Sunday, February 27, 2011

#SampleSunday: “Oh, bummer! The murderer? It was me all along.”

(This is an excerpt from my most recent novel: One Hundred Open Houses)

The apartment was a big studio with a step down living room.  The kitchen and dining area were on the upper landing. I was thinking, why don’t I just buy this and be done with it but what gave me pause was the location.  It wasn’t just about the apartment; it was about what happened when you stepped out the door.  It was about being in the heart of a neighborhood that delighted your senses.  It was about what they call psychic amenities.  I can’t describe it completely, but there is a sense of well being, of feeling special and optimistic, that comes with a neighborhood.  You feel it when you are near the center of the New York grid downtown.  Sidewalk cafés may be filthy inside and bogus, too, but they give you a sense of drama.  Walking on streets with no building higher than five floors fires your imagination about what is possible and romantic in this world.  Townhouses with even the straggliest window box or the most tarnished brass knocker on the door, makes your heart sing.  233 West 20th was just too freaking far west.  Seventh avenue just didn’t do it for me.  It was a good buy, no doubt about it.  But it was not the place that would fulfill what I needed.
Also, there were painful memories embedded in this part of New York for me. My marriage was coming apart when I had walked these streets.   I had only agreed to look at the apartment because the agent had promised to show me how much value there was in the area. I was gloomy driving in that morning.  Max had called the previous day to tell me his dad was in the hospital.    I had tried to call him but there is no answer in his hospital room. 
When I finally reach the ex, we have a surprising heart to heart during which we both admit, we can’t take in love.  Here’s how we arrived at this strange confessional.  They have not yet diagnosed his high fever, so I emphasize how much his children love him. He seems surprised and says, “You know how hard it is for me to accept love.” 
“Get in line,” I say, just to be agreeable.  I have no idea if I can accept love or not.
“I can’t accept it either.” 
“You can’t?”  He says astounded, as if he just met me.  “Maybe that’s my fault.”  I’m not sure it’s his fault but say nothing.  And then, because I’m at work (although that has never stopped any indiscretion before) I say some other sappy things and try to close on a good note.  He finishes off by declaring.  “The day you drove off from this house for the last time, you said, ‘I still care for you.’” 
I, who have a mind that retains everything have no recollection of such a leave taking and am astounded that he has tucked that scene away all these years when he forgets almost everything else. I might have said it.  I’m crazily nice sometimes. I tend to want to finish off a scene in a memorable way. 
Then he starts rhapsodizing about how great all the kids are and we are so lucky.  Rather than nit pick, I agree. The truth?  I’m embarrassed by this kind of confessional.   I feel as if we’re trying to say something important to fulfill some psychological blueprint put out by Dr. Phil.  If I never hear the word “closure” again it will be bliss.   The whole concept is misguided because it would take years of hard work to get to a one-sentence wrap-up of where we went wrong.  
Now here’s where I can document that there is something big missing from my make-up.  I don’t see any point in talking about all this unless we are going to take it down to the last rung.  And that last rung is really dangerous because it is the simple truth but sounds horrendously callous.  Oh, by the way, I married the wrong person OR perhaps I’m not the marrying kind, so, no matter how much you can or can’t take in love, it wouldn’t have made any difference.  OR, when I married you I was in a trance and then, it sort of seemed okay for a while, and then all those kids came and I was distracted.  But now we’re done, you know what I mean?  OR, don’t let’s forget all the hormones that kicked in during all those pregnancies and possibly distorted all emotions.
Do I care about you, do I not care about you, what does it matter?  I live far away.  Most days, I handle life on my own and you handle life on your own.  We’re not each other’s problem anymore.  Of course I said none of this. It wouldn’t be polite, to say the least, and would have caused resentment as the truth often does.
Some might see this as a cold, unfeeling analysis of our lives. But let me just remind you that we all want to hit it out of the ballpark.  And how can we do that if we let all the misguided sentimental untruths keep us in perpetual dawdling.  Many of my favorite lines come from “Gone With The Wind” and the adjective “mealy mouthed” uttered by Scarlett and the opinion “it ain’t fittin” uttered by Mammy, come to mind.  I don’t want to be mealy mouthed when I explain my emotional life. It ain’t fittin’.    I cry sometimes and I can even sob but usually it’s when I think how the boys will feel when I die.    Maggie will be sad but it won’t crush her.  As for my marriage?  I don’t know what that was all about.  I really don’t. And maybe I don’t need to know.
You have only to remember Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy. -  where there’s a realization at the end of life that the person you’ve been living with is your mortal enemy.   And suppose the person is you?  Of course it’s you.  Now that I think about it, it has to be you.  That’s why you have to take care of these things while you still have a chance.  You don’t want your dying words to be “Oh, bummer! The murderer?   It was me all along.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eye-popping autobiographical tidbits on Jeopardy

More compelling than the hideosity of hearing Alex Trebek overpronounce Nicaragua, are the eye-popping autobiographical tidbits Alex elicits from the contestants.

Alex: Something strange happened to you at the grocery store?
Contestant:  Yes, I went to get a loaf of bread but when I got home and looked in the bag, I had bought a pound of bacon instead.
Me:  This is so hilarious, I am going to root for you to win.

Alex:  I hear you did something daring up in the air?
Contestant:  Yes, Alex. I took my girlfriend up to the rooftop of my building and proposed.
Me:  I’ve never heard of anything more original.  I hope she said yes.

Alex: Tell us what happened when you visited the Louvre (calm down, Alex. Yes, it’s a French word.)
Contestant:  I was in the Manet section of the Louvre and had a coughing fit and I  couldn’t stop and had to go outside.
Me:  Oh, how embarrassing.  I bet it made Le Monde

Alex:  Did you get more than you bargained for from the dry cleaner?
Contestant: I went to pick up my three-piece suit but when I got it home and unwrapped it, I had a woman’s taffeta cocktail sheath with a deep-v neckline and two rows of flounce at the hem.
Alex:  And you had to take it back?
Contestant: No.  I kept it.  I tried it on and really liked it.  I wear it on week-ends.
Me:  Finally.  Something interesting.

On the e-publishing front, I want to report that sales and knowledge keep increasing. I got off of my high horse and reduced one of my novels to 0.99 and it began selling briskly.  I don't make much money but it might help the book climb a bit on the Amazon lists.  One of the helpful tools I've stumbled upon is a free program called Calibre.  Calibre will convert pdf's, rtf's and html files into mobi (for the Kindle) or epub (for the Nook and other e-readers) and will even solve some formatting issues along the way.  Calibre is my new best friend.  On the charity front: I've helped two other authors get onto the Amazon selling train.  On the happiness front:  I have not been this happy in a long time.  Three adorable grandchildren and a bunch of new friends on the Kindleboards.  Life is good.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sample Sunday excerpt from One Hundred Open Houses: Now here is where it gets dark.

My mother and I have had a non-traditional association.  We were hardly ever in the same place from the day I was born.  I won’t go into the details because she’s 94 and what would be the point. Suffice to say I lost sight of her for twenty-three years and hired a private investigator to find her.  Dear Mrs. Haas, he wrote after three months, “I have located your mother.”  He probably had found her in fifteen minutes but needed to use up the hefty retainer.  It didn’t matter.  Finding my mother was the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I had to prepare myself that she might be dead. I was already separated at the time and I remember calling my ex and saying:  Look, I may find out any day that my mother’s dead and I need to be able to call someone I know well and tell them.  I need to be able to tell you.  
At the time, although the idea scared me into a trembling sweat, it didn’t feel tragic.  Now, I know it would have been tragic because we’ve had the chance to get to know each other or, at least I’ve had the chance to get to know her.   I have no clue what she thinks about me because my mother has never been able to be honest about anything.  It’s not intentional.  It’s a disease of her entire generation.  Here is what is important to my mother:  Men, marriage, make-up and what “people think.”  Those are her subjects and interests although she claims not to like men because men “tell you what to do.”  No matter what we’re talking about it always ends up with men and marriage and what people think.  She is still certain that men she comes in contact with want to marry her.  Respectability is the next thing on her list. She wants respectability.  But it’s the kind of respectability that comes with putting up a good front.  Yes, I married well, I live in a nice house, we have help, I have the latest appliances, my daughter is a virgin, etc. etc. 
I don’t know if she sees me as a person or just as someone who has disappointed her and helped ruin her life.  I don’t know what she thinks of my children three of whom she had never met until they were adults.  She says all the normal stuff but there’s the distracted hollowness of a person who is saying one thing but thinking something else.   She never helped me nurse these children through an illness.  She never took them one on one to see a Broadway show.  She has only sat in her wheel chair and said hello and judged their companions and their choice of career.  I can understand it.  After all, these adults have been sprung on her at an age when she must feel detached from the future and what’s the use of making emotional investments. She didn’t know them as adorable toddlers with little dimpled hands and chubby legs.
I don’t think she values my lifestyle or my life choices. She doesn’t see how she can use them to reflect well on her.  She doesn’t like the fact that I’m still working because that idea strays from the men and marriage theme.  She asks me all the time if I have a boyfriend.  I tell her I really don’t want to take care of anyone right now.
“Me, either,” she says.  “I don’t want any man telling me what to do.”  That’s different from what I’m saying.  It makes me think of Percy Walker’s book where the heroine wants someone to tell her where to stand and what to say and guide her from moment to moment.  I wouldn’t mind trying that for a few days.
The qualities I have are not things she values.  She would love to see me in a good Chanel suit with a silk shell underneath and some chunky gold jewelry and my hair nicely styled and moussed, red lipstick, a really stylish designer pocketbook, leather sling back pumps and a big diamond duet on my left hand.  That’s the daughter that would catch her eye.
The most interesting part of meeting up with my mother again is my eagerness to please her and make her feel valuable.  I tell her I get all of my enterprising spirit from her and that the skills to survive are from her and strength and almost everything good.  I massage her swollen legs and stroke her hands.  But there is one thing missing.  I have no emotional attachment.  I’m attached by duty and fear.  Fear of not feeling good when she’s gone.
Now here is where it gets dark.  I fear my mother because I feel she is capable of a detached kind of cruelty and revenge. There are people like that. I sometimes feel that everything my mother says to me is a façade to hide her consuming need to punish me. For her divorce.  For loss of her respectability.  For my brother’s death. For my independence.  And especially for my imperfect devotion to her.  Okay that’s very dark and possibly not true but I’m just telling you what I feel. That’s why writing is so important for me.  It takes away the fear. 
That’s why even though I live in the prettiest village in America, I have to come back to the noisy city and the irredeemable grit of the subways and be pushed by the crowd into the car and against the bar and witness the man saying: move this facking car now, I want to get the fack home. It doesn’t matter if I’m making a mistake.  I’ve got to do it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sample Sunday: excerpt from Daughters


She stood alone in the foyer half hidden by an urn filled with bushy flowering red jasmine.  The flowers had been gathered that morning to delight the parents who had come for the recitation.  She sighed, filled with inexplicable longing, and fingered the ragged paper in her hand on which was scribbled Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.”
The proper recitation of poetry was important at FGS and once a month the parents came to listen.
“For crying out loud,” said Margaret, “everyone goes fast asleep at these things.  The Muslims are indifferent because we never include their poets.  The English poets say very little about the afterlife which is as important to them as this vale of tears.”
On an evening just like this, after Nadia had recited all seven stanzas of Tennyson’s “Sir Galahad,” her grandmother kissed her cheek and muttered into the air, “Reap the wind and harvest nothing.”  Her way of saying Nadia spent time on activities with no lasting benefits.
Miss Smythe said if they hoped to sit for the matriculation exams they must be well read.  They must know the great literature of the world.  “The great literature of the world,” shrieked Margaret,” . . . “is either crying over spilled milk or making too much of everything.  Life is very simple, really.”
“You can make fun of it because you’re English,” offered Nadia wisely.  “For us it’s something to admire.”
Now from her safe nook in the foyer, Nadia could hear the boys finishing their recitation.  That meant the girls would begin.  She would have to take her place in the auditorium.  “ ‘Ah love . . . Ah, love . . . Ah love . . .’ “ - she spoke with exaggerated emotion – “ ‘ let us be true to one another for the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams,  So various . . . so? . . . beautiful . . . so new, Hath really . . . hath really’  . . . ooh what does it bloody have?”
“It ‘hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,’ “ came an unequivocal deeply masculine answer from the other side of the foliage.
She sucked in her breath, bit down on her offending lips and waited.  To be heard using that word!  She knew that “bloody” while it sounded harmless to her, was quite coarse to the English.  An eternity was perceived but only several seconds passed. Her mouth felt dry as a gully.  “ ‘Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain . . .’ “ the voice now had an urgency.  He was trying to get her to continue, to answer with the next poetic line.
She unclenched her jaw and let go of her lips.  “ ‘And we are here as on a darkling plain,’ “ she said timidly without any of the expression the line demanded, “ ‘Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where . . .’” What came next?
“ ‘Where ignorant armies clash by night,’ “ came the resonant answer.
It was no voice she recognized.  Was it a parent?  Perhaps an intruder!  She began to tiptoe away hoping to reach the door of the auditorium – from which she should not have strayed – without facing . . . him.  She felt an incriminating awkwardness in every step.
“You stumbled on ‘ . . . so various, so beautiful, so new,’ etc.  That’s where your problem begins.”  The voice reached out and stopped her in midflight.
“Yes,” she acknowledged, still facing away.  That’s where your problem begins.
“Well?  Don’t you need to learn it?  Come here.  It isn’t as if you’ve got a week.”
“No.”  She turned to face a tall, slim man elegantly dressed in a flat woven tweed cut in a smart, shaped style.  His brown hair was parted to the side neatly and brushed back, exposing his face in a daring way – like the men who posed in the motor car advertisements whose hair (and their caution, she surmised) was driven back by the wind making them appear headed toward inevitable danger.  It was a confident face with a strong but appropriate Roman nose, pale eyes and a wide mouth that was twitching, trying to contain a smile.  She tipped her face up to him, crimson and unsure.  Hoping for the best.  “I beg your pardon?”
“Not at all.  I beg yours.  You came to practice your lines in privacy and now I’ve thrown you off.  It’s hardly fair.” Again his mouth curved upward.  What was the appropriate response?  Her fervent wish was not to appear stupid.  Right then, his lighthearted expression changed to one of concern.  “Why so worried?” he asked. “Haven’t got the lines tucked in memory?”  He gave her a reassuring smile – a smile that seemed too extravagant for a girl her age.  “You’re in luck.  I happen to be an expert on ‘Dover Beach.’ Come . . . give it another try . . . ‘Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.’ Come on, repeat after me . . .” He crooked his finger as if to charm the words out of her.
“ ‘Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,’ “ she repeated unconvincingly.  She looked around the hall, at her hands, at the patterned floor and then again at his face.
“Think of it as J L L . . . or to make it more personal, Jack Loves Linda . . . joy, love, light . . . ‘ followed by that tragic tale, Charles Pines for Penelope.   C P P . . . ‘Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.’ “  His face was serious as a priest.
“ ‘Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain,’ “ she repeated and then continued.  “ ‘And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/ Where ignorant armies clash by night.’ “  She looked away to the side to briefly escape his gaze for he was hanging on her words mouthing them with her as if she were a toddler. “I’ve got to go now.”  Yet she stood still waiting for his dismissal.
“There you are,” he said with kindness.  “It was just a stumble.  You’ll do fine.”
She ran down the corridor but then slowed down, aware of the clatter of her shoes.  At the door of the hall, she looked back.  He stood perfectly still, framed by the burning red bush, his tweed-clad arms comfortably across his chest, the corner of his lip hiked up in a smile.  His eyes held fast on her retreating form.  She smiled both thrilled and embarrassed that he was still looking at her.
Samir stepped into the foyer, expecting to find it empty.  He had been reprieved from listening to the girls’ poetry in order to arrange the seating in the parlor for the tea social that was to follow.  The well-dressed man at the end of the hall caught his attention first.  Then, in a moment of devilish serendipity, he saw his cousin Nadia turn to bestow on this stranger an irresistible smile of such tenderness that it jarred Samir.  Her face in that subdued light seemed as fragile as the mist that rolled in before dawn and hovered magically before it delivered itself to the thirsty foliage.  The irony of the moment wasn’t lost on Samir.  Had Sammy George not omitted four lines from “Annabel Lee,” crassly curtailing Poe’s lament for his beloved, the scene would have gone un-witnessed.  He had stepped into the hall seconds too early and now that exchange of private smiles took hold of his imagination and made him restless.  He had the uneasy feeling that he had apprehended something that was as yet unknown to the participants.
Jasmine had just begun “Geist’s Grave,” when Nadia took her seat.  “ ‘That liquid melancholy eye’” – Jasmine was being overly dramatic in her recitation, as if she were auditioning to be in films – “ ‘From whose pathetic, soul-fed springs seemed surging the Virgilian cry.  The sense of tears in mortal things . . .’ “ At this point, Jasmine, moved by her own words, began to weep.  There was a great deal of embarrassed shifting by the audience and Jasmine’s mother cried out emotionally, “It’s all right habibty,” a gaffe that sealed Jasmine’s fate at FGS.
“What’s she crying about?” hissed Margaret to Nadia.  “Geist was Arnold’s dog.  That bloody poem is about his dog.  That girl’s balmy, I swear.  She’s an idiot.  Now, look,” she rolled her eyes heavenward in disgust, “Miss Smythe has told her to sit down.  She doesn’t have to finish so I guess, I’m up . . .” Margaret passed through the row of knees with resignation and then proceeded to give a flawless rendition of Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper,” sweetly dedicating it  “to the hardy women of Palestine,” that forever endeared her to half the audience.  Nadia was so surprised she forgot to go next.  “Your turn, Mademoiselle,” said Margaret archly.
She stood and faced the row of parents and noticed her father dressed in an unfamiliar European suit, tugging and picking at his jacket as if trying to make it as long and comfortable as his familiar aba.  Why couldn’t he stop arranging it and be still?  His neighbors were staring at him.  She cleared her throat meaningfully and began her recitation.  Midway through when she had gained some confidence, she dared to search the rows for the man in the foyer and found him standing at the back.  Their eyes met.  He smiled encouragement, as if she were his special project and made a little flourish with his hand in salute.  Her heart reacted.  A handsome man’s attention was something so new and unexpected.  She returned to her seat feeling elated.
Of all the dainty tasks learned at Friends pouring tea from the ornate silver urn engaged her imagination most.  She had watched Miss Smythe’s delicate New England wrist dip and bend pouring a perfect arc of dark liquid without concern and with a confident smile on her lips as if she was eager to give her guests not only tea but also all the goodness that was inside her.  “Eating should entail spiritual sustenance, too,” Miss Smythe told them.  “Food should be given gracefully, generously.  But certainly our Arabic girls don’t have to be told such things.  They have made a religion of hospitality.”  Tonight Nadia was one of the girls chosen to pour and she sat in the seat of command surrounded by nested cups, little pincers for sugar and lemon at her fingertips.  A deputy paired the cups with saucers and handed them up.  She poured and held the cup a moment in the air while inquiring with a smile, “Lemon? Sugar?”  This was the ceremony that satisfied her soul.
“Got scullery duty, eh?” Margaret sneered coming up from behind and digging her fingers into Nadia’s shoulders.
“Three sugars, please,” demanded a voice from above.  The voice was familiar.  Before she looked up she knew it was her poetry coach.
“Two will do,” Margaret grabbed the cup from Nadia, plopped two cubes into it with her fingers and handed it to the man.  “Too much sugar rots the teeth,” she said sternly.
Nadia’s first thought was:  Oh, Margaret will interest him now with her brashness.
The man smiled indulgently.  “Margaret,” he said, “you were superb tonight.”  He looked down at Nadia.  “And you pulled yourself out quite handily, too, although I would guess your interests lie in something other than poetry.”  His candor was a surprise but not deflating.  He made her sound vastly more interesting than a scholar of poetry.
Margaret went to stand between them.  “Nadia,” she said with mischief in her eyes, “this cheeky man is Victor Madden, my father.”
“How do you do.”  He had extended his hand and she had no choice but to let him have hers but the news fell like a bomb.  The room blurred.  Margaret’s father!  It was one of those awful awkward moments when one’s expectations are so wrongly placed that the spirit falls with a thud.  He had been her special encounter, an event to play with in her mind.  And now . . . Margaret’s father!  She had wanted him known only to her and now . . . the whole thing was spoiled.  As if it were Margaret’s fault she had a father Nadia had an instant desire to put great distance between herself and her friend.  The Black Sea would have been about right.
The tea drinkers had dwindled and she excused herself awkwardly unwilling to look at his face.  She went in search of Nadeem who was standing by himself, his hands crossed in front of him turning a black fedora around and around.  He walked to a chair but before sitting pulled out his trousers like a man accustomed to dealing with the loose skirt of the aba.  Nadia felt a stab of tenderness and loyalty.  He had worn the suit only to please her.
He rose to greet her and she kissed him.  Usually she chastised him for making no attempt to mingle with the other parents but tonight she said nothing.  She noticed with some dismay that she had grown slightly taller than he.
“Baba, it’s all right if you wear your regular clothes.  You looked so uncomfortable in that suit.”  She tried not to sound critical unwilling to make him the victim of her sudden black mood.
“Was it so obvious?  I tried to sit still but it’s extremely itchy.”
“No, it wasn’t obvious,” she lied.  “It’s just a surprise to see you in a suit.  You didn’t have to come tonight.  You’d have been asleep by now.”  The programs began at a time when her parents were usually ready for bed.  “How’s Mama?”
“Mama’s fine.  She wanted to sleep early tonight.”  He looked down at his feet with interest, not used to seeing them when wearing his usual long robe.  He looked up again and his face was serious.  “Mama’s not fine.  Khalil and Hanna are finally going to America.  She cries about it every night.”
“They always say they’re going but then they don’t.  What would they do in America, anyway?”
“Butross’ son is doing well there.  He travels door-to-door in the better neighborhoods taking orders for linens.  It’s quite a business.  Now he’s going to open a shop in a town where the rich Americans go to escape the cold winters.  The town is called Palm Beach and it’s directly on the Atlantic Ocean.  The sea is right there, so they say.  It comes right to the edge of the yards of those large houses.  Can you imagine?  The vast ocean coming right up to your house?”
“Khalil might go,” she said thoughtfully, “but Hanna would never leave you.”
“I want him to leave us,” said Nadeem.  “It’s no good for him to stay behind.”
“Baba!  What a thing to say.”
“I say it because I love him.  It’s strange.  Hanna seems independent because he doesn’t say much but he is the most attached to us.  He needs to make his way in the world.  Not to stay with us.  Anyway,” – he sighed and smiled lovingly at his daughter – “we still have you.  After June you’ll be home for the summer.”
“Baba.  I want to sit for the Matriculation Exams.  Perhaps I’ll stay here and be tutored so I can take them next year.”  She knew he wasn’t expecting to hear this but it was a relief to say it.
“Why habibty?  You’ll be graduating next year.  You’ll be finished with school.”
“Miss Smythe says I could pass them and she wants to enter my name.  She says it would give me a feeling of accomplishment for my hard work even if I don’t go to the university.”
“The university.”  He echoed her last word with a melancholy look in his eyes.
“If I passed I could be accepted to the sophomore class at the University of Beirut.  Even though I don’t attend, I’ll know that I could have gone.  Samir Saleh is sitting for the London Exams.  He’s going to a university abroad.  He had to stay here an extra year to be ready but that’s because the boys’ school had to start anew after the war and didn’t have a full staff.”
“Is that so?  Samir is going abroad?”  He raised his eyebrows with mild surprise but his heart wasn’t in the subject.  “I think your mother will be happy to have you home again.  With the boys gone, the house will seem too quiet.”
Nadia remained silent.  Her mother was eager to have her home and she was eager to stay at school.  She looked longingly around the room.  Miss Smythe poised and confident, floated from group to group.  Miss Bailey, comfortably stout, had hold of the girls who had no visitors.  The Muslim parents quietly took note of the mannerisms of the English who were now in charge of their government. They called it a protectorate and they wanted to see how they would be protected.  Two Italians stood in the center, proud and alone.  She loved this ordered world – every hour had its own rhythm.  She felt at home here because she was accepted.
“What’s wrong?  You have such a troubled look on your face?  What is it?”
“Nothing, Baba.  How’s Gala?  Is she getting exercise?  I’ll be able to ride her myself soon.”
“Yes,” said her father but he seemed to have shrunk into his jacket.  She realized that it sounded as if all she had to look forward to was riding Gala.  Then she remembered who had given her Gala and her heart ached for her father.  There were times when she felt older and wiser than her parents.  As if she knew things they were too innocent to understand.  It was such a lonely feeling.  “Come,” she said putting her arm protectively through his, “I want you to meet Margaret before you leave.  She introduced me to her father and now I want to introduce her to mine.”
A quick survey of the room showed no trace of Margaret and her father.  Nadia was about to look for them in the hall when Samir approached.
“Ami.”  He bowed his head slightly toward Nadeem.  “Hello, Nadia.”
Why is his tone peeved she wondered idly but was more occupied with finding her friend.  “Have you seen Margaret?”
“Yes.  She and a man just pulled out now in a loud car.”
“That was her father,” said Nadia and her voice showed her disappointment.  “I didn’t realize she was leaving with him.”
“Well, don’t look so dejected,” he said and again there was that scornful reproach.  “She’ll be back.”
After a moment of awkward silence, Nadeem spoke.  “You’re going to the University of London?” he asked
“If I pass the exams,” said Samir.
“To study what?”
“Economics?  But you have your father’s business.  Why not learn about your father’s business interests?”
“But I will, ami.  That’s part of economics.” 
Samir was being overly gracious to her father and . . . cranky to her.  There was another side to Samir Saleh.  He was capable of a certain detachment that could be cowering if it was directed at you.  He looked through people more than at them and could wither the fainthearted with a cool disinterest that chilled the heart.  She felt it now.
“You have to go to London to learn about your father’s business?” asked Nadeem with a rueful laugh.  “Why not just ask your father.”
“It’s my father’s wish that I go,” said Samir.
“I see.  It’s your father’s wish to send you away and it’s my wish to bring Nadia home but she wants to try the exams, too.  She doesn’t want to come home.”
At that moment her spirits began to collapse.  She kissed her father affectionately and embraced him.  “Baba, it’s late.  Thank you for coming but I know you would have been in bed long ago.  Say hello to the boys.  I love you.  I love Mama.”
“All right habibty.”  He was about to put the fedora on his head but reconsidered and kept in his hand.  He walked to the door, turned back again to have one last sight of his daughter and walked out into the darkness.
“You’re going to take the Matriculation Exams?” Samir asked and she couldn’t decide whether he was genuinely surprised or making fun of her.
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing if it will be for some use.”
“You feel I won’t put it to use?”
“Women in our clan have never worked and none that I know of has ever attended a university.”  He stated it as simple fact yet he felt that she had disappointed him in some way.
“And does that mean none ever should?  Perhaps I’ll be first.”
“Perhaps,” he said softly.
Still feeling wounded from her gaffe over Victor Madden, she let down her guard.  “I envy you going to London.  Going home is . . . well, it’s a letdown.  I always seem to disappoint my parents’ expectations.”
“You don’t want to settle down?” he asked gently.
“Not right away.  There’s so much more I want to experience.  Your sister’s not married.” She challenged him with her eyes.  “Julia strikes me as having good sense.”
“Sorry to disappoint you but I’m quite sure Julia will be engaged this summer.”
“Oh.”  She was at a loss.
“You can marry and still have good sense,” he said with a little mirthless laugh.  “Do your parents agree with your modern view?  They don’t mind if you don’t marry?”
“It hasn’t come up.”
“I see.”
“And yourself?”  She couldn’t control the sarcasm.  “What fortunate girl will have the honor of marrying Samir?  Every mother in Tamleh has spent her house money on lamps for El Khalil for the miracle of having you choose their daughter.”  She was referring to the old superstitious custom of leaving candles and food at the tomb of the prophet in the hopes of gaining impossible favors.
“Really?”  He smiled and traced a pattern on the floor with his shoe.  “And is your mother lighting a candle as well?”
“Who knows?  Perhaps she is.”  She couldn’t help smiling.  “Wouldn’t that be ironic?”
“Yes,” he said.  “That’s precisely what it would be.”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bob and Annie, Harvey and Eve and Lew Frankfort

I found this excerpt in one of my books.  The information is from a few years back but it perfectly illustrates how most of us feel that a new residence will imbue us with a new life.  Outside of the quote from the NY Times, the rest of this "allegedly" happened.
The New York Times Real Estate Section
“Lew Frankfort’s apartment at the Beresford just got a little bigger.  Last year, the Chairman of Coach, the leather goods company, bought a four-story apartment that extends into one of the three towers in the Emery Roth designed landmark at Central Park West and 81st.  The seller was Bob Weinstein, a co-founder of Miramax Films.
After a gut renovation, Mr. Frankfort successfully petitioned the co-op board to allow him to buy an unused space above his apartment  - “a sort of grand attic with ceilings near the tower’s top.
The room, although only accessible through an internal staircase in the Frankfort apartment belonged to the building.  While Mr. Weinstein owned the apartment, he had been cautioned that if he wanted to use the room, he’d have to buy it.  Mr. Weinstein was not interested although the new owner found a basketball hoop on the wall.”
Bob. Weinstein had moved on in many ways.  No longer associated with Miramax, he and his brother, Harvey, had begun the eponymous Weinstein Company. Out of the gate, they had six films ready to go including Derailed, a thriller with Jennifer Aniston who, The New York Times said in passing, was “not up to the task of putting us on the edge of our seats.”  Harvey, like his brother, had also vacated his apartment in a divorce settlement (a duplex that joined another seven room apartment on the second level).
       The three men, Lew Frankfort, who had just ranked sixth in compensation in his category and the Weinstein Brothers who had severed their ties with Disney and their apartments, were all trading spaces. Lew Frankfort was rewarding himself with one of the Beresford tower apartments - akin to setting up housekeeping in the Sistine Chapel.   The Weinstein brothers perhaps were done with wainscoting and crown moldings and would jump into minimalism.  Their new personas were already waiting for them in their new places.  Harvey, for one thing, had stopped eating candy.  It was reported in an interview that the sugar laden M&M’s he had snacked on during the day had possibly been responsible for his angry outbursts. 

      Here's news on the e-book business. Smashwords as you might remember is my distributor to all other e-readers that are not Kindles.  Smashwords only reports sales every six weeks or so.  I was astonished to find out this morning that I had sold 31 books over at Sony.  As I've said before, that's the beauty and the mystery of  a virtual bookstore.  Things happen and you will never know why.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sample Sunday: "We love the desert life because it is ours." Excerpt from Daughters

When he awoke alone, Samir looked at the tent ropes that held their horses but only his mare was there and he knew without looking further that his father had left him.  Why? 
The camp came to life with clouds of smoke from several cooking fires and little clumps of children, puppies, and lambs huddled together.  Women sat on the dusty ground shaping rounds for bread.  He had the doomed feeling that no one knew him.
He mounted his horse and guided it in the direction from which he had come, riding slowly, remembering the hidden guards with their carbines and half expecting to receive a bullet through the heart.  Once free of the camp, he galloped confidently northwestward, elated by the thought of his escape.  He would ride home.
After two hours, the landscape was so unchanging he began to doubt his direction and dismounted.  He stroked the horse’s damp flesh, noting with a slump of will that the animal was tired and thirsty.
There was no sound save his own breathing.  A bustard flew down in the distance to peck on the wooly red desert caterpillars and he was so thrilled to see another living thing that he watched until it flew away.
The sun was not moving in the expected arc to confirm his direction.  He was lost and certain to perish from dehydration or starvation, if some wolf didn’t attack him first.  He covered his face with both hands and cried.
There was a sound.  His crying half obscured it, and it was so unexpected that he jumped mightily, which caused laughter.  Laughter!  Stranger than the laughter was the sight of who had laughed.  A boy.  Smaller than Samir and with no part of him showing – he was swaddled in the most suffocating costume – except a round glowing face and confident eyes.  His short legs barely gripped the animal.
“Where did you come from?” asked Samir.
“Same as you.  From the camp of the Rualas.”  His voice was very high. 
He’s just a child, thought Samir.  “You’ve been following me?”  Now we shall both die, he thought ruefully.  This baby boy and myself.
“Of course.  You’re in my keep.  I’m responsible for your welfare,” he said loftily.  “Why are you crying?” he asked with chagrin, as if it were a reflection on him.
Samir ignored him.  “Where is my father?”
“Your father left before dawn to return to your home.”  Samir swallowed hard.  Here was proof positive of his sentence.  “Why did you ride out this morning?” asked the boy with a quizzical frown.
“I was returning home.”
The boy struggled with what he had to say.  “You are riding in the wrong direction.”  There was an embittered silence during which Samir adjusted the straps of his food pack and refused to look at the boy.  “You are meant to remain with us.  My name is Marwan and you, I know, are Samir.  Come,” he coaxed, “let’s return.”  Grudgingly he followed the little horseman who took off confidently.
There was still only the beige vastness but now the sun illuminated one portion of the sky from beneath dark clouds that threatened rain.  Imminent moisture imbued the air with incredible freshness and Samir took huge gulps.  The knot in his chest loosened.  At one point, Marwan stopped and pointed down to some animal tracks that appeared to have been made by a large paw and presently they saw the owner, a huge black cat, licking himself in the shade of a stunted bush.
“Panther,” said Marwan, his childish face full of concern.  He held out a palm to keep Samir from continuing, rummaged in his garments and brought out a Mauser.  With little preparation he aimed and shot the animal in the throat.  Hullus,” he said softly.  It was done.
He brought out a long knife that he plunged into the animal’s chest with surprising strength.  “Would you care for a paw as a souvenir?” he asked Samir.
Samir shook his head.  He was amazed by the marksmanship.  The smug indifference he had felt was no longer appropriate.  Marwan had saved them from certain danger for the panther could have easily overtaken them.  From time to time he stole a disbelieving look at the courageous little fellow and rode with him obediently to safety.
In the days that followed, Marwan was his tie to life and the only buffer from desperate loneliness and homesickness.  He was four months younger and half a head shorter than Samir with six fine braids that reached his hips.  He had to guide his horse with his thighs for his legs were too short but he was amazingly agile and a fine shot.  He ate with his family but otherwise seemed to live entirely without supervision even though he was the sheik’s son.
Marwan was unbelieving when he learned that Samir had spent the last six years learning to read and write, to handle a knife and fork and to play soccer.  He was shocked that he didn’t know how to make a fire, slaughter a lamb, hunt game, fire a rifle, or use the rhumb, the knife that was like an eleventh finger to Marwan.
From dawn to dusk, the little wild creature taught Samir the skills of survival.  “You must know how to shoot,” he would say seriously as if danger were at hand.  They worked with flat pebbles and a crude sling aiming for the wooden pegs that held down the tent ropes.  When they progressed to the Mauser – Marwan’s most precious possession – Samir was already a decent marksman.  Marwan showed him the likely places for game and how to stalk and kill.  There was a precise spot on the neck and a proper angle at which to plunge the knife.  One needed strength.  One needed a fierce mental attitude.  “The idle and cowardly lose their wealth,” piped the boy in his high voice.  Samir wanted to smile because the lofty words hardly went with the stature.  “The brave and energetic prosper.”
“Why do you choose to live like this? Samir asked.  It had occurred to him that Marwan’s father was wealthier than many of the villagers, yet this life held relentless hardship.  They slept on the stony ground, chilled to the bone by night and suffocated during the day.  Water was precious and rare for these were the driest days of the year and it would be two months before the rains began to replenish the water holes.  Food was monotonous.  The frothy salty camel milk fresh from the udder was repulsive but there was nothing else and he reluctantly began to tolerate it.  The occasional meat was cooked so rare he couldn’t touch it yet the young men fought for the raw heart of any animal that was slaughtered.  They guzzled the blood believing it gave them strength and virility.  “Don’t you yearn for a different life?”
“Where else would I live?  I was born here as was my father and his father before him.”
“But it’s so difficult.  There’s a much easier way.”  As he said this, anxiety rose in him.  Would his father come back to claim him?  And when?
Marwan laughed.  “Easier for whom?  We welcome the hardships of the desert.  We love them.”
“But why?”
He answered with an innocence that made Samir ashamed for questioning.  “We love the desert life because it is ours.”
But it is not mine, thought Samir with sadness.
One early morning, after the moon had set but while it was still dark, Marwan shook him.  “We must ride into the wilderness,” he said and handed Samir a waterskin and some dried dates.  Each rode a dromedary while two riderless mares cantered at their side and held by lines to the camel girths.  A few miles out of the camp, Marwan, rifle in hand, flung himself from the camel onto the back of his mare, unslipped the line and raced off in a cloud yelling wildly.  Samir made three attempts to do the same but fell twice.  He couldn’t ride bareback and found himself gripping with his thighs for dear life.  He reached Marwan who was casually pitching stones at a pile of bleached animal bones.
“I thought you were in danger,”’ shouted Samir.
“You were supposed to ride as if danger were near,” said Marwan coolly.
“I almost broke my back.  Who ever heard of riding a blasted horse without a saddle!  And jumping on him at that!”
“It’s the way it is done.”
“It’s a good way to kill yourself.”
“It’s the way we ride for the gazu, the raid,” he said stubbornly.  “It is the way we move our camps.  It is the way we protect our grazing areas and our flocks.  In order to survive in the desert you must be ready to move swiftly from the camel to the war mare.  It is the only way to be a man.  We must try it again until it is as easy as walking.”
Samir rubbed his back.  He thought: I’m never going to be in a raid.  I’m not going to move a camp.  One day I will return to my home.  Yet Marwan was already retying his line to try again.  They worked all day on the maneuver and Samir was enticed by the spectacular look of the transfer when it was accomplished properly.  Using the left wrist to launch himself, Marwan lifted both legs up and to the right then swung gracefully between the two animals and landed squarely on the back of the mare, unhitching the line at the same instant he spurred the horse.  Then came the wild yell of freedom.  The thrill of speed atop the most splendid horses in the world, the “drinkers of the wind.”
They rode back to camp at dusk, weary and hungry.  Marwan sang all the way.  “We sing on a long ride,” he said.  “It makes us feel more cheerful.  And it comforts the animals.”
A few days later, Marwan awoke him again, but this time with more food and water than was necessary for a day.  “We’re going to hunt the wolves that are attacking our herds,” he said.  “Will you ride with us?”
“Of course.”  This was the first real occasion to use all his new experience.  They were part of a large party of young men on their horses.  Several of them were armed with a slender lance.  All of them chanted or yodeled merrily as they rode.  Marwan was fondling the Mauser, which he wore in his belt.
“Will you shoot the wolves with that?” Samir pointed to the gun all too aware that he lacked such a weapon.
“No.”  Marwan smiled slowly, as if the question was preposterous.  “One doesn’t use a Mauser on wolves.  We use the rumh, the lance.  Here,” he handed him one of the slender bamboo spears that were about fifteen feet long with a triangular steel head. “You carry it sideways and you spear your wolf like this.”  He leaned to the side and with a single mighty thrust embedded the spear in the ground.  “But I carry this gun with me always.  There are enemies of my father who would like to have me dead.”  His face grew somber and briefly there was fear in his eyes.  “Before I was born, he lost three sons.”
Several of the men with rifles had ridden ahead to the foothills to cut off the retreat of the wolves into the mountains.  At last these men flushed out two wolves and Marwan and Samir gave chase.  “You must get ahead of him to thrust,” warned Marwan.  Suddenly Samir felt the front right leg of his mare give way and he went headlong over its neck, landing face down.  Marwan had to return for him and he felt mortified.  “It’s not your fault.” said Marwan.  “Moles have undermined the ground.  Look at Jebra!”  He pointed gleefully to one of the slaves.  “His horse disposed of him as well.  He took a toss.  And look there, another one.”  Samir felt a pudgy hand dusting off his chest and his embarrassment diminished.
They mounted again and rode about twelve miles to a spot where, it seemed, everyone was off in a different direction chasing a wolf with a lance.  Samir was thrilled when he spotted a wolf and went for his bushy tail.  His horse was as eager to follow the bandit and together they galloped madly, finally overtaking the animal.  With an exhilarating burst of energy, Samir executed a stab so violent that his spear acted as a vaulting pole and threw him in the air.  Fortunately, the ground was soft and he was unharmed.  To his amazement, the wolf was impaled through its middle.  Marwan was grinning wildly.  “You have the brave heart of a lion, Samir,” he said soberly.  “I wish to make you my blood brother.”  He caught a few drops of the blood from Samir’s scraped arm and rubbed it between his eyes. Then he clasped him in a fierce embrace.
In the weeks that followed Samir’s passion for the Bedouin life caught fire and he became an obsessed pupil.  He forgot about reading and writing.  He had come in October and now it was February.  He couldn’t recall his father’s face or his mother’s or that of the half sister he loved.  His old life was no more than a meaningless dream.  The desert was everything.  His beautiful dark hair fell below his shoulders and he allowed Marwan’s sister to braid it into lovelocks.  He grew at least three inches and knew by the coming of spring that he had passed his thirteenth birthday.  The muscles in his arms and back and legs were taut and had he had a mirror he would not have recognized the wiry boy he had become.
He grew to love the feeling of riding fast, his long locks and head cloth fluttering, his camel’s hair cloak – a precious gift – flapping, a carbine balanced on his lap.  He could vault onto the back of his horse with a single swing over its flank and twist of his body.  He learned not to expect his stomach to be full.  No future delicacy would ever taste as good as a mix of wild honey with a dollop of goat butter floating on top spread on freshly baked herb cakes.  Best of all, he learned to love the sweet stillness of night and the silver sand reflecting that most magical vision – starlight.
Often he and Marwan sat in on the councils where the tribal heads planned their strategy and settled squabbles and conducted business.  The nomadic tribes bartered their camels, wool, cheese and butter for tent fittings and saddles, cloth and foodstuffs.  When the fine days of spring finally arrived, the mood of the camp changed dramatically.  There was laughter and singing and playfulness.
“From now on we will be on the move,” said Marwan one magnificent morning and the next day the women pulled up the tent posts, rolled up the unwieldy cloths and loaded them on the camels.  The entire tribe with their flocks and herds and horses began drifting to their permanent watering holes.  The rain had awakened the earth all at once creating an overnight sensation.  A rich green haze tinged with silver was the backdrop for delicately colored blooms.  The camels and flocks are greedily making up for the barren months.
When they made camp the young men went about the real business of the Bedouin life – the gazu, the raid for camels, the true measure of a man’s wealth.  They were now full of purpose, eager to make the forays in the stealth of night, exhilarated when they unhobbled the camels silently and then drove them home, half triumphant, half fearful.  Samir saw a change come over Marwan.  He was no longer the gay companion.  He was itching to be on a mission.   He wanted to ride his mare fast and find an enemy, any enemy against which he could prove himself.
“But suppose he kills you?” asked Samir, who could not appreciate the desire for something so dangerous.  One moment of glory that could snuff out your life.  He was frightened but wouldn’t dare admit it.
“They would not shoot me nor I them,” Marwan said.  “Raiding is honorable.  Only common robbers kill you.”
When it came time to join the raid, Samir rode without euphoria.  There were certain things about the Bedouin life that would always remain a mystery to him.  The certainty of purpose – there was no indecision in their character.
He didn’t shrink from danger – that would have been unthinkable – but he didn’t take pleasure in riding over rocks and rubble to outwit their pursuers or crawling on his belly to reach the prey unnoticed.  At night, when they made camp and lit a fire with ghada sticks and that magical stillness settled over the violet-colored dunes, he yearned to go home and resume his life.  Homesickness, held at bay for so long, now wrecked his powers of concentration.  He dreamed of home and his father.  He held imaginary conversations with his sister speaking aloud when they were riding fast and no one could hear him.
“How long am I meant to stay with you?” he asked Marwan one day.
“You could have left anytime,” said Marwan but he seemed surprised and hurt by the question.
“You mean I could have left right away?” Samir was shocked.
“Yes.  If you really had wanted to.”
“But you didn’t tell me that.”
“But you never asked.”
It would have been the most natural thing in the world to say right then that he wanted to go home now but he knew Marwan would take it personally and he couldn’t hurt his friend.  He would tell him soon but not right away.
The next night Marwan awoke him before midnight and coaxed him to ride with him alone on a raid.  “We’ll bring back a camel each.  We can do it.”
“Your mother and father would be heartsick to find you gone alone, Marwan,” he said stalling for time.  It was a foolhardy idea.
“If you don’t wish to go with me, I will go alone,” he said.
“Wait and go with the men.” Samir tried to sound casual and reasonable although he didn’t feel casual at all.
“If you don’t go with me, I will go alone,” said Marwan defiantly and Samir rose wearily from his cozy sheepskin and cursed the lack of supervision for this hotheaded boy.
“I will go,” he said, hoping that they would find nothing and return to camp by morning.
They rode for three hours without seeing any campfires or other signs of life.  As dawn was approaching, Marwan drew rein and came up next to Samir.  “Now we must hide or we will be seen and our mission will be obvious.”
“Why is it obvious?” said Samir.  “We could be just two boys with nothing on our minds.”
Marwan was insulted.  “That’s impossible.”
They dismounted and hid out behind a sand dune and had just pulled out a fistful of cheese when Samir saw a shadow cross in front of him.  Two savage figures approached and stood just a few feet away.
“How did you arrive,” said Marwan, stunned.
“We didn’t arrive,” said one of the men derisively.  “We were here all along.”
Samir remembered something Marwan had told him.  Unmounted wayfarers are usually robbers and murderers.
“What do you want? Asked Marwan and his voice was tremulous.
“You tell us,” said one man and laughed.
“Ask God,” said the other.
“What tribe do you belong to?” persisted Marwan.
“Beni Nufud,” replied the man and this time both laughed.
This insolent answer seemed to settle it for Marwan.  He pulled out his Mauser and shot twice felling both the startled men.  However, one of them, his face full of rage, was able to pull out his own pistol and shot back.  Marwan cried out defiantly, “La! No!” and his boyish hand shot out to ward off the bullet that exploded in his face.  Before the robber could shoot again, Samir grabbed the Mauser and emptied it in both the men.  His heart seemed to be racing up and down his body and found no spot that could accommodate its violent beating.
He felt uncontrollable anger toward Marwan.  “You little fool.  You little fool.  Why did you have to come here?  Why?  Why?  He shook his blood brother willing him to respond.  Marwan just lay still his life fluids soaking into his clothes.  He rode back to camp with Marwan propped in front of him, cradled in his arms.  It was slow going but he couldn’t have left him there alone.
Throughout the ride, he crooned the cheerful songs Marwan had taught him.  He must hear me, he thought.  He must.  He didn’t have a clear memory of all that happened next.  Only that they wanted to take the body from him and he resisted with all his might.  He felt horribly responsible for the tragedy.  He should have asked to go home and this would have distracted Marwan from his quest for danger.  He shouldn’t have given in to Marwan and ridden with him.  He should have persuaded him to stay at the camp.  He could have saved his friend.  Over and over, he heard that startled cry, “La! No!” and saw that small palm thrust out, pushing death away.
Within days he was returned to his family.  He asked for Marwan’s curved knife, his rhumb, and kept it close to him day and night.  It had the smell of Marwan and the sweat of his hand on the handle.  It was the last thing Samir touched at night and the first in the morning.  Even in later years, when his months with the Bedouin were nothing more than a distant memory, touching the knife gave him comfort.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Don’t hope. Hope is fear in a mini skirt.

This is my favorite Bible message:  Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.”  This very encouraging idea was a gift from St. Paul.  St. Paul started out as an influential and successful lawyer, a rock star of biblical times.  One day he was walking along going to Damascus when he was hit by a monster flash of blinding light.  The light was so strong it knocked Paul down and instantly reversed all of his moral values. It would be as if Rush Limbaugh started a Barak Obama Facebook fan page and clicked “like” to everything the President said and did.

I want the same big whoosh of understanding that came to Paul. I wouldn’t mind if it knocked me down, too. I wouldn’t mind if, like Paul, I was blinded for three days.  If you want to read this quote or the whole epistle, you’ll find it in Hebrews 11:1.  It is embedded (love that word) in one of the letters St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews.  I would like the message even better if it didn’t have the word “hope” in it because hope, to me, is fear in a mini skirt. Paul’s teachings are often so comforting as to seem untrue. But they probably are true.

Why am I besotted with this message?  Because, like most writers, I want a little magic in the world.  And, according to this statement, everything I want (and everything you want) is already a reality and faith gives it substance.  That's not as easy as it sounds.  First you have to identify what it is you want. Then you have to think of it obsessively  (yes, obsessively) to the exclusion of its opposite.  My favorite guru, Neville, used to say the same thing but Neville deserves a blog all by himself and I'll do that another time.

I seem to be writing a lot about religion and the bible.  It's a big surprise to me.  I'm not particularly religious but I guess all those years of convent boarding school are kicking in. And Sister Francisca is probably still manipulating me from her grave.

I’m writing this blog today because tomorrow is Sample Sunday time and I will have to divert from my usual personal blogging and put in a sample of my writing.  If you're tired of reading samples of my writing, you can skip tomorrow's blog.