Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How I Grew Up

An Inside Look at My First Novel

On May 6, 2013, I was having lunch with my good friend Judy Lawler and whining about the fact I had no summer show to direct for the second year in a row … after directing a summer musical theater production every summer beginning in 1989. In the summer of 2012 I was distracted by having my house burglarized in the middle of the night with me in it, but that’s another story.

Judy said, “Why don’t you write a book?” I think I just looked at her. I’d always wanted to try to do that, but it seemed akin to climbing Mt. Everest, and at the age of seventy-five that was hardly an option. I think I replied that it just seemed too daunting, too huge, too … everything. She replied, “Don’t think so big. Think of one incident.”

Since I had just directed Carousel for the second time with a remarkable group of young performers at East Stroudsburg High School South, my late friend Anita Barker was very much on my mind. In 1954, when she was a senior at Oak Ridge High School (TN) and I was a junior, Anita’s dream of playing Julie Jordan in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s compelling musical drama seemed to have been killed along with both her parents the night her estranged brother-in-law came into her home. He shot and killed not only both her parents, but mortally wounded her other brother-in-law who lingered and died some three months later. Judy had heard the story, as had my young cast, and she suggested I use that. “And,” she said, “write it in the first person.”

Intrigued, I decided to see if I could do this, and sat at the computer that same afternoon to begin. Memories of such an event are vivid, even after nearly sixty years, and as I wrote I uncovered more and more of them. Contacting another friend from my high school years, who had probably been Anita’s best friend, provided a wealth of information. Audrey’s memories were equally vivid and she filled in some blanks.

I have a photo of Anita, undoubtedly a head shot taken during her time at the Pasadena Playhouse a few years later, which sat on my computer as I wrote. I remembered the cadence and timbre of her voice, the way she expressed herself, and I let her tell her story as best I could, trying to stay in her head and out of her way.

The book was finished some four months later and in print in late October. I made some revisions late last summer primarily to tie the book more closely to two which followed: Eli’s Heart in 2014 and You Are My Song in 2015. All three were rooted in that long-ago production of Carousel, so I had produced a (standalone) trilogy without planning it. I just wanted to write How I Grew Up to let Anita’s story of tragedy to triumph be told. After I wrote it, I wanted to hold it in my hands and published through a P.O.D. company. There are many such companies and I found Virtual Bookworm to be reasonably priced and good to work with. But after their two-year ownership of the rights to the e-book ran out, I re-released through CreateSpace, where I had self-published the next two novels.

Over the three years since I began this journey, I have learned a great deal about writing, self-publishing, and marketing. I re-read How I Grew Up recently and think I might have written it somewhat differently if I’d known then what I know now. But in a way, I’m glad I was a novice and wasn’t constrained by rules. The book is written with the voice of an anguished, somewhat naïve, dreamy teenage girl who is knocked down by a terrible tragedy at what should have been an exciting and happy time in her life. I read the book recently with an idea of making more revisions; but the story, in all its raw horror, confusion and eventual healing, allows my character “Melanie” to share with the reader her thoughts and her emotions.  

Anita won the role of Julie Jordan and performed it brilliantly only weeks after she buried her parents. Carousel was sold out every night (I was amazed to read when researching that the ORHS auditorium was built in 1951 to seat fourteen hundred). Audrey recalled, “The whole town tried to be there. There was so much emotion in that room at every performance.” A shooting in a small town was a rare event in the 1950s and the entire town was rocked. To see the youngest Barker girl’s shining courage was very moving. I’ve never forgotten it.

Scene from Carousel, ESHS South, 2013

How I Grew Up is available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/h2hce7o

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

More About ELI'S HEART

A Second Excerpt from the Book

The story of a love which faced many obstacles, Eli’s Heart is about a brilliant young pianist who was born with a frightening congenital heart condition, Tetralogy of Fallot. Refusing to give in to his heart, Eli first gives it to music and then as a teenager, to a girl who later becomes his wife, despite his mother’s best efforts. The Kindle edition of the book will be on sale April 20 and 21 for ninety-nine cents.

In this excerpt from Chapter 6, Krissy is a sophomore in college and Eli in his third year; they are six hundred miles apart. They had met when Eli was sixteen and Krissy fifteen, and a friendship was on the verge of becoming more, though she lived in Tennessee and he in New York. Eli has just learned about his mother confiscating some of Krissy’s letters; he’s written to her to apologize and hopes they can reconnect. Here’s her response.


     Receiving Eli’s letter had truly been a shock. Remembering so vividly what had happened between them had been emotionally draining. After the rehearsal she went to her room and stretched out on her bed. She re-read the letter and thought about him for a long time.
     She could see him clearly in her mind: the young man she had realized, too late, that she loved. As she handled the letter she thought: Eli touched this. It gave her a sense of being connected to him. It reminded her what beautiful hands he had, with long, slender fingers that made music so wonderfully.
     Krissy wanted to get a letter in the next day’s mail; she had to take advantage of this chance she’d been given to apologize to him. It took her three attempts and over an hour, but she finally decided what she had on paper was what she needed to tell him.

Dear Eli,

It was a wonderful surprise to receive your letter. I didn’t even have to open it to know it was from you. Your handwriting told me!

Thank you for calling my mother and getting my address from her. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you did that.

I am happy here. I love being at the Conservatory. I love Cincinnati. There is music everywhere, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. I go to every concert and recital that I possibly can.

I would like it very much if we resumed writing. I have wonderful memories of the time we spent together. It was a happy summer for me.

Thank you for letting me know you weren’t aware about my letters not reaching you. The worst thing about that was that you didn’t receive the apology I wrote you.

I am so sorry I stopped writing you for a while. I know it was careless and unthinking, and I will regret that for the rest of my life. I know you told me it didn’t matter when I saw you after the concert, but it did matter, and I hope you can forgive me.

I was so happy to hear from you. I’ve missed you, Eli.

I’ll look forward to hearing from you again soon.

As ever,


     She re-read it five times and was satisfied. She had finally been able to tell Eli she was sorry she had hurt him. She had missed him. She had realized as soon as she saw the letter he’d sent her that she still loved him.
     She was sure he’d reply; it was what he had said in his letter he wanted to do. It seemed there might be a chance he still cared for her. He had said he’d been thinking of her, and he had things he wanted to say to her. What else could he mean?
     It dawned on her just before she went to sleep that something incredible had happened to her. She had been given a second chance.

Eli's Heart, Kindle edition, will be on sale on Amazon for 48 hours beginning April 20. $0.99
url: http://tinyurl.com/zwz47we

Monday, April 18, 2016

Excerpt from ELI'S HEART

“A love story that will stand the test of time.” – Amazon reader review

The story of a love which faced many obstacles, Eli’s Heart is about a brilliant young pianist who was born with a frightening congenital heart condition, Tetralogy of Fallot. Refusing to give in to his heart, Eli first gave it to music and then as a teenager, to a girl who later became his wife, despite his mother’s best efforts. The Kindle edition of the book will be on sale April 20 and 21 for ninety-nine cents.

Eli Levin was sixteen and Krissy Porter was fifteen the summer they spent time together in her home town. When he returned to New York, they corresponded for several months, then she abruptly stopped answering his letters. Not long after that he returned to perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with the local symphony, and she came backstage after the performance. She wanted to apologize to him in person for what had happened; she had already done that in a letter. He seemed very cool toward her, and she left and called her mother from the pay phone in the lobby … only to have Eli come looking for her and invite her to go to dinner. She tried to call her mother back but there was no answer.

NOTE: The year was 1953. If Krissy had owned a cell phone, this would have been a very different story! This excerpt takes place three years later as Eli is on a train, remembering the last time he saw Krissy.


   “I’m to wait here with you for a while, and if your mother comes before we have to leave, perhaps you can come to dinner with us.”
   Krissy smiled and nodded. He could talk to her, at least for a little while. “It’s good to see you again,” he said.
   “I wasn’t sure you thought that when I came backstage,” she said, a little archly. He had grown at least four inches since he had last seen her, and she had to tip her head up to look into his eyes.
   “My sister told me you weren’t coming,” he replied.
   “Your sister didn’t want me to come.” Eli thought it an odd comment, but let it pass.
   “She thinks you broke my heart,” he said with a smile, and Krissy didn’t return the smile. “But I told her you couldn’t break my heart, because it’s already broken.” He laughed at his own bad joke. Krissy smiled slightly, but she looked distressed.
   “I never meant to ... I thought you were going to call me,” she said.
   “You didn’t answer my letter. That’s why I didn’t call.”
   “But I did write you,” she told him. “I don’t know why you didn’t get my letter. And Eli ... since you didn’t get my letter ... I need to tell you how sorry ...”
   He cut her off. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.” They smiled at each other. What he wanted to do was grab her and kiss her. He saw a different look in her eyes; she was looking up at him as if she adored him. They were standing close together. He could easily have reached out and touched her, but he didn’t.
   Rachel came to the end of the hall, and called to him. “Eli, we have to leave.”
   “Just a few more minutes,” He said it to Rachel, but he never took his eyes off Krissy. Rachel disappeared, and before long Eli and Krissy both realized he might have to leave before her mother came to pick her up.
   “I promise I’ll write,” Krissy told him. “I want to hear all about everything you’re doing.”
   Eli smiled. Seeing her had made everything right. “I’d like that very much.”
   They had a few more minutes together, and Rachel came back and said, “Eli, we have to leave right now.”
   He looked at Krissy and said, almost pleading with her, “Will you come?”
   He saw the tears in her eyes when she replied in a whisper, “I’m sorry. I can’t.” He turned abruptly and walked away quickly, so she wouldn’t see the tears streaming down his face.
   Riding north on the train, Eli relived all of this. His mother had insisted he not write Krissy until she wrote him. She had to prove herself before he let her back in his life. He didn’t receive a letter, and his mother’s “I told you so” attitude was insufferable.
   His mother wanted him to give her Krissy’s letters so she could throw them away. He waited, and still she didn’t write. Finally, he handed over her letters. But he had read them endlessly and nearly memorized them. He still remembered bits and pieces.
   After three years he had learned Krissy had not broken her promise to him. What his mother had done ... he couldn’t even put a name to what she had done. How must Krissy have felt when her letters were returned? The worst thing was that she might have believed he was the one who sent them back. He had a vivid memory of the way she had looked at him the last time he saw her, the night he played the Rachmaninoff concerto.
   Somehow he had to get in touch with her and let her know he’d just found out about the letters he had never received.
   Eli wasn’t sure he’d ever speak to his mother again.

Eli's Heart, Kindle edition, will be on sale on Amazon for 48 hours beginning April 20. $0.99
url: http://tinyurl.com/zwz47we

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Getting Inside a Character’s Head


My character Eli Levin is a prodigiously gifted pianist born with a complicated and frightening congenital heart condition. My character Niall Logan, aspiring singer-songwriter, is tormented by bipolar disorder.

As a person who has enjoyed good health for my entire long life, trying to understand what these two young men had to endure was not easy. If I want my reader to care about a character, I have to make them real to myself first in order to give them a voice which will then bring them to life for the reader. I write what’s generally considered “literary fiction.” That doesn’t mean I consider myself on a par with the great classic novelists of the past. It means that my stories are primarily in-depth character studies which follow a protagonist through the challenges life hands them.

In Eli’s Heart, my character Eli Levin was inspired by a real life musician, the late great pianist Samuel Sanders. I had a friendship with Sam one summer when I was fifteen and he had just turned sixteen. I was awed by his enormous talent, didn’t truly understand his excruciating health problems, and lost touch with him after we had corresponded for a few months. I met a young pianist some thirty years later who was studying with him at Juilliard. Since the only time Sam had discussed his heart condition with me was to tell me almost casually that he wasn’t expected to live past the age of thirty, I was happy to learn he was still with us in his mid-forties.

When the fine made-for-television movie Something the Lord Made appeared on HBO in the early part of this century, seeing it helped me understand better what Sam’s condition – Tetralogy of Fallot – entailed. I had been told by his student that he was accompanying the iconic violinist Itzhak Perlman, but when I looked Sam up on the Internet I was even more in awe of the magnificence of his career and the sacrifices he had made. Rather than dying at thirty, Sam lived to the age of nearly 62, burdened and struggling with his heart condition for most of that time.

Niall Logan, one of the protagonists in my work in progress Jamie’s Children, is completely a creation of my imagination. I chose to give him, instead of a life-long physical difficulty, an illness of the mind that he would have to learn to live with in order to have a productive and fulfilling life in his chosen field of music. I began researching Niall’s illness a year and a half ago, and it took a good year before I felt I had some sense of what people with bipolar disorder experience.

While a person with a physical disability is usually viewed sympathetically, one with a mental illness is even today considered very differently. Niall’s girlfriend Bonnie has parents who encourage her to leave him. Her father warns: “Don’t let him pull you down his rabbit hole!” Fortunately for Niall, Bonnie perseveres and her love and that of his family are important to Niall learning to live with his disease but to try to not allow it to define him. The challenges include societal confusion about mental illness. We like to think we’ve come a long way … and probably that is true … but we have much further to go. Niall has a difficult time accepting his illness, which is not unusual and is completely understandable. Nobody likes to admit that he’s crazy. But until he does, and seeks help, he is wandering in a world of confusion.

Without the assistance of medically knowledgeable people I would never have been able to attempt to write about either of these conditions. Research on the internet, books which were recommended to me (especially about bipolar disorder), reading online blogs written by both people who suffered both these conditions and those who love them, were all important. For both books, I had medical people who were very generous with their time and expertise to help me write believably about Eli’s awful heart condition, and Niall’s frightening journey.

Recently I spoke to a friend who suffers from a chronic and sometimes severe condition who mentioned people take their good health for granted. I used to. No more. I am very, very grateful for it. What I hope people take away from Jamie’s Children is a better understanding of bipolar disorder. And a realization that the person with BPD has to endure something most of us can never really understand.

Eli's Heart is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book.
Jamie's Children is scheduled for release this summer.
Please visit my website: www.susanmoorejordan.com to learn more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Short Short Story


     She knew she was dreaming. She had been having the same dream for six nights: she was walking along Place Vendôme, seeing candles and oil lamps in windows, hearing voices speaking in French, watching a carriage drive away from her and passing by a bistro where diners were engrossed in food and conversation.
     Ahead she heard the music. She walked up the steps to a house and the door opened for her, and she went inside and the music was more present; it was directly ahead of her. She recognized it: Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, one of her favorite pieces. She followed the music through the hall, candles in wall sconces flickering restlessly as she passed though ─ she was but a specter in this place. Her heart began to beat more quickly.
     She opened French doors into a drawing room and the music surrounded her, filled her being. He was seated at the pianforte, playing with passion and strength that belied his look of delicacy. She stood against the wall, watching and listening, and when he finished he looked directly at her.
     “You can see me,” she almost whispered, speaking in English.
     “Certainement,” he replied in French. Only she heard it as “Of course.”
     He stood and moved toward her. He was painfully thin, his body ravaged by the tuberculosis that was slowly killing him.
     “You have been here every night for a week. At first I did not see you … but I sensed you. Then last night you became visible to me. But I was afraid to speak to you.”
     He was standing directly in front of her. She could see the fine veins under the pale skin, the unnatural brilliance of his eyes. She could smell the rusty odor of blood on his breath.
     “Es-tu la Mort?” he asked, using the familiar form of “you,” which surprised her. “I am ready if you have come for me.”
     She embraced him, and felt bones under skin. How fragile he is, she thought.
     “I am not Death. I am a dream,” she said. “I’m dreaming of you, but I don’t know why. I’ve dreamed of you for six nights. I’ve walked into this house each time and listened to you play and wanted to speak to you but you didn’t see me.”
     He trembled in her arms. “Perhaps I am dead already. I know I have been dying for some time.”
     “What year is this?”
     “And the month?”
     “September.” He stepped back to look at her. “Why do you not know this?”
     “You will not be here much longer, Fryderyk,” she said, not even realizing she had used his birth name … his Polish name. “I live in another time … far in the future. I don’t know why I’ve come to you, but here I am. The piece you were just playing … it lives on. As does all your music. You live on. In my time you are remembered and loved because of your music.”
     “What is this that is happening? How is it that you are here?” He grasped her shoulders and she felt the cold in his hands. “Are you a vision I have been given to ease my death?”
     “I have no answers,” she said softly. “I think perhaps we have both been given a gift.”
     “Que veux-tu dire?”
     “I mean coming to you in my dream, hearing you play, has given me hope. I have been in despair, but seeing and hearing you has inspired me as nothing else ever could have.”
     He was silent for a moment. “Es-tu malade?”
     She swallowed hard. “Yes. A week ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I have to leave music school and go home for treatment. I may not recover.”
     “Es-tu pianiste?”
     “Oui,” she replied. “Et compositrice.”
     “And seeing me has given you hope?” He smiled faintly and touched her face.
     “Oui, Frédéric,” she said, using the French form of his name. “Parce que votre musique brûle brillamment et sera toujours.Because your music burns brightly and will forever do so.
     “Thank you, spirit from the future. I believe you will be well. You will recover your health and write your own music that will burn brightly. Do not despair, my spirit. Be joyful.”
     He kissed her, a lover’s kiss, and she responded in kind. “How much longer have I?” he asked.
     “Seulement quelques semaines,” she replied. Only a few weeks.
     He sighed. “I knew as much. But hearing what you have told me is a great comfort.”
     She replied, feeling herself sliding away from him, “Tu me donnes de l’espoir.”
     She woke to the darkness of her bedroom, feeling lighter of heart that she had for weeks. Fragments of her dream still drifted about her.
     She whispered, “I gave you comfort. You gave me hope.”


Recommended listening: Murray Perahia playing Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu. You can find this and many other fine performances of Chopin's piano music on YouTube.

Copyright 2016 Susan Moore Jordan

Monday, April 4, 2016

Musings of an Indie Author

Bits and Pieces

So I had a nice surprise this morning when I received an e-mail from the music librarian at the University of Cincinnati library. We’ve been corresponding for a while now, and it’s his responsibility to keep track of “U.C. Authors” – of which I am one, by virtue of my three years as a student at the College-Conservatory of Music from 1955-1958. Paul Cauthen was nice enough to mention me in the library’s blog and give a plug to my most recent and only non-fiction book, “More Fog, Please.” There’s a link from that link to all my books which are listed at the library, and they have two physical copies of each … one has been archived, the other is available for circulation. I would love for more people who are contemporaries of mine to know about in particular Eli’s Heart, since about two-thirds of that book takes place on the old CCM campus in Mt. Auburn. The student uprising on campus in 1956 actually happened. Maybe this will help!


I am currently waiting to hear from two more Beta readers about their reaction to my work in progress, my fourth novel entitled Jamie’s Children. It’s great to have had two positive responses from the men who volunteered to read the book. I’m taking more time with this one. Basically, I had to … my character Niall Logan is bipolar, and trying to get inside his head took a lot of research. He also aspires to be a singer-songwriter, more research about a genre I knew very little about. And yet more research: Niall’s sister Laura is a virtuoso violinist. Though I was familiar with some of the literature, I’d never even held a violin. I’ve had great assistance with all three of these fields from some terrific friends, reinforcing how important networking is to an author.


One of my Beta readers requested a little more about Jamie Logan, the famous father to Laura and Niall, and his reaction to Niall’s illness. Happy to oblige, so here’s a sneak peek at Jamie’s Children.

Deep into practicing the Brahms concerto, feeling herself one with the music, Laura was annoyed when the buzzer in her apartment sounded and she almost ignored it. Her concentration broken, she went to the intercom and asked rather crisply: “Who is it?”
     “It’s Niall.”
     “Niall! Come on up!” She was thrilled to hear his voice. She hadn’t seen him since Bonnie had gone to Hunter Mountain and brought him back to the city. Bonnie had talked with her and with Meredith and Jamie, explaining Niall wasn’t ready to see them yet. Not at Thanksgiving. 
     Not even at Christmas.


     It had been strained and strange, just herself and her parents trying to somehow capture the joy of the season. They were all recalling the Christmas two years earlier with Jack, when they had filled the house with music. This year a recording was playing of Vaughan Willaims’ Hodie – a work Jamie was to perform the following year with the New York Philharmonic. There were some half-hearted attempts at discussions about the music, but these trailed off into silence.
     Jamie especially had struggled with Niall’s absence, and he finally said, “It’s my fault. I should have been more … I’m not even sure what. I should have talked to him more.”
     “No, Dad, it’s not you at all. It’s Niall’s disease, and all the talking in the world probably won’t be much good to him until he’s ready to reach out for help.”
     “I knew he was depressed sometimes. I’d experienced that myself, more than once.”
     “Jamie, you never suffered the kind of depression Niall has,” Meredith told her husband. “You may have come close once … but with manic-depression, the lows are something none of us can really understand.”
     “Still, I should have done something more. I should have been more supportive. Niall is … well, there’s a lot of me in him. We want everything to be … we want … we want life to be perfect for the people we love. And I know that’s impossible, but I still feel it.” He looked at them, the pain he was feeling clearly reflected in his eyes.
     Both Meredith and Laura put their arms around him. The music had stopped, and for a few moments the only sound was the ticking of the clock on the fireplace mantle.


     Another month had passed and still nothing. She knew her parents were very worried, but they were all relieved he was with Bonnie. She’d keep him safe. That was the operative word these days: they all wanted Niall safe. Bonnie assured them he hadn’t been drinking, but he was struggling with depression. And now, finally, he was at her door.