Sunday, October 30, 2016

Young, Talented, in Love ... and Sometimes Overwhelmed

Excerpt from Eli's Heart. Krissy and Eli are young, in love, and dealing with some pretty overwhelming problems ... primarily, Eli's severe congenital heart defect. A talk about her choices for her senior voice recital, and whether Eli will perform with her, lead to a serious argument.


Krissy had thought when she chose the Schumann that performing the final song in the cycle might be difficult for her. The thought of his death was in both their minds. They never spoke of it, because Eli embraced life; it was one of the things Krissy most loved and admired about him.

Eli never said it, but because of his damaged heart he was aware every sunrise, every sunset, every good meal, every beautiful piece of music might be his last. Despite that, he was full of hope and plans for the future.

Then he said, lightly, “Besides, if I didn’t play for you, who would? Eddie?”

Without thinking, Krissy said, “Well, I had considered asking him.”

Eli abruptly stood and walked over to the piano. He turned and looked at her, and she was surprised to see his face was flushed and his eyes were blazing. “Are you serious? Good God, Krissy. You know he’s still in love with you.” He almost yelled at her. 

Eli had never raised his voice at her, and she was shocked. “Why would you say that? I never see him. I don’t know when you’ve seen him.”

Krissy had no idea what was going on in his head. She was shaking inside. “Tell me what you’re thinking, Eli. I can’t read your mind. I can tell you’re upset, but I have no idea why.” She wanted to touch him, but he seemed untouchable at that moment. “There are some things we’ve never really talked about that we probably should.”
All this was staring them in the face because of a piece of music she wanted to sing. Maybe her performing the Schumann song cycle was a very bad idea. He turned his face away from her.

She took a deep breath and composed herself. They had to talk about this. She moved over so she was sitting directly opposite him. “When you were fifteen, when I first met you, you told me you probably wouldn’t live to be thirty. You were twenty-one in May. You never talk to me about any of this. Why is that? We talked about how things were when you were younger. We’ve never talked about ...” she stopped again. He was looking at the floor. “Eli, please look at me,” she said. “Please talk to me.”

He finally looked at her. “We never talked about what would happen if I should die suddenly,” he said flatly. It wasn’t easy to say. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t even want to think about it.

“My parents were told I could die. Just like that. They were told I’d probably make it to thirty. That’s just great, isn’t it? Is this the talk you’ve been waiting for, Krissy?”

 He stood and started to pace the room. He sounded as if he were daring her to say anything at all.

This was ridiculous; she was his wife. He had to stop this. She took his hands and said, more firmly, “Why did you get so upset when I said I’d thought about asking Eddie to play for me if you couldn’t? Why can’t we talk about this, Eli?” She moved her hands to his shoulders. Her voice softened. “I’m your wife. We’ve been married nearly a year. You must know how much I love you. Why in the world are you jealous of Eddie?”

Eli looked at her, his anger spent. His shoulders sagged. He couldn’t believe he’d spoken so harshly to her. He moved away from her and slumped down on the sofa, put his head in his hands and looked at the floor. He spoke so softly she had to put her hand on his shoulder and bend down to hear him. “Because he, he loves you, and he doesn’t have a damaged heart. He wouldn’t die on you. He’d be around to take care of you.”

Krissy knelt beside him on the sofa and put her arms around him, pulling his head to her breast. Her voice shook as she spoke. “It’s you I love, Eli. It’s you I want to be with. I told you that when I asked you to marry me. Have you forgotten?” 

He took a deep, shaky breath. “We need ... I need to talk to you more. I can’t pretend I’m okay, because I’m not.” He paused. “I get scared. I get angry.”

He stopped, and she saw the anguish on his face. “I want to live forever. I hate that I have this ...” he stopped for a moment, and his mouth twisted. He pressed a fist against his heart as he said, “ ... this broken heart.”

He had never said this to her. He had alluded to it in a letter, but hearing him say it made her ache for him. She felt her own heart break. She put her arms around him again, and pulled him as close to her as she could; he clung to her. The room grew very quiet.


Eli's Heart and all my novels are available on Amazon, paperback and Kindle.
Please visit my Amazon author page or my website,,
for links to the books.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The War That Still Haunts Us

My first novel, How I Grew Up, is a roman à clef ─ the fictitious re-telling of an actual event. In real life, in January of 1954 a man named Bob Duke entered the home of his wife’s parents and shot and killed three people. His wife’s mother died instantly, her father died sometime during the overnight hours, and their other son-in-law lingered for some three months. My book is about how my close friend Anita Barker auditioned for our high school musical less than a week after burying her parents, won the leading role of Julie Jordan in Carousel, and performed brilliantly.

Three other books grew from this story, and I have gone back to that event again as I am at work on a two-book series. Anita’s two young nephews, Bob Duke’s sons, were in the house at the time their father murdered their grandparents and uncle. With every book I write, I strive to improve my craft, and occasionally I will re-read one of my novels with the thought of perhaps revising it and smoothing out the way I’ve told the story. So far I haven’t done that. I’d prefer to continue to write new stories.

I re-read How I Grew Up with the idea of possibly doing some rewriting, but decided against it. It’s written in first person, and I tried to give Anita her own voice. But I was struck by a thought: what if those little boys actually witnessed the shooting? I don’t make clear in How I Grew Up whether they did or not. I’ve learned that in real life, those two boys grew up to serve in Vietnam, one as a Marine, the other in the Army. Their mother remarried and had apparently a successful second marriage.

I’ve completed the first draft of a novel, Memories of Jake, about these brothers. While the conflict in Vietnam was taking place, I was a young mother, busy with an elementary school daughter, and sons born in 1965 and 1969 … the height of the war. I knew it was happening, of course; I had a brother-in-law serving in the Marines. I remember Johnson’s announcement that he was not running for re-election, the riots at the Democratic Convention, My Lai, the fall of Saigon, and the Pentagon Papers. News stories.

But since I’ve decided to tackle this book and realized from what little I had read that being in Vietnam would have become integrated into my characters Andrew’s and Jacob’s consciousness, I realized I needed to learn more. So along with numerous on-line articles, some videos and films, over the past several months I’ve read a number of books about the war: some novels, most first person accounts. I just completed Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, and I’m still dealing with this remarkable piece of literature and how deeply it affected me.

More than any of the other books I’ve read, this one put me right into the country, into the battles and frustrations and agony and yes, the excitement, Caputo experienced during his tour of duty. I understand now why I had often seen this book recommended as the definitive work on the warrior’s experience in Vietnam. It took the author ten years to write, partly because of the overwhelming impact from his tour of duty. He shows us a clear-eyed, heart-wrenching, totally honest look at the things war can do to a man. And the things a man can do while he is at war. I salute his courage, I admire his skill, and I thank him for his service.

And I wonder: how would I have reacted if subjected to what these military men had to deal with? My Native American ancestors have a saying my mother made part of who I am: do not judge another until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. Philip Caputo took me much farther than a mile into the darkness that was Vietnam.

One thing that I saw while doing online searches: we as a nation have still not resolved our feelings about Vietnam. In May of this year, more than forty years after the fall of Saigon, a bipartisan bill was presented to Congress to set aside a day to recognize our Vietnam Veterans. Co-sponsor of the bill was my senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, and I sent him a message thanking him for this action and received this response:

“I was proud to introduce S. 3002 on May 26, 2016. This bipartisan bill would encourage the display of the flag each year on March 29th, National Vietnam War Veterans Day, in order to properly recognize and honor the many proud veterans who served in Vietnam.”

My copy of A Rumor of War is a re-issue in 1997, twenty years after it was first published, and the author’s thoughts as he looked back over those two decades included this:

“Vietnam was the epicenter of a cultural, social and political quake that sundered us like no other event since the Civil War …it was an anomalous chapter in our national mythology. Our self-image as a progressive, virtuous, and triumphant people exempt from the burdens and tragedies of history came apart in Vietnam, and we had no way to integrate the war or its consequences into our collective and individual consciousness.”

My feeling is we are still searching for some resolution to what happened forty years ago. We still haven’t completely recovered from the Civil War. And in its own way, Vietnam divided the country as nothing has since the Civil War. I have the greatest respect for every casualty of that conflict. I can understand the vehemence felt by those who opposed it, and I vividly recall that the Tet Offensive finally made those of us here in the United States understand this was not going to be the quick and easy conflict we had been made to believe it would be. Yet for several more years, we continued to send young men into what we understood was an “unwinnable” war.

My works-in-progress are not about the Vietnam War. They are about two men whose lives were forever altered by their time in Vietnam. As with all my novels, it is the power of music and in the case, art as well, that helps them find a way to begin to heal their wounded souls.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Mending Fences

In my novel Jamie’s Children, Niall Logan’s bipolar disorder disrupts his life and affects the people who love him and want to help him in any way they can. The disease is difficult to diagnose, and in many cases ─ as in Niall’s ─ the patient resists seeking help for numerous reasons.

Niall’s sister Laura has been his best friend as well as his loving older sibling from their earliest years, and she does everything she can for him. As often happens with this disease, though, he lashes out at her and then doesn’t see her for months. When he is finally receiving treatment, she goes to visit him at the clinic where he is finally receiving treatment.

Here’s an excerpt from early in the book:


     She hadn’t seen her brother in months and wasn’t sure what to expect. He smiled when he walked in. She went to him and put her arms around him. He was too thin and he looked pale to her, and she didn’t like the smudgy circles she saw under his eyes.
     “Hey, Roger,” she said, using his middle name. It was their private joke: both had been given their maternal grandparents’ first names as their middle names.
     “How’s it goin’, Ruth?” He stepped back and grinned at her, and she saw in his eyes a glimmer that told her he was there; he’d leveled off.
     They sat together on a sofa. He sighed and relaxed. “This had to happen. I’ve been crazy for way too long.”
     “I should have done more to help you,” she said.
     “Nobody could help me until I acknowledged I was sick.” He took her hand. “You tried plenty. You tried pretty much everything you could.” He smiled wryly. “I didn’t want to hear any of it. I liked being crazy when I was up.”
     “Yes, you did. Mom says that’s the way this disease … what’s the word she uses? … ‘presents’ itself.”
     “Yeah. Mania. It’s beautiful, Laura. The problem is, sooner or later you crash, and you don’t even want to be here anymore.” She saw the haunted look in his eyes.
     “You can smoke if you want.”
     “I would, but lithium makes cigarettes taste like shit.” He gave a short laugh. “I’m told it’s going to take my body a while to adjust to the drug. Not a whole lot of fun.”
     “I’m sure.”
     He ran his fingers through his hair. “Here’s my goal, big sister. I want to come and hear you play Brahms with the Sinfonia. I want to be out of here before that concert.”
      She was touched. “I can’t imagine playing it without you being there.”
    There was an easy, comfortable silence between them. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I’m sorry for everything I’ve put you through. Put all the people I love through. I wish it had never happened.”
    “You’re sick, Niall. You didn’t do any of it on purpose, we all know that.”
    “Well, I could have reached out for help sooner.”
    Laura was thoughtful. “You know what I believe?  Things happen when they’re meant to happen.”
   “Well, that’s new.” He looked closely at her. “Sounds like something Dad would say. There’s a little bit of the mystic about him – comes from being part Irish, maybe?”
     Niall’s eyes shone as he added, “He came to see me yesterday. Flew all the way from Milan right in the middle of his run of Aida just to spend a couple of hours with me.”
     “I would expect nothing less from him. I can tell it meant a lot to you, though.”
     “It sure did. Just like it means a lot that you’re here now.” He grinned at her again. “Has it ‘happened’ that a man has come into your life recently?”
     She punched him lightly on the arm, but felt color rise in her face. “Now what makes you ask that?”
     “You look extremely pretty tonight. New dress? New hair style? What?”
     “Both. But I did them for me, not for … anyone else.”
     Now he was teasing. “C’mon, tell. You know you tell me everything. Who is this guy?”
     “It’s just a friendship, Niall. He’s the pianist I’m working with now.” She knew she was blushing.
     “How old is he?” It didn’t surprise her that he would ask. As a teenager, she’d had crushes on older men more than once and thought herself hopelessly in love. Then she went through a period of several years when she swore off men, period. She was too busy perfecting her violin technique to bother with them.
     “Actually, you’ll be very surprised to hear that he’s two years younger than you.”
     “He’s twenty-three? Holy shit. Laura the cradle-robber. I can’t believe it.” He laughed heartily.
     “He’s a lot more mature than you are. In fact, he’s more mature than I am. He’s … well, he’s really something.” She dropped all pretense and warmed to the subject. “His name is Leon Weiss, and he completed his master’s last year at Juilliard. He’s teaching there now and is a fine collaborative pianist.” She took both Niall’s hands.
     “I’m not here to talk about me, Roger. I know I’m not allowed to stay long. Is there anything you need? Anything I can bring you? I’m sure Bonnie and Mom see you whenever they can, but if you need anything at all, or just want to talk, will you call me? It’s really not a bad train ride.”
     He grinned. “I’d like to hear more about Leon the Wise. It’s great you finally have an age-appropriate man in your life, Ruth.” She punched him again, this time on the shoulder.
     “I’d say the lithium is a good thing. You’re acting like the snotty little brother you always were.”
     A nurse approached them and said to Laura, “I’m sorry, Miss Logan. Niall needs to be back in his room in just a few minutes, but I can tell your visit has been good for him. Please come back when you can.”
     She walked away and Laura said, “She seems nice.”
     “She’s okay. A little firm sometimes, but she’s no Nurse Ratched.”
      Laura’s eyebrows went up. “Niall … are things okay here?”
     He laughed again. “Just kidding. This is no ‘Cuckoo’s Nest,’ honey. Good folks run this operation. They really care about us crazies.”
   They stood and embraced. Laura found herself close to tears. She wanted to spend more time with him. “I wish I could stay longer. I should have been here sooner.”
     “Stop it, Laura. You’ve always been my life line. You’ve bailed me out so many times over the past few years. Mom and Bonnie needed to get me in here, and Mom knew just who to call.”
     He hugged her again. “Tell that guy Leon he’d better treat you right.”
     She laughed and wiped her eyes. “I’ll give him the message. I’ll be back this weekend.”
     “I’d like that.” He put his hands on her shoulders and looked at her levelly. “I’m going to be okay, sis. Finally. I’m going to get better.”
    “I know you will,” she replied. She walked away and turned back to wave, leaving a piece of her heart with him. He looked very young and a little lost.
     Be well, Niall. Please, be well.

Jamie's Children is available on Amazon, paperback and e-book. Please visit my website at for links to all my books.

cover by Tristan Flanagan

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Laura's Misadventure with a Tenor

In light of recent events, a chapter in Jamie’s Children seems to be pertinent to the ongoing discussion about some men’s proclivity to look on women as objects intended for their pleasure. Sometimes it’s much more subtle, but the end result is the same.

Laura Logan is a virtuoso violinist, former child prodigy, who is also a lonely young woman who longs for a romance. Unfortunately, she has an encounter with a man who turns out to be not at all what she had hoped for, and she becomes one of those “sadder-but-wiser” girls Harold Hill sings about in The Music Man. Harold himself doesn’t have a very good track record until he is tripped up by actually falling in love. 

Here’s Laura’s first encounter with the man for whom she has high hopes. He’s a talented tenor, handsome, suave, sophisticated. Laura is twenty-two. Andrei is forty-one. They are both in Aspen, Colorado, as  members of the Aspen Music Festival staff, and performers for the summer. She’s had very limited experience with males; she’s devoted herself to her music, and she is vulnerable. 

Anita is her accompanist for the summer. Ardith is a therapist she had seen in the spring when she had learned some important things about her obsession to perfect her technique on the violin to the detriment of her emotional involvement with the music.


     Another member of the audience who spoke with her was Andrei Potrenko. She had met him briefly at a get-together for staff and faculty the first weekend they were there, but it had been a casual moment in a crowded, darkened space and Anita had whisked her away almost immediately.
     Now she had a chance to really see him. He was a strikingly handsome man, with dark blonde hair and unusual light eyes – gray, she thought; taller than she had realized, trim and broad-shouldered, with an air of aristocracy about him. He held himself confidently and moved with a certain amount of grace; she realized she was attracted to him.
     It made her wonder about the two failed marriages; he probably didn’t want for willing female companionship. Maybe the wives had grown tired of extramarital affairs. She reminded herself it wasn’t her business, but she was definitely curious.
     He spoke to her warmly, complimenting her on the performance. “I am looking forward to making music with you, Laura. You play with such passion … such elegance.” He had the tiniest hint of an accent and she couldn’t place it, but it was charming. He was charming. Maybe his family spoke Ukrainian or Russian at home as he was growing up? He was gazing into her eyes as she spoke, and she was flattered by the attention and the frank interest he seemed to be showing her.
     Ardith Mossman’s cautionary words came back to her: Don’t jump into bed with the first guy who looks interested.
     She thought as he walked away, Was he hitting on me? He definitely was checking me out. She liked the idea; she shivered slightly. He was definitely easy on the eyes. Time to leave the drawbridge down, she thought, or maybe even blow it up.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Excerpts from JAMIE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 1

In Jamie’s Children, as in all my books, the characters are faced with challenges which they meet with the help of the music in their lives. Niall Logan, the son of a renowned operatic tenor, has aspirations of becoming a successful singer-songwriter. And he has the talent and the passion. Unfortunately, Niall also has a frightening mental illness … he is bipolar.

In the first chapter we meet Niall, who has finally accepted the fact he may not survive if he doesn’t agree to seek the help he needs in dealing with his illness. He’s now in a clinic in Westchester County, New York, thinking back over the recent events which brought him here.


Chapter 1: Niall
Life on lithium.
Could be the beginning of a song lyric, thought Niall.
Life on lithium, how things have changed.
Not as much fun as when I was deranged.

He was sprawled across the bed in his room at the clinic, one arm over his eyes, fighting back tears. He was thinking of his sister Laura; he needed to see her. She had been good to him his entire life, and the last time he’d seen her he had been awful. Why would he have done that? When did his life turn upside down?
He wanted it to be spring, and for the two of them to be in the park with their parents, getting ready for a Sunday morning picnic. He wanted to be six again, flying a kite with his dad, playing badminton with Laura, sitting close to his mom as she read to him.

He sighed and sat up, stretching carefully. Muscle aches were part of Niall’s “adjustment” to lithium, and his shoulders and back and hips were painfully stiff and sore. He looked at the light on the table next to the bed. No halos, that was good. He looked around the room. No weird shadows in the corners. No musical sounds that weren’t there.

When did I start analyzing my sensory perceptions? he thought. Since I started taking lithium. What a stupid name for a drug. A drug with a lisp. Or a lithp.

. . . His heart began to pound when he saw the shadows in the room begin to pulsate and writhe. There’s something in them. He backed away, his stomach churning, and felt Bonnie’s arms encircle him. She soothed him, took his hands and gently led him to the bed. Defeated and confused, he lay next to her, trembling, shaking, beating a pillow with his fists, his throat aching with sobs he couldn’t release. She wrapped her arms around him and rocked him as if he were a child, and he relaxed enough to fall into a fitful sleep.

He woke the next morning feeling as if six inch spikes had been driven into his eyes and through the top of his head. His stomach was on fire. When he tried to move nothing worked. He knew what it was: a killer migraine. When he finally managed to open his eyes he shut them again immediately. The world had changed; he didn’t even want to be there. He curled into a fetal position. He refused to even drink water.

 I guess this is what it is to hit bottom, he thought. I’ll die if I keep doing this, flying and then crashing. I’ll end up killing myself.

Jamie’s Children is available on Amazon, e-book and paperback.
Please visit my Amazon author page or my website to find links to all my books.