Friday, June 29, 2018

Music to My Ears

Have I mentioned how much I love to write? It never ceases to amaze me how, at this point in my life, I have found a new passion. After a lifetime as a musician, stage director, and teacher, I am actively creating. I loved what I did (and still do, I continue to have a private voice studio), but that was developing other people’s talent, organizing other people’s talent, recreating the original works of composers, lyricists, and writers. This work is from me—heart, mind, and soul.

Marketing is something else entirely. It’s time-consuming, requires some expenditure of money I don’t really have (if you want to write, do not do it with the idea you will become rich and famous!), and just plain tedious. I still don’t “get” Twitter and now I’ve established an Instagram account and really don’t know how to use it effectively either.

A very helpful tool in marketing is reader reviews that appear on Amazon. I have some reviews, and I’m happy that some of my readers have enthusiastically shared their appreciation for my books. I wish more would do so, but I can’t seem to find the magic formula to make that happen. Reviews are like a standing ovation for a writer. They don’t need to be lengthy, but if they are positive and encouraging, they may inspire a potential reader to buy a book!

One thing I am very grateful for are those readers who, while not posting a review, send me one. Readers who take the time to write an email, or a message on Facebook, or a note they put in an envelope and put a stamp on to tell me they appreciated one of my books. Here are a few I received recently, and these truly are music to my ears and a great encouragement.

From a neighbor:
“Finished Eli's Heart last night. It was beautifully written and so very emotional. It touched my heart and made me cry. Just thinking about it makes me tear up. I can see why some people might think it would be good as a series, but I prefer being able to get to the next part immediately! I actually like longer stories when they are good ones, because I don't want them to end. You can be very proud of that book!”

From a fellow musician (who was reading while she was part of a pit orchestra during an extended run of a musical theater production):
“Oh no! I've finished all your books and I still have 4 shows left!! They were absolutely magnificent. I'm glad I waited till they were all published to read them straight through. I'm horribly impatient when it comes to wonderful writing! Thank you for sharing your ‘new’ gift with the world!!”

From a local resident who participated in some of the shows I directed:
“I recently read your book, ‘More Fog, Please’ and enjoyed it thoroughly. I remember so many of those wonderful plays you directed over the years and participated in several. You have enriched our community with your gifts. Best wishes on your writing career now!”

Thank you, readers, for making the time to respond to my work. It’s appreciated more than you know!

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Chuck Vincent: The Warrior Who Showed Me the Vietnam War

One of the most vital tools in an author’s toolbox is networking. It helps us learn about topics we know little or nothing about, and the people we connect with take us places we could otherwise never go.

When writing Memories of Jake, I came to a point where all my research made me realize I needed a personal voice to help me better understand the Vietnam War; a “guide” to show me more about the military and how it worked. I had not intended to write a book about the conflict, yet when I met my characters, Andrew and Jake Cameron, it was inevitable they would both fight in that conflict.

The Vietnam War. Enormous, sprawling, confusing, conflicting. A war that wasn’t a war … at least it was never declared a war. A war this country is still struggling with. A war in which our warriors fought valiantly, in which far too many young American lives were lost; and those who came home returned to a country ripped apart by the war no one seemed to understand.

It was my great good fortune to come into contact by virtue of a mutual friend with retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles J. Vincent, Corps of Engineers, who served a tour in Vietnam with Special Forces. Col. Vincent had previously been a member of the Marine Corps and served in the Korean War as well. So it might be said he was a warrior twice over.

Col. Chuck addressed my dozens of questions patiently and thoroughly, contacting other veterans when he felt it would be helpful. He also read through the passages on the war making corrections and suggestions. And when I was writing Man with No Yesterdays he repeated this process, but additionally gave me a scenario for Jake’s last mission in which he suffered the traumatic brain injury which changed his life so drastically.

Col. Vincent’s life would make a good book in itself, and I would hope he’s writing his memoirs. Originally from New Jersey, he attended and eventually graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia. That’s where the networking I spoke of took place; a former voice student is now a vice-president at Drexel, and when I mentioned to her mother I needed a de facto “military consultant” for Memories of Jake, she contacted her daughter who put me in touch with Col. Vincent. He now lives in Mississippi but frequently visits Philadelphia for various events at Drexel, and I had the chance to speak with this often-decorated warrior personally while writing my first Cameron brothers’ book.

In a recent interview I commented on the value of reaching out to people in exactly this way … finding an expert who is generously willing to share their expertise with an author. My comment was that each book I’ve written has been a journey, and I’ve had some exceptional tour guides on these journeys. The two books about the Cameron brothers were a long and difficult journey, and I am forever grateful to Col. Chuck for being my guide.

On March 29, National Vietnam Veterans Day will be observed for only the second time, since the bill declaring the day was signed on the eve of the holiday in 2017. I am honored to be part of a local observance of this day being held on March 25, a multi-arts celebration—art, literature, and music—at the Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. At our observation we are honoring all our military veterans. An art exhibit by six local veterans will be on display. Music, including songs from the Vietnam War Era, will be performed. Staged readings from my Cameron brothers’ books will be part of the program. No admission charge. My heartfelt thanks to all who served and continue to serve this nation.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


We writers hear: “write what you know,” and that’s probably good advice. But even better, I think, is this: “Write what you don’t know.”

Every time I’ve gone on a journey to gain knowledge about a subject, I have found that people are remarkably generous about sharing their expertise. This was true with my second novel, Eli’s Heart; my fourth novel, Jamie’s Children, and of novels number five and six, Memories of Jake and Man with No Yesterdays.

I’m currently at work on a totally new genre, a “cozy mystery” (I think this book falls within the guidelines, though there’s definitely a budding romance throughout the book. Maybe a “cozy romantic mystery”?). My as yet unnamed novel takes place in Cincinnati in 1963, on the campus of a women’s college. I lived in Cincinnati—a city I loved—at that time, but fortunately was never on the wrong side of the law. Consequently, I had no idea how law enforcement in the city of Cincinnati worked.

What to do? Well, I couldn’t write without my computer and Google, and searches took me to a perfect place: The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum and retired CPD Lieutenant Stephen Kramer, Director of the Museum, which is staffed entirely by volunteers. The Museum’s website is impressive, and photos show displays of guns, badges, murder weapons, and even uniforms from different eras, as well as newspapers, plaques, and other memorabilia. The organization has a Facebook page as well, which attests to visitors finding it worthwhile to stop in and browse. It’s a place I hope someday to visit.

  Their website also contains a gallery of tributes to fallen law enforcement officers not just from Cincinnati, but also from the eight-county surrounding area that makes up Greater Cincinnati. Lt. Kramer authored these, and those I have read are factual and moving accounts of not just the incidents in which these brave policemen and women died, but also the story of who they were and of what happened to wives, children, and other family members following the loss of their loved one. There are over two hundred entries.

 Equally important for my novel, Lt. Kramer has generously and eloquently shared his thoughts as a former homicide detective to help me better understand my principal male character. Detective Malcolm Mitchell is a homicide detective and very different from the men who have appeared in my other books, who are mostly musicians and artists. It’s engrossing to begin to understand Malcolm Mitchell. The more I get to know him, the more I like him and appreciate what he does.

My female protagonist is a musician, teacher, and stage director for two colleges in Cincinnati, so I am combining what I don’t know—but am learning about—with what I know well. While Augusta McKee may bear some resemblance to the author in that she is a singer, a voice teacher, and a stage director, Augusta, independent and self-sufficient, is a woman who has never married, loves fashion, and has had a sometime career as an opera singer. She’s also five feet nine inches tall and wears stilettos.

The murder of a young female student and the ensuing investigation take place against the background of a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s farcical operetta, The Pirates of Penzance. Linnea Murphy was to have played the leading role of Mabel, and her death occurs within a few weeks of opening night. The idea of this dichotomy … an intense murder investigation, a light-hearted stage production … I hope the reader will find intriguing.

Who killed Linnea Murphy? That’s the mystery Augusta McKee and Detective Mitchell will face together.

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

On Reaching Fourscore Years

At some point during my high school years our class was required to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and I always liked the way the President opened his speech: “Fourscore and seven years ago …” Poetic and definitely memorable. Tomorrow I celebrate having spent fourscore years on this earth.

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this number for the better part of a year, but it really hit me just a few days ago, while researching for a book I’ve just started work on. I was looking into causes of death in the U.S. in 1927, and while looking at some tables I found was reminded of the influenza pandemic of 1918 … something we seem to have tucked into the back of our collective consciousness, probably because it’s too awful to contemplate it happening again … and it struck me. I was born on January 7, 1938, a mere score of years after that cataclysm.

My parents married in August of 1931. My dad had just finished four years as an engineering major at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and while he was an engineer by choice, his passion for and knowledge of music was always an important part of his life and at times his means of livelihood. He played in the orchestra for Norman High School’s production of Rudolf Friml’s “Rose Marie” and a pretty, dark-haired, hazel-eyed chorus girl, a senior at the school, caught his eye.

They lived the American dream: my father retired as a vice-president of York Borg Warner, a highly successful professional man who had represented his company internationally. My extraordinary mother (who had suffered discrimination because of her Choctaw heritage … my dad told me his college roommate had remarked in dismay: “You aren’t going to marry that little Indian girl, are you?”) reinvented herself as often as necessary to be the perfect wife/mother/hostess/traveling companion as my dad climbed the corporate ladder. And she did this without losing who she was.

Looking back over my long life I am grateful for many things, my family among them. I’m grateful for my siblings: older sister Annalee, who sadly left this earth far too young, at the age of sixty-two. She was much like my mother: kind, generous, funny, loving, a lady with a heart of gold. My sweet brother Lawrence, a highly successful man in his own right who inherited our mother’s wit and our father’s brains. Larry has been a resident of California for decades and because of the continent between us I haven’t seen him in years, but think of him often with love. 

My brother is only two years younger but was three years behind me in school (because of where our birthdays fell), and when you’re a junior in high school and your little brother is in eighth grade … well, that’s a chasm. Hopefully he has forgiven me for being an insufferable older sister who was pretty wrapped up in herself. I’ve since learned everybody’s high school years are difficult. I didn’t realize how much I had struggled in high school until I went to college … to study music. 

Music, my life’s passion. What I have turned to in times of joy and sorrow, what I have come to believe is the most powerful force in the universe. I’ve been one lucky lady. I’ve been able to enjoy music as I think few people have who aren’t those souls whose lives were infused with music, who become the composers and performers we admire. I’ve been a student, a performer, a teacher, an independent contractor in the music publishing industry, a director of musical theater for both high schools and community groups (and wrote about those thirty-plus years in a book, “More Fog, Please”  ̶  available on Amazon, you might enjoy it. Sorry, we independent authors need all the plugs we can get.) And in recent years, an author who includes the power of music in the lives of her characters as it helps them meet some seriously daunting challenges. Bonus: yet more friends and colleagues in this new chapter in my life.

Music, which led me to a tenor with whom I spent nearly fifty years and with whom I had three wonderful children. Sam Jordan had one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard, and was a consummate musician. He was also a complicated man and it was not an easy marriage, but it was certainly rewarding in many ways. Our children  ̶  Susan Marguerite, Stephen Andrew, and Samuel Calvin  ̶  have become magnificent adults and good friends.

Music, which brought me into contact with so many people with whom I could share my love for the art … as student, colleague, teacher and stage director. Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful opera Candide closes with a piece of music I have come to love, “Make Our Garden Grow.” It includes this thought: “… and let us try before we die to make some sense of life.” We are all just who we are … and we do what we can with what life gives us. It’s all any of us can do, really.

How incredibly fortunate I have been over these fourscore years to have been given so much; to have this garden filled with thousands of blooms … I am grateful for each of them, for the opportunity I’ve had to cross paths with so many remarkable people.

To make some sense of life. It’s been a great run and I consider myself the wealthiest of women. Wealthy because of the people in my life  ̶  family, friends, colleagues, students, performers  ̶  and the music in the universe, which claimed me at a young age. It will always be there.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

True Story: Jessica Come Home

In 1999 my oldest son Stephen had a “Cinderella” opportunity to work at the prestigious Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, as Equipment Manager. It meant relocating from his childhood home in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. While he was an adult, it also meant leaving friends and family. Even though he wasn’t really that far away, his heavy schedule meant infrequent visits.

The second year he spent at Winged Foot he found a beautiful little Border Collie puppy he named Jessica. She was just an eight-week-old ball of fur, and she grew up in Steve’s studio apartment in Scarsdale and at the golf course, where she eventually learned to herd geese … the bane of every golf course. Of course, she always accompanied him on his visits home, so we all grew to love her (everyone except my cat Josey who joined the family in 2008).

Steve was single, and Jessica was his closest companion for many years. After a biblical seven years at Winged Foot (which included the 2006 U.S. Open), he returned home and established a soil treatment company, often traveling to New York, Connecticut and beyond to work on playing fields, and faithful Jessica was always with him.

Eventually Steve found the woman who completed his life, and Jessica retired not long after that to become a happy house pet to Steve's new-found family, which included two children. By now she was getting up there in doggy years and began to have not unexpected health issues: a bad back, increasing blindness, loss of hearing. But she never lost her love for life and her master.

This year, two days before Thanksgiving, Jessica went outside to answer the call of nature, and she didn’t return. We don’t really know what happened: something perhaps startled her, and being blind she became disoriented and wandered off. Steve and his family … all of us, in fact … were distraught. 

Hours turned into days, and at the age of nearly16 we all wondered just how long Jessica could survive. Notices were posted on Facebook, veterinarians and shelters were contacted, searches ensued. No sign of Jess.

Twelve days later I had a phone call from our local animal shelter, AWSOM (Animal Welfare Society of Monroe). “We think we have your dog.” Steve had been there a couple of times and they were aware she’d been missing. I immediately called him (AWSOM called me because my phone number was on the Facebook “missing” notice) and he immediately went to the shelter. Sure enough, it was Jessica. She was found near water (a stream or a creek), and while she was disoriented, she certainly knew her daddy. She had lost weight but seemed none the worse for wear, and continues to do well.

The best possible outcome, and the concern expressed by so many people (my “missing” notice on Facebook received over 800 shares and many prayers and helpful suggestions) were also a heartwarming part of this story. People do care. There are good people in the world, including the couple who found Jessica and brought her to our animal shelter, where many local people volunteer. A whole network of people who love animals, and love the people who love them.

Borders are almost scarily smart dogs. Jessica, even at her age (she'll be 16 on January 14) and with infirmities, had the will to somehow manage to reunite with the people who love her.

Our very own “Lassie” come home.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Life in the Poconos: The Bridge Street Detour

When my husband and I moved from Cincinnati to Northeastern Pennsylvania, one of the first things we heard from locals was how much the state/county/municipalities needed to address the many problems with the infrastructure. Somehow or the other, PA State Route 611 had to be widened to four lanes. Nobody could suggest exactly how that might happen, but everybody agreed it was going to become a “real problem.” That was in 1971.

Pennsylvania is an old state (one of the original thirteen, I believe) and a good many of the roads started life as Indian trails (with apologies to my native American ancestors and friends, but that was the expression). And gradually rocks were used to cover the rutted trails and eventually, pavement. Most of the time, it seems that all the twists and turns that were originally there remained.

Driving around in my county it’s difficult to get really lost, because no matter where you are sooner or later you’re going to cross another of those trails and get your bearings. Great if you’re on foot or horseback, not so much when traveling by car.

Over time (and a lot of this has happened in the 46 years I’ve lived here) commercial establishments began to appear on some of the major byways, notably state routes 611 and 209. I’m sure there are a good many more, but those are the ones I deal with on a daily basis. And the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot for short), in its infinite wisdom, widened sections of Rte. 611, the most commercially-developed road in our area, to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic. Not the entire length of the highway, or even those sections where businesses continued to multiply. Just here and there. A few hundred yards at a time.

Imagine the resulting bottlenecks, if you can. And the cars barreling south on 611 in the right-hand lane which abruptly ended. It’s a miracle there haven’t been numerous multiple-vehicle accidents, but us locals know what to expect and are patient and kind with the folks from New York, New Jersey, and other parts of the state of Pennsylvania who don’t understand how things work in this neck of the woods.

One of the worst of these is on Rte. 611 very near the circle where I live, and one major problem is at an intersection with a road, Bridge Street,which connects 611 and 209 (the other major artery through our area). There actually IS a bridge on the street and PennDot was forced to close the road and repair the bridge, creating a major headache because the road was now one way. You could get from 209 to 611 but not vice versa. Except via a detour.

It was a lengthy detour. What worsened the problem was that below Bridge Street on 611 is a long stretch of mostly retail businesses and food establishments: the biggest mall in the area and many other stores and establishments grouped together with some common parking areas. So driving through that area is slow: a number of traffic lights and always heavy traffic.

The result is that many of us have been dealing with the No Right Turn Onto Bridge Street situation for what seems like eons. At times I would drive north on Bridge Street to try to see exactly what kind of progress was being made. It was hard to tell, and I don’t mean to be unkind, but mostly I saw groups of PennDot people gathered around a piece of equipment having some kind of conference, while others seemed to be wandering around. I’m sure that wasn’t always the case. It’s just what I seemed to always observe.

When the crane that had been on the site for millennia actually came down I had a sense of hope. And lo and behold, a few days ago … December 21 to be exact … PennDot gave us a Christmas present. Well, kind of. Traffic was open both ways on Bridge Street … but the turning lanes which we all fervently hope will help ease the nasty traffic backups above Bridge Street aren’t open yet. Maybe an Easter present?

I posted on Facebook when I got home after seeing that the southbound side of Bridge Street was actually being used, and had some great responses. It has seemed like forever, but the detour actually was only in force for about eighteen months. Lots of “OMG … I thought that was NEVER going to happen!” My favorite from an artist friend, Will Rothfuss, who gave me permission to quote him: “I don't believe it! In the meantime, while they were working on that, the pyramids were built.” 

The infrastructure in our little corner of the world in the Poconos. Still working on the Rte. 611-Bridge Street problem, 46 years later. PennDot doesn’t like to rush things.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Memories of Jake – Reader Response

Two brothers, Andrew and Jake Cameron, both serve in the Vietnam War … Andrew as a door gunner for the Marines, Jake as a Green Beret. Both return home … but only one returns as himself. Jake is injured in a helicopter crash and suffers total retrograde amnesia. Older brother Andrew can’t accept Jake’s memory loss. From childhood, he has been his brother’s supporter and protector.
Memories of Jake has received some strong reviews since its release in late March. Available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle.

A few review excerpts:

"The story overall is very easy to read. It takes you on a journey from tragedy to growth, back to hardship and beyond. The brothers pull you in - their bond is strong, and the challenges they face together and apart ensure it stays a gripping tale." Self Publisher's Showcase, April 21, 2017

“Susan Moore Jordan’s gentle prose serves as the perfect backdrop to the horror of the Vietnam War. She also shows how not everything damaging in life needs to be permanent. People are resilient and sometimes overcoming the past is a matter of will. The other aspect of this story I really enjoyed was Cameron Family’s reliance on music and art as a means to find themselves. Andrew’s painting saved him. It was his therapy and his joy. Beyond that, what kept me reading was the love shared between these two brothers. I had to know how everything turned out for them and clung to every page until the last, waiting for that moment when I could breathe out and put the book down with a feeling of contentment and relief.”

Jake is injured in an attack that leaves him with post-traumatic amnesia, and has to rebuild his life again as he struggles to figure out who he is. Some of the scenes are powerful and heart-wrenching, like when Andrew deals with his boyhood memories and his experiences in Vietnam. Jordan's descriptions and dialog make you a part of the story. It's hard to put down.

MEMORIES OF JAKE is not just a war story, not just a story of pain and rebirth, but a story of love, family, friendship and the unstoppable ability of the human capacity to conquer that which sets out to destroy them. It is a story of hope.

The characters are all believable, each with his or her own voice. Art and music and how they help keep folks alive by keeping life worth living seep throughout the book, as with all of the author's work. (This time the visual arts play a large role as well as music.) Once Jake comes home from Vietnam, to a home and family he only remembers in shadows and fog, this book is tough to put down. Enjoy.

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