Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Mother and the Prodigy

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

     If you had met my mother when she was a poised, accomplished adult, wife of a Vice-President of Borg-Warner, you’d have most likely been very surprised to learn that she had grown up riding a horse on a working ranch near Norman, Oklahoma. And possibly even more surprised to learn she’d dealt with discrimination from a very young age, since her father was the son of a member of the Choctaw tribe. In other words, he was a “half-breed Indian.”

     At some point in what I laughably refer to as my adult life, I realized what an extraordinary woman had given birth to me, and I made a point of telling her how much I appreciated who she was. She married my dad the summer after her high school graduation (I realized eventually it was most likely a shotgun wedding) in the depths of the depression. I recall she took some college courses when I was in elementary school. She read constantly. She was one of the most observant people I knew, and because of that and her intelligence she remade herself as often as necessary to keep up with my dad’s rise in the corporate world. She was devoted to my father. She was the wife he needed; she kept a beautiful home; she was a gracious hostess.

     She was also an incredibly kind, witty, loving, nurturing, and considerate person. When writing Eli's Heart and recalling the friendship I enjoyed with Samuel Sanders the summer I was fifteen, I also remembered the role my mother played in that relationship. We met him one spring evening near the end of my sophomore year when he performed for our Junior Music Club while visiting his sister, who lived in my home town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. His genius as a musician and pianist was apparent from the first notes he played, and everyone who was there that night was enthralled.

     When he returned for a longer visit during the summer he came to our house on several occasions. As I recall, he generally arrived in time for lunch and he always requested the same thing: a grilled cheese sandwich, Coke, and Hershey’s chocolate.  Mom and I were both aware of Samuel’s heart condition ─ one of the first things he told us was that he’d had an operation which took away the blue color from his lips and fingers, but that he wasn’t expected to live past the age of thirty. So we knew this extraordinary boy was dealing with two challenges, a bad heart and the burden of being a prodigy.

     His activities were restricted because of his heart condition and we were confined to indoor activities. We talked, listened to baseball games on the radio, listened to recordings of classical music. He seemed to enjoy playing piano for me while I stood next to the piano and watched and listened. He played with such confidence, and the music seemed to pour out of him. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe this prodigiously gifted boy was seated at my piano, performing solo recitals for me.

He also wanted to play piano duets with me, which I found intimidating and he seemed to enjoy immensely. Sometime during his college years, he changed his career path and became an accompanist … a collaborating artist rather than a soloist. He said he found performing with other artists much more enjoyable. Considering the isolation he suffered as a child, it makes perfect sense, and he had a vibrant career, playing with many important artists. Over the years, additional surgeries, including two heart transplants, extended his life to twice what he had anticipated. He was sixty-two when he died.

     Samuel seemed much younger than sixteen and I looked at him as a sweet, funny, slightly geeky little boy with this huge talent. Mom never said much, but she may have seen what I did not see ─ that he was most likely going through a late puberty and experiencing a lot of emotions I was totally unaware of. She said many nice things about him, but never suggested I should look at him differently or think of him as anything more than a good friend. Both my parents encouraged me to think for myself, to be my own person. Which meant making my own sometimes bad choices.

     After that summer I saw Samuel Sanders only one other time, when he returned some months later to perform with our local symphony orchestra. He played the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto ─ brilliantly, passionately. He’d also grown up. He wasn’t a little boy any more, but a poised and appealing young man. I think my extraordinary mother saw what this extraordinary boy was going to become.

     My book Eli’s Heart is not about Samuel Sanders, but it was inspired by the remarkable opportunity I had to enjoy a brief friendship with him. My mother, (Lillie) Erma McKee Moore, appears in the book as Lily Porter. And Lily definitely is my mother. I’m glad I had the foresight to preserve some of her wonderful qualities in the book.

(originally published May 2015)


Eli's Heart is available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle
https://www.amazon.com/Elis-Heart-Carousel-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00LE5MNAK





Sunday, May 7, 2017

That Broken Heart Disease You've Been Hearing About

When I first became aware of the trauma Jimmy Kimmel and his wife endured with the birth of their son, I understood immediately what had happened. I had researched this same condition a few years ago when my character Eli Levin in Eli’s Heart was born with this disease. It was heartwarming to learn how quickly Billy Kimmel was diagnosed and treated. A true testament to the great work done by medical researchers and to how far medicine has come with this once inevitably fatal condition. These days, children born with this "broken heart" generally live long, productive, and non-restricted lives, and can excel even in sports: Olympic snowboarder Shaun White is one such person.

My novel Eli’s Heart was inspired by a friendship I had decades ago with a brilliant teenage pianist born with the congenital heart condition Tetralogy of Fallot. Samuel Sanders was fifteen when I first met him and heard him play. He was visiting a sister who lived in my hometown and he came to my house several times, and we listened to recordings of orchestral music, played piano duets (which was definitely daunting for me!), talked about books and baseball. His activities were restricted because of his congenital heart defect.

With a lot of help from Dr. Aarti Asnani, a cardiologist with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, I finally developed a grasp of the condition. There are four separate defects of the heart: a hole between the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart, which means unoxygenated blood is mixing with oxygenated blood; a narrowing of the valve between the right ventricle and the lungs, which means not enough blood is getting to the lungs to be replenished with oxygen; a thickening of the wall of the right ventricle; and an aorta which is misplaced and is drawing blood from both ventricles. 

The result is a considerable reduction in the amount of oxygenated blood distributed to the body. The average person receives between 90 and 95% oxygenated blood. TOF patients receive sometimes less than 50%. Breathing is a struggle. Any physical activity, even walking, becomes difficult and can be life-threatening. Many children died in infancy, or did not survive puberty. Cyanosis (blue coloring of the skin, especially fingers, toes and lips) is a primary symptom. This is why babies born with the disease were once referred to as "blue babies."

In 1944, Drs. Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig, with considerable help from Blalock’s assistant Vivien Thomas, developed a procedure to alleviate these children’s suffering. A shunt was created by attaching a branch of the aorta to the pulmonary artery which increased the flow of oxygenated blood. Sometimes this increase was dramatic; sometimes enough to at least ease their symptoms. From my understanding, patients who survived the procedure lived more normal and longer lives. However, the heart was not repaired. The Blalock-Taussig procedure was considered “palliative” ─ it eased the worst of the symptoms, but all four defects of the heart were still there.

About ten years later an open-heart surgery (called the “total correction” or “total repair”) was performed which patched the hole between the ventricles and widened the opening to the lungs, giving the patients a chance at a better quality – and quantity – of life. Over the past decades, as TOF patients have lived longer (some into their seventies and even eighties) other surgical procedures have been developed and refined, and a range of medications also exists to help treat the condition. It was at first considered a congenital heart defect. It is presently considered a congenital heart disease, a life-long struggle with a heart which can never be made “normal.” From my understanding, there is no one “standard” procedure for these patients. One comment from Dr. Asnani in our extensive correspondence stands out in my mind:

“With regard to treatment options for (adult) TOF patients, it’s definitely not a straightforward decision to pursue surgery, so we will often try to manage with medications for as long as possible.  Newer technologies like cardiac MRI are helping us figure out when the heart dysfunction is progressing to the point where heart surgery is absolutely necessary to prevent a further decline, though we’re still wrestling with defining the exact timeline.”

One of the first things Samuel Sanders told me was that he didn’t expect to live past the age of thirty. Other than that, and telling me about the cyanosis and that he’d had surgery, he didn’t discuss his condition and I didn’t ask questions. We concentrated on enjoying the time we had together.

After hearing him play – brilliantly –  the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto a few months later, I lost touch with him. Some thirty years later I met a young man who was studying accompanying with Sam at Juilliard, so he’d have been in his early forties at that time. His student also told me Sanders had opted to work professionally as an accompanist rather than pursuing a career as a virtuoso pianist. I was very glad to hear he had survived past the age of thirty and was still sharing his extraordinary gift.

I thought of him again when I watched the HBO film “Something the Lord Made” (highly recommended) and wondered how he was. Internet searches revealed that he had died at the age of sixty-two. He’d had the B-T procedure when he was nine and two additional surgeries (the total correction and a heart valve replacement), and eventually not one but two heart transplants. The second one failed, sadly.

While not a household name, Sanders had a long and illustrious career as a collaborative pianist and performed with some great musicians who definitely ARE household names. He kept a schedule that would have exhausted even a healthy musician … sometimes playing as many as a hundred concerts in a year. He taught at Juilliard and at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and oversaw a summer music festival he founded on Cape Cod. For some thirty years he was Itzhak Perlman’s pianist, but he also performed with a lengthy list of distinguished soloists. A few of his many recordings are listed in the discography at the end of the book.

My book is fiction, and my character Eli Levin is the product of my imagination. I did not know Sam Sanders beyond that brief friendship when we were both little more than children. However, his passion for music certainly had a lasting impact on me; he was indeed an extraordinarily gifted pianist and musician. We don’t meet many musical prodigies in our lifetime, and if and when we do, we never forget them. The fact that this one also had a damaged heart made him even more unforgettable.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Crazy Writer Lady

Since I started writing seriously … or should I say seriously writing … something has happened to me. I find that I live in whatever book I’m working on more than I live in the real world. I wake up with thoughts about my characters and sit at the computer to put them “on paper.” Sometimes I do this at 3 a.m. I live with a cat. She doesn’t mind my odd hours.

Of course, I do have to spend time in the real world. I have to pay bills and feed the cat and check on my children and grandchildren. But my worlds overlap all the time. I can be wandering through the supermarket and have a sudden answer to a knot in a plot and have to hang onto the thought (see what I did there?) until I get home. Instead, someone I’ve known for years says hello and I struggle to pull myself back into the twenty-first century (all my novels take place in the twentieth century) and remember who in the world this person is.

I’ve become the crazy writer lady. Since I’m approaching the milestone birthday that marks me as older than God, I’m sure some people attribute all this to advancing age. I don’t feel old, but I definitely feel distracted. I need to get back to the twentieth century to work on my book.

My background is music and theater. Primarily musical theater as I directed musicals for over thirty years. I experienced some of this while working on a production, because along with the many other people involved we recreated the world of that particular show. But a key word here is “recreated” ─ we were bringing the work of the composer and authors of the musical to life as best we could. We tried to understand what the creator of the work wanted to tell the audience and were acting as a conduit for those truths. I was part of a team and we were all working together to make this happen
.
Here’s where being a show director is gratifying. With an audience, there’s an immediate response to your work. The audience applauds, sometimes cheers, and sometimes stands in appreciation.

Releasing each book is difficult. It’s like sending your child off to kindergarten and hoping she will be safe and happy. But being a creator is exciting and fulfilling in ways directing could not be. These are my words. This is a world I have created and am inviting people to enter. These are my characters that I want people to care about. It’s not a task undertaken lightly. I know I have a good story to tell, and with each book I believe I learn a little more about how to tell it better.

My characters talk to me. They argue with me. They do things I never intended for them to do and refuse to behave themselves. They are very real and I come to love them. I’ve heard other authors say this, so I understand it goes with the territory, and if I don’t love them and believe them, neither will my reader.

 I’ve come to understand that while there is an audience, they aren’t all there at the same time. They come into the world of my story one by one. Sometimes they speak to me in the supermarket or in a parking lot to tell me they enjoyed a book. Sometimes they send me a message to let me know the same thing. Occasionally they write a review, and that’s especially nice because other potential readers see that review and are intrigued enough to buy a copy of the book.

When I first started on this “third act” of my life, a theater friend, who happens to be a writer, reminded me often: “There is no opening night.” He was cautioning me not to rush to publish. And then I realized there is also no closing night. People continue to find their way into the world of my books. One audience member at a time.

All in all, I love being the crazy writer lady. It’s a great third act.

    



Please visit my website at susanmoorejordan.com
or my Amazon page at https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Moore-Jordan/e/B00IBZ731U/

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Introducing MEMORIES OF JAKE

So I just released another book, Memories of Jake. This makes six … five novels and one non-fiction memoir.

For thirty-some years I was part of the theater community where I live, directing high school and community musicals (that’s what the memoir, entitled “More Fog, Please”: 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals” is about). So when I released my first book in the fall of 2013, How I Grew Up, it was a Big Deal. People knew me as a theater person, and now I was trying my hand at writing. I appreciated the congratulations and the book sales. When I released the second novel, Eli’s Heart, it also created a bit of a stir.

Since then hardly anybody blinks when I release a new book. I suppose that’s what happens to most of us, though, and one of the reasons writing can be a lonely endeavor. I keep remembering Anne Lamott’s comment in Bird by Bird, “Writing is its own reward.” And in most ways, that is a truth.

I really love it, though, when somebody buys a book. I love it even more when somebody buys a book, reads it, and WRITES A REVIEW! That’s a standing ovation. With each novel I have worked at improving my craft. I think all the stories I’ve told are good stories, and people seem to have enjoyed reading them. I think Memories of Jake is my best effort to date, without question.

So this blog post is pure, shameless self-promotion (it comes with the territory). I would love for you to read my story. And if you love it, please write a review. Here’s one that was definitely that standing ovation:

Susan Moore Jordan’s extraordinary new novel, Memories of Jake, is dedicated to “all those whose souls have been bruised by war and with admiration for those who found their way back to life through the power of creativity.” In Jordan’s story, wars can be personal struggles as well as political conflicts, and the power of creativity may extend to the expression, pain and redemption of love itself.

A horrific childhood trauma forges the bond between brothers Andrew and Jacob Cameron. As adults, their experiences in Vietnam seem somehow to resonate with the childhood drama. Amnesia enters the picture, but to say more would give away the intricate and sometimes shocking plot. As in Jordan’s other novels, music plays an important part, in this case the glorious requiems of Verdi, Fauré, and Brahms, especially Brahms. 

Although Memories of Jake is a free-standing book and may be read on its own, many of the affectionately-drawn characters will be familiar from Jordan’s Carousel Trilogy (How I Grew Up, Eli’s Heart, You Are My Song) and Jamie’s Children. In fact, Andrew and Jacob are the little boys who witnessed a murder in the first book of the trilogy. In Man With No Yesterdays, scheduled for release in the fall, Jacob’s account will take front and center. - Michaele Benedict


 cover by Tristan Flanagan
Memories of Jake is available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle:
https://www.amazon.com/Memories-Jake-Susan-Moore-Jordan/dp/1544274203/
or visit my website www.susanmoorejordan.com




Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Montréal Connection in Cincinnati

I’ve been spending a lot of virtual time in Montréal, a city I would love to visit again. Recently while reading about the Basilica of Notre-Dame I came across the name of the pipe organ company Casavant Frères, which opened a flood of memories from a time in my past, while I was parish secretary for the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park, Cincinnati.

Sometime in the early 1960s, I believe 1964, the church opted to have a pipe organ installed, and purchased the instrument from that Quebec company. A search revealed the company, considered one of the best in the world, is still active and producing these wonderful instruments. I don’t recall what kind of organ our Casavant replaced, but I’m guessing probably an electronic instrument of some kind.

We were aware the installation would require a considerable amount of time and had made accommodations for that. What we didn’t understand was how much space it would require. When the team pulled up to the church in a large eighteen-wheeler, our immediate problem was language. They spoke very little English. Nobody on the staff spoke French … I had one year of college French, primarily a diction class which had been a requirement for my vocal music major at the College-Conservatory of Music.

So beyond wishing them good day, asking their names and introducing myself, asking them how they were and were they hungry, we were at an impasse. Fortunately, a young member of the parish had spent some time in France, and a phone call resulted in her arriving on the premises pretty quickly.

“French Canadian is quite different from that spoken in Europe,” she told us. “But I’ll do the best I can.”

Our new French Canadian friends broke into broad smiles when Barbara started talking to them. The language barrier between two different kinds of spoken French was surmountable, especially because when they needed they could write things out. The written language is the same.

The next obstacle was a real game changer. None of us had given serious thought as to what a pipe organ actually consists of. The team began to unload the tractor-trailer, and as pieces were brought into the sanctuary the magnitude of this undertaking became apparent. Some of the pipes were over half the length of the sanctuary. A number of these large pipes had to be laid across rows and rows of pews. And there were so many of them! All summer events that year had to be moved to the church’s undercroft or to an outdoor location. Services, weddings, baptisms … anything and everything.

To the best of my memory, it was about a three month process to install the instrument. But it was worth every second of it. The sound was glorious, and we had an inaugural concert by the great concert organist E. Power Biggs. By then our friends from Quebec had returned to Canada, but they left a memory of dedicated craftsmen who loved what they did. And could they ever put together a pipe organ.

Casavant-Frères, je vous salue!




Thursday, March 16, 2017

I Was Cyber Attacked and Lived to Tell About It

I hesitated to tell this story because I still feel incredibly stupid that I allowed it to happen. I know, I know … but still. I thought I was smarter than that. It was a few weeks ago. I finally decided to share because maybe somebody will read this and avoid the mistakes I made.

It all started as I took a few minutes away from writing and scrolled quickly through my Facebook News Feed, pausing at what looked like an interesting link. MISTAKE #1: I didn’t check to see if a friend had “liked” the page. It was three images of three fingers on a hand. There was a diagonal line across the fingers in each image, each lined up somewhat differently, and there was a comment something like “Learning this saved my life!”

Clicking on it resulted in very nasty stuff happening. First a siren blasting through my speakers, then dire warnings flashing on my monitor advising me to call “Microsoft Support” IMMEDIATELY with a phone number. I called. That was MISTAKE #2.

Male voice with heavy accent telling me I probably had a Trojan or some other equally horrible infection and my computer was on the verge of disappearing before my very eyes. Mind you, I’m still buying that this is Microsoft Support I’m talking with. Eventually … MISTAKE #3 … I gave this clown permission to operate my computer remotely. NEVER EVER DO THAT.

He showed me all kinds of stuff about all the errors in my computer that the infection had been causing for MONTHS on end and offered to set me up with a sure-fire fool-proof one hundred percent guaranteed super-duper anti-virus/malware/spyware/kitchenware program that would mean I would never ever have to worry about my computer being infected again.

Then the money pitch came, and the guy on the other end of the phone admitted well, no, I wasn’t talking to Microsoft Support anymore, but some other outfit and for a measly $199 for a year they would take my computer and put a fortress around it. Or, if I’d pay $499, they would do it for five years.

The alarm bells finally started going off and I FINALLY started asking the right questions and eventually just pulled the plug. Literally. Had I ever been had. So I took a deep breath, rebooted the computer, immediately went into all my banking websites and changed all passwords, changed passwords on my email and anything else I thought might be sensitive, ran scans with everything I have installed on my PC (including Malwarebytes, which is running constantly). I also found the software he’d used to access control of my computer and uninstalled it.

Then I contacted my “computer guy” Bob. “You’ve probably have had calls like this before.”

“Every day,” he said cheerfully. “They just want money. You did all the right things. Just keep an eye out for anything weird, and if something shows up bring the computer down and I’ll take a few more steps to wipe it clean. Oh, and if somebody calls you and wants to do a remote fix, because now they have your phone number, just tell them you took your computer to your computer guy.”

Well, I was lucky. For about two weeks I was hit with a barrage of emails attempting to lure me into clicking again onto a link which might have caused a repeat of the experience I had, or maybe worse, but eventually those stopped because I kept throwing them into junk mail and requesting the sender be blocked.

Lesson learned. These days the first thing I do when I boot the computer is run a scan of Advanced System Care and then Windows Defender. So far, my computer is doing great. And I hear all you Mac users snickering out there. That’s okay. I LIKE my HP PC. 

And I have a great computer guy. If you need one, PM me and I’ll give you his contact information.




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thoughts on JAMIE’S CHILDREN

An invitation last week to meet with members of a local book club resulted in excellent feedback for Jamie’s Children, my most recently released novel (July, 2016).

            This was only my second book club meeting and it was great. The members were very welcoming; there were a dozen people present who had read and apparently enjoyed the book, and they had excellent questions. We enjoyed a lively discussion for nearly two hours. I loved sharing with them my reasons for writing the book, how I had created the characters, and why I had chosen to deal with bipolar disorder through my character Niall.

            It was also great to hear that they enjoyed reading about the music in the book. It's a challenge to try to describe the emotions evoked by music, and knowing I succeeded encourages me to continue writing about it.

            It was a lovely evening and a confirmation that I had written a book which people not only enjoyed reading, but which made them think. I don’t believe an author can ask for more.

            Earlier that week I also received a new review which again was a confirmation that Jamie’s Children opens a door on a subject which needs to be better understood, mental illness. Reviews are so important to a writer. This one was thorough, but really, just a line or two saying you enjoyed the book and/or found it meaningful is important.

(5 Stars) Beautiful Book Lighting the Darkened Corners of the Mind, February 20, 2017
By 
This review is from: Jamie's Children (Paperback)

I was hesitant in reading this novel as it confronts in stark, realistic detail, the mania, rock bottom and everything between of a major depressive disorder. While the main characters struggle with several different aspects of depression, anxiety and mania, the novel addresses all of the mental health conditions with a subtle rawness of a skilled composer.
Jamie’s Children is a lovely novel about family, love and hope. It also shines a light on many of the dark corners we do not want to acknowledge. As a woman who has faced several different facets of depression from manic, to major, to suicide, with her immediate family, the descriptions of these debilitating diseases can at times be difficult to read. All of that being said, I would encourage anyone interested in understanding the meaning and depth of what is experienced by the person with any mental illness to read this book. While it supports the family it also reflects the struggles of living with someone experiencing mental illness.
While mental illness is a theme in the book, the savior of creativity in all forms, music, written, and observed is a good balance to the heaviness of the topic. Handled with reverence and love, Jamie’s Children is definitely a labor of love by author Susan Moore Jordan and I applaud her on a beautiful and inspiring story!

            Jamie’s Children is available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle, and the print edition is on sale at the Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center whenever the theater is open.