A republication deserves a pretty new cover. In the spirit of do-it-yourself and because I've been doing a lot of graphic and visual art design lately, I decided to have a go at cover making. I had help--big thanks to photographer Sherry Steffensmeier and editor Diane Breton for their input.
I'm getting closer to the rerelease of Tender Bonds as an e-book. I'm excited, because I do love this book. written with love and care some time ago. And I'm nervous, too. Self pubbing seems a hard road to me and I haven't yet taken the plunge with anything more than some short pieces. But I'm going to venture forth anyway.
Here's an excerpt from the book. Patty, the main character, has recently discovered that she has a step brother. They share a derelict father named Jack . I'll warn you ahead of time that her brother, Charlie, likes to use adult language. (Perhaps I should put an R rating on the excerpt?)
I took the photo at a pond near my house. There's a lake, a made-up place called Babylon Lake, that figures heavily in this book. I imagine it looks something like this in the fall.
(Charlie) swigged the last of his wine. “I’m going to open another bottle. You game?”
I was feeling the buzz of the first two glasses I’d consumed. It was not an entirely bad feeling. Maybe that’s what Jack went for, that little buzz that made all problems seem a little less problematic. Only in Jack’s case, it had backfired. “Sure. Why not.”
“Unfortunately, all I’ve got left is wine in a box.”
“It’s not.” He went to the kitchen and came back with a carton. “But it is cheap.” He poured us each a glass. “So tell me about Jersey.”
“Tell me about Valerie.”
“I asked first. What are you running from?”
“Nothing.” I knew I sounded defensive. “I’m just trying to…” How could I put it? I didn’t know myself, really, what I was trying to do. Not in my frontal lobe anyway. Somewhere deep inside myself I understood. But how do you word that? “I’m trying to figure some things out,” was the best I could come up with. I lay my head back on the couch. My shoes were off. I had the thought that I felt about as much at home as I ever had anywhere. It must have been the wine.
“And hanging around here is going to help you figure things out?” Charlie wasn’t joking anymore.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe if I can get to see Jack, I can fill in the missing pieces. I keep making wrong choices. Not wrong, maybe. More…it’s like I don’t make choices at all. Things just happen and I let them. Maybe it’s in the gene pool. Maybe if I meet Jack, I can fix it.”
“I’ve known Jack a long time, and I’m still fucking things up.” Charlie sat up in the recliner. I was staring at the ceiling. “Jack doesn’t have any answers. You can trust me on that.”
It was a tin ceiling. I remembered it as soon as I looked. It hadn’t changed in thirty-six years. “You think he’ll remember me?” My eyes filled, washing the tin plates. I took another swallow of wine.
“I have to tell you something. That first day, you showed up here with that stupid plant? I wanted to kick you out. I’ve hated you for most of my life.”
I sat up. “Why?”
“Because. Jack, he’d get drunk and talk about you. It was “my Patty” this and “my Patty” that. It hurt my mother. She never had kids with him, you know. Couldn’t, I guess. And he used you like a weapon. Did it to me too. “My Patty” was always better than me. He used to say “your sister Patty would never act like that,” whenever I messed up. And I’d think fuck you and fuck Patty too. She’s not my sister. Said it aloud once or twice. He beat the crap out of me when I did.”
His words stung more than I thought possible. “I’m going to go.” I stood up and swayed before regaining my balance. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“That your solution for everything? Say I’m sorry and run off?”
“You hate me. There’s no sense in my staying.”
“Thing is, Patty, I don’t hate you. I don’t know you well enough to hate you.”
He picked up the box of wine. “Have another drink. We’ll talk, get to know each other, then I can hate you.”
I handed him my empty glass. I wasn’t sure how I’d get back to the motel anyway, feeling as buzzed as I was. I could imagine getting stopped for DWI.
Like father, like daughter.
It's been a long while, I know, but I'm finally bringing back the Tender Bonds. The story of Patty's homecoming is a deeply personal one. Unlike Patty, I did not have an estranged father or a newly discovered stepbrother. But like most of my stories, shades of truth are contained within. The characters are composites of people I grew up with. The setting, though fictional, mirrors the places in which I came of age. Places shape character and mine was sharpened and honed by a small town nestled in the Adirondack foothills. I wrote this, in some ways, as a tribute to that setting.
The book was published, but once the publishing company closed its doors, rights reverted back to me. I've decided it's worth publishing it again. I'm crossing a few t's and dotting some i's--a quick once over copy edit, and a touch up for the cover to name a few things. Once I've finished, which should be within the next few weeks, I'll be putting the book out as an e-book. Later, I'll work on the print copy.
Watch this space for more information.
When our boys were small, my husband Jim and I were frequent summer visitors to Crane Beach in Ipswich Massachusetts. The wide expanse of sandy beach buttressed by dunes made for a wonderful day trip. The water was sheltered, small sandbars with splashy pools were perfect for little ones.
We’d always noted the nearby signs for Castle Hill and knew it was a historic sight. But since small children and historic sights are things that don’t often go well together, we ignored the long road to the top of the drumlin that overlooked the beach.
Fast forward a whole lot of years to an October day warm enough to be mistaken for summer. Jim and I were ready for an outing and Crane Beach, topped off with a drive up the road to the top of the drumlin seemed long overdue.
It was worth the wait. The house, built by plumbing supply magnate Richard Crane Jr. in the 1920s as a summer home, is a 59 room Stuart-style mansion. The grounds are reminiscent of an earl’s park in England. Downton Abbey could have been filmed in a place like this. Castle Hill has, in fact, been used as a billionaire’s haunt, as the home of Jack Nicholson’s devilish character in the Witches of Eastwick. The lawn extends on for what seems to be forever, up and down long grassy hills until finally ending in an breathtaking view of the beach and ocean below.
If you’re ever in Ipswich, I’d highly recommend a visit. Bring a good book, a large garden hat, and a picnic lunch in a hamper with champagne.
Since being bitten by the photo bug, I’ve gained a fascination for benches. It began as a way to anchor a picture—something I’m learning as I explore things like perspective. But there is something to be said for a bench or a chair placed outside. It seems to say “come sit and stay awhile, enjoy the scenery.” This is very much in keeping with my own goal of slowing down, feeling the pulse of my life, noticing what is around me. The richness of life continues to astound me.
Most Tuesday mornings, I get up early to walk with two good friends in the forests near my home. The walks are a combination of exercise and lively conversation and something more profound—a sort of renewal, a freshening, a boost to the spirit
Until very recently, I didn’t have a good name for this third element. But then I heard a podcast in NPR. Forest bathing, they said, is a new concept in the US. It’s an idea that comes from Japan, where they practice ‘shinrin-yoku’ which, loosely translated, means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’. The Japanese are staunch believers that spending a little time outdoors and soaking up the smells, sounds, and sights in a natural setting is good for your health and wellbeing.
It turns out they are right. Studies have found that spending time out in nature reduces stress, helps working memory, and increases positive outlook, among other things.
Sadly, we are not a nation of outdoors people. Most of us only spend seven percent of our day in the elements. But forest bathing is beginning to take off, classes in shinrin-yoku are springing up all over the country. Some people have taken to calling it the new yoga.
I’ve never taken a formal class in forest appreciation, but I do know that my Tuesday excursions provide a good elixir for both my body and my soul. I guess my friends and I have been forest bathers for a long time.
Even though I recently finished the draft of my latest novel, I’ve been having a hard time staying focused on my writing lately. This is twice as true in the early stages of writing.
For me, creating a story or a poem requires opening the faucet up wide. Images, ideas, words, need to pour forward so I can cup my hands and catch them. Even if it’s wet and messy at first, this is where I begin. Lately, my creativity has slowed. The faucet isn’t entirely shut, but the output is dripping instead of streaming.It’s become painful and slow to put anything on the page. Writer’s block does not describe this accurately. Better to call it writer’s anemia.
There are a lot of things I could point to as the cause of this anemic state: the divisive political climate in my country and it’s currently misguided leadership has me worried for our future. Social media often feels like one big room filled with people who are shouting at one another. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that people ought to have the right to express their opinions, but we aren’t doing a lot of give and take. We aren’t listening. The news doesn’t help. Everyday, it seems, the ugliness in the world is brought into our conscious. Senseless shootings that lead to arguments, natural disaster that are answered with tone deafness to the suffering they cause. I’d like to turn away, but find I can no more do it than I could turn away from my own sick child.
The divisiveness makes me uneasy. It makes offering up my own opinion feel dangerous—and my work, as an extension of who I am and what I value, feels unsafe as well. The dark of all this distrust, chaos, and uneasiness colors my existence. But there is another side. Love and beauty do exist in my life. My family, my friends, the wonderful people who have helped me along my writing journey. The natural beauty of the world outside my door, woodlands alive with color, an hour's ride away is an ocean that is vast and awe-inspiring. It’s not a big life that I lead, but it is a rich one.
I had, I realized, fallen out of love with my life. And love of my life, love of the world, is what has always inspired me to put words to page. In a larger sense, it is also what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other as I walk through this life of mine. I needed an antidote, a cure for my malaise.
Help often comes in unexpected ways. For me, this time, it’s come in pictures. Take a new phone that can take decent photos easily, add a friend who is takes fabulous pictures and is willing to act as mentor, and a good photo editing program that is easy to use, and you have—creativity returned. I’ve started photographing my ordinary life, walks through the woods, time spent with grandchildren, days at the beach. I’ve rediscovered that this earthly heartbeat of mine is extraordinary. Miracles unfold everywhere.
I’ve fallen in love again.
It was the last weekend of the summer. A balmy, warm day perfect for a beach chair and a good book. My husband and I packed a picnic lunch and off we went to the ocean beach an hour’s drive from our door. We drove along, sun peeking in and out of puffy clouds, looking forward to this last of summer outing.
As we approached route 1A, the road that curves along New Hampshire’s short sixteen miles of ocean front, things got a bit hazy. By the time we’d turned onto the road, we were socked in a thick fog. The drive along this road is usually beautiful, the ocean to one side, stately beachside mansions on the other, the beach hamlets with their ice cream stands and surf shops and lobster restaurants. Last Sunday, you could see none of those things. You could barely see the car ahead of you.
The fog nearly made us turn around and go back home. But it was the last weekend day of summer, we’d driven an hour. We live in New Hampshire, where live free or die is the state motto. So we journeyed on, carefully and slowly, to the beach.
We discovered that going to the beach on a foggy warm day has a lot to recommend it. It was cooler than it might have been, the breeze off the ocean keeping the temperatures comfortable. And it was beautiful, in a haunting end-of-summer kind of way. I took a lot of pictures and I’m sharing some of them with you as I wish you all good beach days and a happy end to summer.
I’ve finished the draft of a book I’ve (tentatively) titled “Between these Worlds”. It’s a love story painted on a large canvas—Afghanistan and New York and Haiti. I’ve dubbed it an ‘almost historical’, in that it’s set in the not too distant past, some ten years back.
This story has been a hard one to birth. It’s longer than my other books, weighing in at just over 100,000 words, which is somewhere around 400 pages, give or take, in a finished book. I’ve been working on it, off and on and off again, for the last five years or so.
I love this story. It’s big, it’s romantic and it’s more than that, too. It represents my best effort at storytelling. All I know how to do. Still, I got stuck towards the end. Life, what’s happening around the world, kept me in a state of anxiety and made it difficult to sit down and write. So, finishing the draft feels like a huge victory, even if it will be a short celebration.
Short, because I know this is just the start. Having cobbled this story together, I’ll have to polish it, rework parts of it, make it as shiny as I can before I offer it up to agents and editors. And then, if I’m lucky and someone takes a chance on it, it will be edited and polished again.
I’d like to share this moment with you none-the-less. Here’s hoping for more great moments. And here is a small taste, is the very beginning of the draft of Between these Worlds.
It wasn’t the burka that had upset Nora Jankowski. Burkas were hardly unusual in Kandahar, although this hospital ward, with a large double door labeled 'Pediatrics' and another sign in both Pashto and English that read 'Women and Children Only' was an oasis of sorts, a small island of comfort where women could be shed of restrictive garb to walk around and work freely. So it wasn’t the burka, but had Nora given it any thought, she might have said that the head to toe covering made the woman look like the angel of death, the crosshatch pattern covering the woman’s face a reminder of the confessionals her grandmother had insisted they visit each Saturday of her childhood.
Nora had been explaining the IV in Jaamal's pencil thin arm to his mother, Alia, all the while hoping the Afghani woman understood the mix of English and the handful of Pashto words Nora had picked up. Hassan was severely understaffed and Alia would be charged with acting as Jaamal's nurse, so it was imperative she grasped what Nora was saying.
Alia had shifted attention from the IV to the foot of the crib as Nora regulated the drip. Nora had looked up, noticed the burka-clad woman who seemed to come out of nowhere, and for one heart stopping moment all Nora could feel was foreboding, the portent of some terrible doom. Before Nora could stop herself, she asked "What do you want?" more stridently than she'd intended.
The woman took a step backward, as if Nora had hit her with a rock. Clearly, she was just an ordinary woman and no apparition at all. “Sorry,’ said Nora in Pashto, wishing again that she was a better student of language. She wasn’t sure if she’d said ‘sorry’ or hurled an insult at the woman as a follow up to shouting her down
The woman, seemingly unoffended, pulled a note from somewhere out of the burka and held it out to Nora while saying what sounded like “win”
The note was from Aimal; the Afghani interpreter Nora had met on her first day at Hassan. She’d flown endless hours in increasingly smaller aircraft to land, finally, at the Kandahar military base. A young marine had driven her past the bombed-out skeletons of buildings, the Humvee bouncing over streets in a way that made her feel she’d lost a good two inches of height by the time they reached the hospital. Aimal, dressed in salwar kameez with a gold medal around his neck, had met the Humvee at the hospital gate holding up a sign with her name on it.
“Doctor so happy to see you finally,” he had said with a huge smile pinned to his face.
He had taken her over to the relief workers quarters, to a dorm room on the second floor. The room was bare-bones sparse, cinderblock walls painted grey, a narrow bed with several army issue blankets. A blue tarp was tacked over the glassless window. “Sweet is the home,” said Aimal, looking as pleased as if he’d bought her to a room in the Ritz. “Anything you need it.” She gave him a few Afghani coins, unsure of whether tipping was something she ought to do, but the money caused Aimal’s smile to broaden and he repeated “Anything you need it,” and added “I can get.”
I wrote this poem years ago. When my son, Matt, was a little boy, I would catch glimpses of my own father in my son. I see it now, too, in both my boys grown to men, and in my grandbabies. Something that remains, I suppose. It was a comfort in the years after my dad passed away. It still is.
He is in your eyes, my child--
sapphire pools wide with wonder
reflecting the sun--a thousand fleeting torches
as he must have danced in the days before
a you or a me.
Arms reaching to embrace each diminutive
ray filtering through the branches--
to weave forever into ebony
to sparkle again
in your eyes.
This writing journey, this life, is a long road full of pitfalls and wrong turns. Also, incredible beauty, kindness and friendship with those I've met along the way.I'm so glad you're here to share the road..
Find me at Story Finds