Monday, September 26, 2016

Jamie Logan and the Wonderful World of Opera

You Are My Song is the final book in my “Carousel Trilogy,” a trio of books about three high school students whose lives are changed by a small town tragedy in the 1950s. When we first meet Jamie Logan, in How I Grew Up, he is performing the role of Billy Bigelow in Carousel. His leading lady is Melanie Stewart, a high school senior whose parents have just been shot to death by her estranged brother-in-law.
My thanks to Anita Lock for this excellent review of the book in this week’s issue of Underground Book Reviews, a great website which encourages and promotes independent authors in many ways. It was exciting that this was the second book the website selected for an in-depth review. Eli’s Heart was also reviewed by Ms. Lock.

The Rundown
Jamie Logan’s love for singing was set in place at a young age. By high school Jamie gets involved in theater and his lilting tenor voice wins him the lead role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Although he’s attracted to the lead lady in the musical, Jamie is too enamored of Sarah, his longtime sweetheart—so much so that Jamie dreams of the day when he will be a dad. A few years pass and Jamie and Sarah finally wed. But the marriage is not a happy one since Sarah forbids Jamie to pursue his other dream of singing. Dissension brews eventually leading to divorce. Now with his dreams dashed, Jamie feels like a failure, especially when Sarah snidely comments that maybe he’ll “find a job as a professional rainbow chaser.”
Getting back on his feet, Jamie decides to contact Ed Davidson, his high school vocal teacher who inspires him to train for entrance into the University’s opera program. Passing with flying colors, Jamie slowly begins to build his career as an opera singer. Yet as highly talented as he is, Jamie has no idea the trials he will have to face on his musical journey. Jamie periodically finds himself plagued with nervousness prior to performances and low self-esteem as competition auditions become more taxing. It doesn’t help that a family crisis gets added to the mix. Amid all his problems, Jamie knows that the only one who can help him achieve the highest career goal is the woman he loves. But whether or not Jamie can overcome his worst enemy in the process will be his ultimate challenge.
In the final novel of The Carousel Trilogy, Jordan gathers the featured characters (Melanie Stewart, Krissy Porter, and Jamie Logan) from her series together in one glorious romance tale. Based on her “experiences as a voice teacher and stage director” and “inspired by real people she has encountered,” Jordan’s 1960’s plot shines a light on the complexities of professionals in the opera realm. While men and women’s roles were defined differently in general as well as in the musical arena, so too were issues of race and gender—all thought provoking concepts for readers to ruminate on to compare then and now. As she weaves in these troubling aspects in the midst of Jamie’s intriguing life, Jordan includes a delightful array of all things opera.
The Recommendation
You Are My Song creates a nice closure to a great trilogy! There is no doubt that the largest draw of readers will come from those who are musically inclined—whether instrumentalists or listeners. Yet Jordan incorporates so much more than the opera scene to grab the attention of anyone looking for a captivating read.
The Rating Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars
5 Stars (out of 5): Highly recommended. This book did exactly what it set out to do, with originality, style, and maybe even a twist. It stands out next to popular, traditionally published novels in its genre.
The Pros & Cons
Pros: Believable, Characterization, Page Turner
You Are My Song (Kindle edition) is currently on sale on Amazon for ninety-nine cents. A great chance to pick up the book!

Cover by Tristan Flanagan

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Stage Fright

Performance nerves. Performance anxiety. Stage fright. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s something most musicians have to deal with, and it can be awful. It can precede a performance by hours or even days, or it can be a moment of heart-pounding, gut-wrenching fear just before the performer steps onto the stage. It’s an adrenalin jolt that some performers manage to use to their advantage; a rush of energy that some can learn to channel in such a way their performance is enhanced.

I’ve never known a performer who didn’t experience it to some degree, because we all want what we do to be flawless, perfect and awe-inspiring. That’s asking a lot of ourselves, but it’s what we strive for. It’s rare for a performer to finish a performance and be totally satisfied with it. The nerves are usually vanquished when the first notes are played or sung and the performer realizes he is going to live through this. He thinks of the music, and it begins to be an experience that’s enjoyable if not exhilarating. After all, we do this because we love to do it, to share our music.

The musicians in my books experience stage fright. Jamie Logan, the tenor who strives to conquer the world of opera in You Are My Song, describes it as a combination of fear and excitement he experiences just before the curtains open. But that’s when he’s a mature artist: as a younger singer, he had serious trouble with stage fright. I think Jamie has learned how to use that adrenalin rush to his advantage.

Eli Levin, the main character in Eli’s Heart, sometimes has terrible attacks of nerves. In this excerpt from the book, he has one of the worst cases of nerves in his young life when he has limited time to prepare a difficult and demanding piece which he plays with a string quartet. He practices like crazy (well, that’s not new – Eli always practices like crazy). He cuts a class or two to practice, has trouble sleeping and isn’t his usual loving self with his wife.

The piece is the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, and if you’re intrigued there are quite a few performances on YouTube. One I especially love is with the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein and the Guarneri Quartet.


Eli asked Krissy to sit in the auditorium for the first half of the concert, two Bartok quartets. She wanted to stay with him, but he told her he’d really rather she didn’t. She tried not to look hurt, but he saw in her face she felt he was shutting her out. She was right. He needed it to be him and Brahms right now. He studied the score, his hands trembling.
At intermission Walter told him not to worry, it was going to be great. Krissy found him and walked into his arms, and he held her tight. She didn’t say anything, just held him as close as she could. He relaxed enough to feel he could walk out to the piano. “Hold these for a minute, will you?”  He handed her his glasses as he wiped his face and hands with his handkerchief. It distressed her to see his hands shaking. Have I ever been this nervous before a performance? he thought. Krissy replaced his glasses and kissed him, and he relaxed a little more. She smiled and touched his face, love and concern in her eyes, and went back to her seat.
As Eli waited to go onstage with the Quartet, he tried to turn his thoughts inward, to find that place in himself where he had gone so many times to find the muse. He knew she was there; she was always there. He caught a glimpse of her and held onto it as he walked onstage. He sat at the piano, opening the score. He looked at the score as he heard the strings tuning, focusing on what Brahms was asking from them to bring the printed notes to life.
Think about the music, Eli said to himself. Think about the muse. He heard the music in his head. His hands were no longer shaking; they were steady as he lifted them. He looked at Walter and nodded slightly; he was ready. On Walter's signal Eli brought his hands down on the keyboard, a brief thought crossing his mind: Here we go. He felt and heard the opening unison passage, all of them moving as one.  Eli attacked the keyboard for the rapid arpeggios that followed, playing them cleanly; he heard the strings accenting what he was doing. He caught Walter’s signal as they began the main theme, and the music swept through him. He became caught up in the beauty of what they were doing together and the connection he felt with them.
The first movement went almost perfectly, and he began to feel more confident. Eli loved playing with these men. He was part of a team; it was the musical equivalent of playing in the infield with the New York Yankees. The nerves were gone. By the time they began the third movement ... the Scherzo ...everything felt right. His fingers flew over the keyboard with surety, elegantly arcing phrases, weaving the piano part perfectly with the strings. This was why he played; this incredible feeling of making the music soar. There was another rush of adrenalin as they approached the end of the final movement; after the last strong chords there were glances and smiles exchanged on stage. Eli breathed a huge sigh of relief, feeling slightly giddy, elated by the joy of having lived music here in this hall with Brahms, with his colleagues, with this audience. The audience stood and responded with enthusiastic and prolonged applause.


Links to my books can be found on my website at

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Inspiration for ELI'S HEART

A Courageous Musician

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.

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, he had a long and illustrious career as a collaborative pianist and performed with some great musicians who definitely ARE household names. I list a few of his many recordings 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.

(First published in July, 2014)

ELI'S HEART is available in paperback on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most online book stores; and as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. 

cover by Tristan Flanagan

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

JAMIE'S CHILDREN: The Healing Power of Music

In Jamie’s Children, Jamie Logan’s son Niall is eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From everything I have read the “eventual” diagnosis is not unusual. Bipolar disorder can present in different ways and until the person with the condition begins to experience regular manic and depressive episodes, it’s easy to miss.

I am so appreciative of a review published this morning, September 6, by author Sahar R. Abdulaziz. An advocate for the victims of domestic abuse and the disenfranchised, Abdulaziz holds degrees in psychology and health and wellness promotion and administration. She addresses Niall’s bipolar illness in some detail in her review, which has been published on Amazon and Goodreads as well as on her blog:

Below is an excerpt :
The story exquisitely expounded on quite a few intimate human relationships. Mother-father-brother-sister-lovers alike. It explored the strength and bonds needed to nurture a family as well as the frailties and disappointments of interpersonal relationships facing obstacles and hurdles, such as depression, loneliness, insecurities, jealousy, but most of all, the erratic behavior and thought patterns of someone in the midst of battling a Bipolar Disorder.
In the story, Niall found himself facing the many highs and lows of countless bipolar flares, but unfortunately, he went through most of his life undiagnosed. And like so many suffering from easily concealed mood disorders he blamed himself for the disease process. Living among a household of super achievers only served to exacerbate Niall’s feelings of mediocrity and his constant desire to prove himself. –A father whose very name made hearts flutter in the opera world, a mother of exceptional intellect, and a stunningly beautiful and kind sister who was a music prodigy. And despite the way they loved and rallied in his favor, the Bipolar disease still made accepting help and direction extremely difficult, –and at times, even impossible.
Yet this author did something I believe to be quite extraordinary. Not only did she show in detail how Niall, desperate for relief began to self-medicate using alcohol and sexual liaisons, but she bravely revealed to the reader not only the lows of suffering with a mood disorder, but the highs as well, –Because as strange as it might seem, there is a positive side of living with depression or an anxiety disorder.
In the story, Laura, Niall’s sister, quoted her friend and mentor, Eli Levin to describe the level of impact music can have on the soul, “… ‘It wasn’t unusual to sometimes have a bad day and feel I couldn’t play at all …he said,  ‘One of the things that makes music so exciting is that we’ve all had to struggle at times. Because the breakthroughs are so glorious.’ And he was right.”
Jamie’s Children is a tender story of familial love, commitment, and respect. The author’s lovely melodic writing style gently nudges one along the story path, while enveloping their heart with wisdom and grace, –a most pleasurable read.


Jamie’s Children, Kindle edition, is currently available on Amazon for $0.99. The sale ends at 11 a.m. on September 8.

 cover design by Tristan Flanagan