairs.

Live piano music is comfort food to my soul. My mother played piano while I was growing up and my daughter took piano lessons and studied for competitions and recitals all the way through elementary and into her senior year in high school. Her scales and repeats and fingering exercises filled the background of my writing. Now that she's moved on to her own life, I still beg her to play piano for me when she visits. You see, I was surrounded by piano, but never learned to play. As a child we were too poor for lessons and my mother was never able to defeat the demons of her past enough to teach us herself. I took lessons when my kids were young from my friend Barbara, but found the discipline of practice too demanding while trying to keep my toddler and preschooler clean, fed and intellectually stimulated.

Concert pianist Lynn Fonseca practicing for recital on the
Yamaha concert grand piano in the great room at Weymouth.
It's Thursday and I've had three productive days of writing. Each morning the pianist has been downstairs playing the Yamaha concert grand. Today I ventured downstairs to tell her how much I appreciated her playing. I snuck into the beautiful grand room of Weymouth and melted into a chair in the corner. When she lifted her hands from the last piece, I told her how much I enjoyed her music. She welcomed me over to her side at the piano and I couldn't resist donning my journalist's cap to ask questions. I learned her name is Lynn Fonseca and she is practicing for a recital she'll give at a luncheon here at Weymouth next Tuesday. She told me she's concerned, apprehensive even, because she hasn't played publicly for several years.

I thought, how like me. She's downstairs perfecting her music for a recital, while I'm upstairs perfecting my writing to get published. We're both using keyboards, each of us working to improve what we already know to do. She's full of music, yet must draw on the skill of reading music and expressing it through her fingers. I'm full of stories, but must apply the techniques of novel writing to bring the stories alive. Music must be heard to appreciate; novels must be read to be enjoyed. 

I hope she comes again tomorrow. Even if she doesn't I'll be up here, plunking away at my keyboard, practicing my craft and piecing together the life of Sheila, the sword swallower's daughter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Night Swim, Don't Miss It

Today, January 10, is a day I've long waited for. One of my good friends will have her first book published. I've read excerpts of this book as short stories and I've read many other pieces by this brilliant author, but this book, this lovely book, is now available to purchase. I just ordered my copy of Night Swim and I encourage you to do so also. Here's why.
Nuance in fiction is one of the most difficult storytelling techniques to master. Rather than telegraph the direction of the story, a nuanced story uses subtle hints and finely crafted metaphors and similes to build tension, express character motivation, and evoke emotion. Nuanced fiction is often called, “quiet,” “wondrous,” “thoughtful” and always referred to with reverence.
Night Swim (Fiction Studio Books) by Jessica Keener is an artfully nuanced novel with broad appeal. Every sentence of Night Swim sings with lyrical eloquence, while delivering a fully-realized story that will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page. 
With grace and compassion, Keener takes us back to Boston during the early 1970s. When maternal love is silenced at the untimely death of her mother, 16-year-old Sarah Kunitz finds her own voice through choices both sweet and sorrowful. Keener’s lyrical prose sweeps you into the story and onto a stage where Sarah’s here and now meet her yesterday for a flawless finish.
You can catch Jessica discussing Night Swim and the luminous art of nuanced fiction in #litchat on Friday, January 13, 2012.
Go to your favorite bookstore today or order Night Swim online from one of the purchase links on Jessica's website.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Here's to 2012

Here's a glimpse of New Year's Eve 1968 through the eyes of my young protagonist, Sheila Pace, in this excerpt from my novel, THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER. Enjoy!

January 1968

I was reading in the bedroom on New Year’s Eve when Holly burst into the room with Tommie.

“Look what Tommie got for Christmas!” said Holly, carrying a portable record player.

“Neato!” I closed the book and tossed it onto the bed.

Tommie followed Holly inside, her arms stacked with record albums and forty-fives.

“This is so boss,” said Holly, “She got a record player and the Sgt Pepper’s album.”

Holly set the record player on the floor and plugged it in, then began flipping through a stack of forty-fives. She pulled out a Monkees single, saying she had to listen to “Daydream Believer” before anything else. Tommie fitted a round gadget into the big hole in the middle of a forty-five, put the record on the spindle and drew the arm across and down onto the disc. The room filled with tinny strums and the unmistakable voice of Davy Jones.

Even though I had a TV crush on Davy Jones from The Monkees, it wasn’t a serious crush like I had for Paul McCartney. The Monkees made soda pop music, but the Beatles made rock and roll. KHJ played several cuts from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but I’d never heard the whole album at once.

I made the mistake of thinking myself part of the party when I asked Holly if we could stop playing

“Daydream Believer” over and over and listen to Sgt Pepper’s. Tommie nodded in agreement, which was okay because she was the owner of the records and record player.

Holly turned to me and clinched her face into a haughty scowl. “Sgt Pepper’s isn’t for little kids. Beat it.”

“But, I’ve heard almost every song already!”

“Only the ones they play on the radio,” Holly’s voice was so snotty it smeared in my ears. “Beat it.”

Tommie looked between us like a dog torn between two masters. I grabbed my book with a huff and left. Holly’s laughter followed me down the stairs like a hyena barking over a kill.

Downstairs, everyone was gathered around the red Formica table playing Yahtzee. Everyone except Ernest and Candy, who sat doubled up and leading the conversation, while Grandma, Aunt Cissy, and Mama rolled and scored. I moped over to the table, where Grandma pulled me to her side and told me I could roll for her as long as she could give the cup its orders.

The grown-ups were drinking something orange in a fancy pedestal glass. When I asked what it was,

Grandma said it was hellfire and did I want a sip?

“Eww!” I told her no.

“That’s what you said about coffee and you liked it.”

Mama cocked her head to Grandma. “You gave her coffee?”

“Why not? I gave it to you at her age.”

Mama nodded. “Yeah, and look how good I turned out.” Mama took a swig of her hellfire and waved the glass. “Here’s to apricot brandy and Yahtzee.” She put the glass down with a thump, swiped the dice from the table and threw them into the cup.

“Whoa there, Edie,” said Grandma. “You’re not used to that stuff.”

“Then I should get more used to it.” She took another gulp and laughed like I’d never heard before.

I liked this happy New Year’s Eve Mama. She smiled like one of her soap opera heroines and even sparkled when we turned out the lights for the ten second countdown to the new year. When Grandma switched on the lights at midnight, Mama was gazing at Ernest like I’d seen Daddy look at Marnie. He was looking back at her with the same starry eyes. I glanced over to see if Aunt Cissy noticed, but she was refilling Candy’s 7-up glass.

Grandma picked up her hellfire, held it aloft, and said, “Here’s to the new year and new lives.” The grownups clinked their hellfire, Candy and I clicked our 7-up and then Mama grabbed Ernest and planted a long one on his lips. My heart dropped to my gut. Ernest was Aunt Cissy’s boyfriend. Or so we thought.