Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Reunion

Eli’s Heart

Krissy Porter and Eli Levin haven’t seen each other in over three years. They met as young teens, were separated, found their way back to each other as college students, wrote letters and made long-distance phone calls and arranged to meet again on Christmas Day in 1957. Eli’s diseased heart has been on both their minds … the heart that Krissy believes she broke. The hurt she wants to mend. So they each go Christmas shopping just before their reunion.

     Krissy had looked a long time for a gift for Eli. Clothing was out, because she knew his dad had very fine men’s shops and she was sure Eli lacked for nothing. She tried to think of a musical gift but couldn’t find anything she thought would be appropriate. She thought about baseball, but it was out of season, and anyway, she was sure he had all the souvenir books the Yankees had made available to their fans. Jewelry seemed to be her only option. She thought about an identification bracelet with an inscription, but most pianists she knew didn’t even like to wear a wristwatch when they played.
     Finally, she found it. She bought a long chain with heavy links, and she had a three-quarter-inch wide heavy sterling silver heart attached to it. She used all the money she’d made from her church job in November to buy it, but it was worth it. The heart was very simple, flat with no trim, and she had it engraved on both sides: “Krissy” on one side and “Eli” on the other. He could wear it under his clothing, and keep the heart close to his own. She was very happy with it.
     It was a heart that could never be broken.


     Eli had almost finished his packing. The last thing he put in his suitcase was Krissy’s gift. He was sure she’d like it. It was the easiest gift he’d ever bought for someone. Krissy had said in one of her letters, I’ve learned more about your heart. If I should be so fortunate that you give that heart to me, I will treat it with love and tenderness.
     He’d found a heart-shaped locket on a silver chain, and he had it inscribed Eli’s Heart.

Eli’s Heart is a love story filled with courage and music. It’s available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.  Here’s the link:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Great Light

The people that walked in darkness …

Throughout the Old and New Testaments this reference appears in various ways. To me, it implies that all of mankind toils through a lifetime of fear, tragedy, pain, and travail. We all come to the same end: this shell we inhabit stops functioning.

I don’t pretend to understand the vastness and the enormous mysteries of the universe, but after nearly seventy-eight years in my own shell I’ve come to my own understanding of a few things. I’m not saying I am right about any of this. It’s just what I’ve gleaned by observing life around me and events in the lives of those I love.

Whatever your belief system, I think it’s generally accepted that something momentous in the history of mankind occurred those generations ago in the part of the world we know as the Levant. A personage walked the earth for a time, touched the lives of those he came in contact with, made some of them better people. He died. In some way he was reborn and this belief caught fire, and one of the world’s great – albeit flawed, as it seems they all are – religions was born and flourishes still today, many hundreds of years later.

It seems to me the Creator of the universe gave a great gift to Its creation. The gift of hope. The belief that there is more than just this “little life, rounded with a sleep.” Perhaps we are not a shell that empties itself of life when it stops working. Perhaps we are spiritual beings, inhabiting a human body for a while to learn – and hopefully, to love. And after our body dies – as it must ─ we continue to something wonderful beyond our ability to imagine.

And knowing that would indeed be a cause for celebration.

A Great Light.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Remembering the Lost and Wounded


 Our local paper, The Pocono Record, runs a column on Sundays entitled “Yesterday” which provides a look into the past by means of news items from bygone days. One item which appeared yesterday was originally published on Saturday, Dec. 26, 1903:

• “For time past Robert Smith, of Sterling, and known in Barrett and Coolbaugh townships, a veteran of the sixties, has been acting queerly and at times was quite ‘off his base,’ so to speak, and on Saturday he was taken to Honesdale for examination so that the necessary papers could be executed and he could be taken to some asylum.”

Since one of the protagonists in the book I am currently at work on is bipolar, I found this an intriguing entry which made me pause and think about Mr. Robert Smith, apparently a veteran of the Civil War. Wounded, undoubtedly; perhaps not physically, but wounded in spirit. In need of help which he never received, because those wounds weren’t recognized in that long ago time.

“… so that the necessary papers could be executed and he could be taken to some asylum.” I remember the Tennessee Williams play from which was made a gripping film, Suddenly, Last Summer. I remember One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an extraordinary book made into an equally gripping film. Civil War veteran Robert Smith’s admission was quite probably to an asylum in that mold.

Those asylums were all shut down (Deinstitutionalization, it was called) some seventy years after Robert Smith’s admission to one. A mixed blessing. Many people who were still deeply disturbed were released into the general population. I’ve read it’s possible that as many as a third of the homeless people in this country are desperately in need of psychiatric help.

 I’ve been researching my w.i.p., working title Jamie’s Children, for over a year with help from my friend Dr. Andrew Rennekamp, a research Ph.D. at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. Andrew is working towards finding alternative treatments for mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. He’s helping me to understand my character Niall Logan, a sweet boy, a troubled young man, a man with a terrible disease he has to learn to live with. There is no cure.

Niall is always in my head. That’s part of being a writer … it’s not a nine to five gig. It’s always there. Yesterday morning I woke up at three a.m. and realized something vital about another character in the book, Niall’s steadfast girlfriend, Bonnie. Why she was so devoted to him. I knew it had to be more than that she was deeply in love with him.

Who knows where inspiration comes from? I like to think my characters tell me these things. And in a way, they do; they become completely real to me. Bonnie told me about a troubling experience she had with a high school friend who suffered from clinical depression. It came to a bad end. She never wanted that to happen to Niall.

Niall is fortunate in that his family has money, that he is loved, that he receives help in a facility where the professionals are competent and caring. But for every Niall Logan who has access to this kind of assistance … how many Robert Smiths are out there, who desperately need help they never receive? How many people with mental illnesses go undiagnosed, or untreated, or both?

So at this time of year, when families celebrate being together if they are able; I’m also thinking of those people who cannot, who for one reason or another are estranged from those they love. I’ve already learned a lot by working on this book. I also know that I will always do what I can to make people aware of mental illness; and bipolar disorder in particular.

It’s much more common than we know – or than we want to admit. More often, we still prefer to look the other way. It’s a lifelong battle. Those who fight it are courageous people who deserve our compassion, and even more, our respect.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

“A Long Time Ago in a Small Town Far Away”

Excerpt from More Fog, Please,Carousel Revisited”:

The theater world is filled with drama of all kinds. Sometimes we hear “It’s not life and death”' when a diva ─ a stressed actor or singer ─ protests too much. True enough.
Sometimes, though, life and death hover over the theater like a sudden black storm cloud on a sunny day. High school is too early, but life can hand us a difficult lesson at a young age. This was how I first came to know Carousel. To understand the 2013 production at East Stroudsburg, I need to explain what happened a long time ago in a small town far away.

In the fall of 1953, I was a junior in high school in my home town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and we received the exciting news that we would be performing this show – a real Broadway show! Not the operettas we’d done in the past. A serious show; a musical drama.
The show was performed in February of 1954. A close friend, Anita Barker, played the role of Julie Jordan. She had auditioned only days after burying both her parents, who had been shot to death by her estranged brother-in-law. Anita’s dedication and professionalism was a marvel for all of us involved with the production. I believe being cast as Julie helped her through a horrifically dark time in her life, and her performance was inspired and inspiring.

The [East Stroudsburg South High School, 2013] show was in March. On May 6, I was having lunch with Judy Lawler and whining about having the summer ahead of me and not much to do since Ragtime, two years earlier, had been my last summer show.
“Why don’t you write a book?”
I think I just stared at her. Might as well suggest I climb Mt. Everest, and I said pretty much exactly that. A book! Too daunting, too much, too … everything.
“Don’t think so big. Think of one event, one incident.”
Immediately I thought of Anita Barker and that Carousel production from 1954. I had told Judy the story before, and reminded her of it.
She nodded. “Then use that,” she said. “And try writing it in the first person.”
I went home and sat at the computer, and I spent many hours there over the next five months. The story had been there all along. I realized as I wrote what an impact Carousel ─ that Carousel in 1954 at Oak Ridge High School ─ had on my life. Reliving the show with these twenty-first century young men and women helped me to remember a great deal about that long-ago production.
And that’s how I came to write How I Grew Up in 2013, and followed up with two additional novels over the next two years. The show is almost a major character in the book because it was so important to my character “Melanie Stewart” at this traumatic time in her life. While I was writing about Anita, I also was writing a work of fiction, and Melanie became a person in her own right.
I gave her a leading man named Jamie Logan. I really liked my character Jamie Logan, a handsome boy with a good heart and a superb tenor voice, and I just wrote a book about him entitled You Are My Song. In between, I wrote a book about Melanie’s friend Krissy Porter and the young man who becomes her life, a brilliant pianist named Eli Levin who has a frightening congenital heart defect: hence, Eli’s Heart. All three have their beginnings in that Carousel production. So without it being my intent, I guess I wrote a trilogy.
But in writing How I Grew Up, I was able to talk about the rehearsals for the show and recapture the feeling of being part of a musical. There’s really nothing quite like it, and having been with the South kids so recently, I drew on the feelings I knew they had experienced.
Here’s a very brief excerpt. It’s a school day; it’s also opening night.

We all kind of went through the day as if we weren’t really there at all, but were waiting for our lives to start that evening. At lunch, everybody in the cast tried to sit with each other. We had a connection that nobody else could really understand. The cast was a group for the weeks that we rehearsed the show, especially that last week. For that brief time, there really were no other groups in our high school.
It was pointless for us to talk about anything except the show, because that was the only thing any of us were thinking about.

And if you’ve ever been in a high school show … you’ll understand exactly how these young performers felt.

How I Grew Up is available on Amazon, paperback $10.00 and Kindle $3.99.

It’s a good story! I’d love to share it with you.

  Carousel, South H.S., 2013

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Two Things That Make a Difference

Passion and Humor

Recently, a young writer who has become a Facebook friend sent me an article about centenarians and to what they attributed their longevity. It was entertaining to read contradictory advice, such as: exercise faithfully; never exercise. Eat healthy, eat what you like. But as I stare seventy-eight in the face,  two of the items struck me that ring true: 1) find something you are passionate about and pursue it and 2) don’t stop laughing, especially at yourself.

I know I’m blessed with better health than many of my contemporaries, and I am thankful for that. However, I have to admit over the past couple of years I’ve been slowing down despite my best efforts. Being passionate about something has been the story of my life … first ballet, then opera, then musical theater. All of these require strength and agility. You'd be surprised how much energy it takes to direct a musical!

It makes me happier than I can say to have found this new passion for writing. In some ways, it is the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had – I’m creating, for the first time in my life. For me, it is a perfect time to have discovered how much I love to write. I have the time to devote to it. I’m lucky to have nimble fingers and an active mind and an overactive imagination!

I had lunch recently with a fellow writer and new friend who is a few years younger than I am. We spent over two hours talking about writing, and when we parted she made the comment: “You know, we’re really the same as we’ve always been, at least inside.” And she is right. Having a passion in your life keeps you young. You continue to look at life with wonder. You continue to learn and grow. You see possibilities and paths to pursue. (Notice what I did there? Who says alliteration is always bad?!)

We read often, “laughter is good for the soul,” and I agree completely. I think we grow up the first time we are able to laugh at ourselves: when we can look at ourselves honestly, and realize who we really are and accept and love that person, foibles and all. It’s vital to being able to deal with the passage of time. We have no control over that, but we can control how we look at the inevitability of growing older.

I have three longtime friends with whom I meet regularly for lunch. We’ve shared a great deal over many years, and our meals together are filled with laughter. I value these women; they are people to be treasured. We share a history … not just of things we have done together, but from watching the world around us change.

Here's some advice from this not yet centenarian: pursue your passion. Laugh a lot, especially at yourself. And listen to beautiful music whenever you have a chance … it is the best the universe offers us.

Now excuse me, because I have this book I’m working on and an inspiration just struck me …

The author in earlier times.

Please visit my website:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reaping Rewards

Interview with Susan Jorstad, The Pocono Record

Writing, as we all know, is very much a solitary endeavor and the writer sometimes wonders if they are writing words that anyone else will ever read. It is immensely gratifying to have written a book that has garnered some attention ─ especially in my community ─ since it is about musical theater in this community; thirty-one years’ worth.

My recently released book “More Fog, Please” – 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals has been doing well on Amazon since it’s November 11 release, reaching the number one spot in its category of Theater Direction and Production for a time, and presently is number two. That is definitely a first for this indie author!

A recent interview by writer Susan Jorstad for The Pocono Record was a very encouraging experience as well. Susan was a thoughtful interviewer and made me sound articulate in her article. With her permission, I’m including excerpts in this blog post. She refers to herself as “PR” for Pocono Record in her questions.

(from The Pocono Record, Saturday, November 28, 2015)

PR: Your book, “More Fog, Please,” relives memorable moments from 30 of the 80 shows you directed.

JORDAN: This is a book about the people. You can’t put on a musical by yourself. For each chapter, I focus on a production and the people involved. It’s almost a collection of reminiscent short stories I worked with so many amazing, generous people over the years. When a show went up, I always felt by opening night, the show belongs to the cast. The cast has to take ownership, and that usually happened early in tech week, and I could spend my time with lights and sound. Every person involved with a show is vital. I always said to my cast, be sure to thank people for what they’ve done to make the show happen; you wouldn’t be out there performing if they hadn’t. My attitude was, ‘It’s your show and I’m glad I’m here to help.’

PR: How did you help your actors, especially those new to performing, to ‘get into character’?

JORDAN: The director has to have the original vision – to take script and music and think through it. What are the authors trying to tell us? And then help your cast make it come to life. I did a character study for every character.
For ‘Carousel,’ I started with Julie and realized it’s really her story, not Billy Bigelow’s. The whole thing is about her love for Billy; nothing could shake that love. She’s fragile but strong. There are amazing women characters in that show set in the 1870s. When you approach the show from the characters, Billy becomes more sympathetic and loveable to the audience.
I loved shows that had depth and characters that really had something to say, like ‘Carousel’ and ‘Secret Garden.’ I also like shows with wonderful scores, which required an above ordinary commitment from the kids… ‘Into the Woods’ (1997?), ‘Ragtime’ (Black Sheep production at Sherman Theater, 2013). Ragtime was tough subject matter, the beginning of the Industrial Age, racial tensions … and wonderfully written. (Ragtime) had a cast from seven different schools. They became so close, they knew what they were doing was incredibly powerful.

PR: You’ve also written a trilogy of fictional books, all highly rated on Amazon, all with a common theme of the value of music. Are those also based on real events?

JORDAN: In the first novel, “How I Grew Up,” the lead character is based on a close friend of mine from high school, a true story. The week before our ‘Carousel’ auditions, Anita’s estranged brother-in-law broke into her home and shot and killed both her parents. She auditioned only days after burying her parents, and played the role of Julie, a dramatic, emotional role. Her performance was an inspiration to everyone.
There’s a catharsis of becoming a character, to escape our personal lives. The experience opened my eyes to the power of creativity and especially of music. Being able to immerse herself into the role was an immense help to my friend. I watched her performance from the orchestra pit where I played harp.

PR: Why this nonfiction book now, and how are your friends and former cast and crew reacting?

JORDAN: Eric Mark, an actor and journalist, who was one of my readers and mentor for my first novel, said to me, ‘You need to write about your years directing.’ I’d thought about retiring after “Bye Bye Birdie,” but it wasn’t the right timing. I knew I’d be leaving after “Tom Sawyer”. I told the cast at the cast party that this was my swan song.

PR: Although you’ve retired from directing, you continue to give private voice lessons. What else do you have planned?

JORDAN: I am working on another novel, a sequel to “You Are My Song,” about a brother and sister who both have musical ability but who have very different journeys. I’ve been researching it for about a year because one of my characters suffers from bipolar disorder.
I’m thinking about a possible trip to the West Coast at some point. I’ve never been to San Francisco and I have friends living in the Bay area … friends from Oak Ridge, where I grew up.
And I’ll be the most supportive, delighted, entertained and enchanted member of the audience at the South High School show next spring. I may even sit near the front of the house.

Cover by Tristan Flanagan