Friday, December 25, 2009

The Hunger Games...Suzanne Collins

If it weren't for some trusted book critics, I never would've picked up this novel...the premise might make you raise an eyebrow and say, "no thanks." But trust me, it's a compelling, fresh and very well-written read. Okay, it's a real page-turner -- using cliffhanging action, the underpinnings of a complicated romance and even some political commentary.

That's all I'm going to say about it...except I can't wait to purchase the sequel.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This novel was heartbreaking, compelling and well worth the read. I believe this might be this novelist's first - if so, she's started her writing career with a bang.

Like many, I tend to look for those books or movies that I know will make me smile and perhaps shed a few happy tears. So, as I read this story that disclosed a shameful part of France's history, I thought, "Well, maybe this Jewish family will escape - maybe there's a happy ending." Well, there was an escape. But how can there be a happy ending when so many innocent people were ruthlessly taken from their homes, tortured, starved, ripped away from their children and assassinated?

But it was reality. It was the Holocaust. And this historical fiction piece beautifully proclaims that while time marches on, we must never forget the victims. We must never forget to honor those who suffered like no human should ever suffer.

As an American reading the story, I felt a bit self-righteous. As if our country would never sweep its own actions under the rug. But then I remembered the Japanese internment camps. Of course, there are skeletons in the closet. And despite my desire to always read of rainbows and unicorns, I understand the importance of never forgetting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Writing

"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." -William Styron, novelist (1925-2006)

This quote came across Anu Garg's A Word A Day blog today. For me, this is how I define "a favorite" tome. Often, I will read a book and conclude the author has strong writing skills. However, I don't always connect. Can any of you relate?

I read another article today in Writer's Digest written by Steve Almond. He argues that the best writers reveal their love through ALL of their characters...even those posed with defects and non-redeemable qualities. It was a brilliant article aimed to aspiring writers. He ends his essay by stating, "Your highest calling is not to sell books or get famous, but to awaken mercy within your readers. That only happens when you treat your characters with the same unconditional love."

Well-said Mr. Almond. I wonder if this works on real life as well...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Headache Strikes Again

Have any of you read Virginia Woolf's essay, "On Being Ill"? Woolf begins this brilliant run-on sentence of an essay by stating, "Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light..."

I've been feeling quite centered lately, focusing on prayer and meditation. Then last night, I wake up at 3:00 AM with my head throbbing. My second dose of Maxalt hardly brought any relief. I'm a bit more among the living now and it occurred to me how the pain didn't make me feel closer to God. I imagine He's not to proud of my attitude right now. Full of self-pity, lacking a charitable conscience and downright growly.

But Woolf's essay did come to my mind. She unequivocally hits illness on the head, and btw, poses an interesting question as to why illness hasn't been prodded and portrayed as much as love in literature? Well, it's not near as fun or compelling, but it's certainly as affective on your soul...

Next time you're bit under the weather, find her essay. You'll find a small amount of comfort in knowing others have felt as bad as you.

Now, I need to attempt to get centered.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This book was so good that I forgot to write about it. (Does that make any sense???) Anyway, if you want to read a book that makes you a) laugh, b) sad, c) stew over social injustices, d) appreciate friendship and e) fall in love with characters...I've got just the read for you -- THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. I read it shortly after reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (with expectations of a let-down) and felt like maybe I was just becoming the most easily entertained reader in the world. (There's a bit of truth in this, but another book I read recently proved this theory wrong...) Anyway, a short synposis:

A writer, who happens to be the daughter of a rich cotton-grower in JACKSON, MI decides to write a book from the black maids' perspectives, circa 1960's....thus, the plot. Ms. Stockett easily captured tenderness, narrow-mindedness, forgiveness, acceptance, friendship and love.

On the star rating system, I'd give it a 5 out of 5 (only one less star than Guernsey). While I didn't live during this time, nor have I ever visited much of the South (except being born in Louisiana), the novel placed me in a time warp, making me feel l was there -- a telltale sign of a great writer. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Stockett.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I suspected the book, as selected by my book club, would scare me a bit. And it did, but it also surprised me.

At a young age, I remember watching a television movie about a lady with a relatively unheard of disease called Alzheimer's. The show made me feel very sad. Then Nicholas Sparks came along with The Notebook, and those sad feelings about the awful disease resurfaced.

So I prepared myself for tears and worry before I delved into the novel. But the novel was compelling to me - and not so much in a scary or sad way.

At first, as I watched a brilliant professor lose her faculties, I became acutely aware of my own memory lapses. Once I miraculously remembered that my forgetfulness has plagued me since the first grade, I was able to engage in the story and its message.

As the professor lost her ability to remember and to reason, an amazing transformation occurred. She was finally able to put her busy schedule aside to grow closer to her children. If she could save nothing else about herself, she saved what was most important.

Anyway, for all of you who find yourself beyond busy on your quest for achievement, read this book. It just might change your perspective.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Reincarnate -- Short Story

I fell asleep thinking of the dead artist’s exhibit. I dreamed of her self-portrait throughout the night. Perhaps I wasn’t sleeping. Because when I opened my eyes, there it was again. The self-portrait. The water-color is vivid in my mind; although, it seems I only gave it a casual glance at the museum.

Water is running from the shower, which means Mark went jogging without me. I didn’t hear him get up, so apparently I slept some. I roll out of bed and peek out our window as I do every morning. Our sublime view in this secluded part of the world fills me with gratitude. The July sun blinds but beckons. A squirrel captures my attention. How would the artist capture this particular scene? Would she focus on the colors or the lines first? The squirrel scampers up a tree, and I’m reminded to check on my children.

I tiptoe into my daughter’s room, knowing my son will have found his way into her room in the night. My boy lays on top of the covers, sprawled across the lion’s share of the bed. His nubile face makes me feel young. My daughter’s mop of hair indicates her presence, buried under the covers and claiming only a small portion of her own bed. I kiss each of their heads ever so slightly and carefully step back out. Once in the hallway I skip to the laptop sitting on the sofa. My search begins.

Bailah Grace. 1941- 1975 American Impressionism or New Genre? Metropolitan Museum of Art. Diary Exhibition on Tour 2009.

“...recently discovered diary of Bailah Grace reveal clues to her psyche...themes surrounding the German occupation of Denmark in World War II… captures a collective sentiment within the depths of her subconscious.... Born in 1941, Ms. Grace certainly didn’t live through the era, but wrote entries of terrifying attempts to hide her Jewish friends. Perhaps she needed to live it to paint it.”

I click on the image search, scrolling through her most notable works like “Baltic” and “Occupation.” Finally, Bailah herself. I maximize the self-portrait, but the impressionistic smudges are nothing but a blur for me. I zoom back out. Pixie haircut, piercing blue eyes, desolate expression.

I set the laptop aside to rummage through the kids’ art supplies. After finding a blank piece of paper and a somewhat sharpened pencil, I sketch. I’m attempting to replicate the eyes that penetrated me in my dreams, that penetrate my thoughts now. I’m feverishly working on the detail of the deep-set eyelids when a touch on my shoulder startles me.

“What are you doing?” Mark asks.

I study my sketch and crumble the paper, “I don’t know. Trying to convince myself I can draw.”

“The exhibit sure had an effect on you,” he remarks while placing the teapot on the stove. “You’ve been distracted ever since we came home yesterday.”

I dig through our assortment of teas and casually toss out my plan, “I’m thinking of driving to the city today. Do the Soho thing.”

He seeks my expression to determine the appropriate response. I save him the trouble, “Alone. Can you entertain the kids?”
With a sigh Mark replies, “Of course. But I hate when you venture to New York City alone.”
We’ve discussed this issue so many times before. My periodic need for independence has always been our most notable point of contention. My intent isn’t for him to agonize, so I offer a compromise, “I’ll take my sister, if it will make you feel better.”
He wants to offer another solution. Like letting my sister watch the kids, so we can rendezvous in the city. But the purpose of my trip isn’t leisure, making my sister the perfect companion. We travel together well, each having our own agendas. Mark knows this and acquiesces.

I drive to the outskirts of Manhattan and park in the first garage with a vacancy. A cab takes us into the heart of Soho. As we step on to the busy sidewalk Annie inhales, “Smell that!” We both agree meat on a stick is repulsive, yet the aroma is alluring. Soho invigorates me. It’s not quite like coming home, but it gives me a strange sense of belonging.
“Where to?” Asks my sister.
I shrug, “Not sure. Let’s see where the wind takes us.”
We pace past the unhurried and are jostled by the scurried. Every so often, I look down. After a twenty minute shuffle, I see a coppery glow near the curb. Swiftly I pick up the coin and close my eyes. Then, I open my eyes and point, “There.” Across the street sits a narrow building with a window much smaller than other trendier galleries.
We escape the herd to enter “Kelly’s Hut.” There are iron sculptures, ethnic baskets, colorful pottery and only a few paintings. I’m disappointed.
“Mahrnin,” says the African clerk in a peculiar accent. He drops something heavy to greet us. As he approaches, I’m alarmed by his green eyes.
“Hello,” we say in unison, both smiling because of the manners our pleasant mother has taught us.
“Wat can Ah help ya lovely ladies wit today?”
“Just browsing,” I say abruptly.
“Browz away,” he offers and returns to his project. “Holler at Thabo if ya needs anyting.”
As I cautiously scan the store, my sister makes her way to Thabo to give me space. There are intriguing pieces, but I don’t see what I want. What do I want? Gradually, I find myself next to Annie.
“Find wat ya looking for?” Thabo addresses me.
“Have you heard of Bailah Grace?” I finally ask.
He’s quiet a moment, adjusting a piece of iron. “She all da rage. Wit de diary, heh?”
I nod, “It’s compelling, don’t you think?”
Thabo stands up and bores through me with those haunting green eyes. I meet his gaze for a moment, then turn a way. Annie interjects, “Was that the expo you attended yesterday, Sis?”
I nod. Thabo taps his chin and walks away. Quickly he returns, unrolling a small painting. “Aha,” he scrutinizes the picture, “before impressionism.” He hands it to me. Sharp lines. Concave eyes. Primary colors. The image in my dreams.
“Me likes tis Bailah best,” Thabo smiles.
“You realize what you have here, don’t you?” I ask.
Thabo nods. His leisurely attitude stiffens, “Not for sale.”
I immerse myself in the details of the treasure. Then I close my eyes. This portrait is already imprinted into my memory. “Thanks for sharing,” I offer as I give the portrait back.
Thabo groans, “Ah. You make me feel guilty.”
I laugh. Annie giggles. With a grunt, Thabo beckons us to follow him to a table near the back. He exits as we sit.
“Interesting fellow, isn’t he?” Annie comments.
Thabo returns with an envelope, then looks to the ceiling and mutters, “Forgive me, Auntie if dis is wrong.” He offers me the envelope. “Bailah Grace and me crazy African mahter were like seesters. She give me dis before she die. Now I give to you.”
I shake my head, “Why me? I have no connection…”
Thabo puts his hand over my lips, “Just take de letter. Read it alone.”
I nod, and soon we leave.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m peeking out the window. No squirrels, but the birds are wretchedly loud. I hope they don’t wake Mark. Quickly I dress for a jog and check on the children. Remarkably, they sleep in their own beds.
I escape outside, letter in hand, and follow the path to our pond. My heart beats quickly as I unfold the crackling paper.

Instructions to my Zulu-Irish Dearie:

Thabo, deliver this letter to the reincarnated me when I come looking for myself. I trust you’ll understand when the moment arrives. Much love, Auntie Bailah

Dearest,

I have blamed myself, not the Germans, for a guilt that started in a former life. Failing to help the Jews is not easily forgotten. Not even through rebirth. Apparently I didn’t do enough to save them. Art was not the catharsis I assumed. It was merely a self-absorbed passion.

As I lay on my deathbed, I realize what I should have done. It wasn’t about me.

Bailah

The pond ripples. I realize Bailah died the year I was born. A frog croaks. I put the letter in my pocket and begin my jog. To ponder the German occupation of Denmark.

Later that day, I’m sealing a package addressed to Thabo Kelly with instructions to deliver to his mother.

Dearest Ms. Kelly,

Enclosed please find a picture of my family and a listing of every school child I ever taught. So far, there are 273. The students with asterisks don’t signify if they were good students or graduated with honors. They honorably indicate if they demonstrated an act of kindness

Much Love,

Mrs. Levine


P.S. If it suits you, I’d like to keep in touch. Tea sometime?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Review

When I really, really like something, I become a bit obsessive. Well, if you haven’t read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, you might want to A)read it before you talk to me or b) find cliff notes and pretend to have read it before you talk to me. (If you straight out admit that you haven’t, I’ll bug you until you do.)

My rating? 6 stars out of 5.

Why?

Charming. Witty. Historical. Heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. All of this and it's a love story to boot.

The novel is written in the epistolary form (of letters). It makes me want to start writing letters! Although, I guess we can argue that email serves a similar purpose and it's much more convenient. I'll probably stick to email. Oh, how I wish Juliet (fictional character) had her own blog. I'd read it upon every chance.

But it also makes me want to travel to Guernsey! Yes, it's probably cold - the island sets on the English Channel. But I don't care! It gives me a great excuse to wear scarves, caps and adorable Wellies. Anyway, that trip might have to come after I retire...but it's undoubtedly on the list.

Please, please don't wait for this movie to come out (as I have a suspicion it might.) Read...and if you don't find utter joy, I'll take you out to eat. Anywhere you want...just bring your copy of the book so we can discuss.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Have you ever been in the middle of something and suddenly you realize you miss your mom or dad because you haven't spoken with them in awhile? Have you ever wanted to leave a work project and spend the rest of the day merely staring at your kids? Have you ever simply needed to call your spouse, with nothing really to say, but needed to reaffirm your connection to each other?

MY SISTER'S KEEPER reminded me of these feelings that periodically consume me, causing me to block out all the minutia before me. I'm not one to pick a novel that will inevitably leave me crying. But one of my-book friends handed her copy to me, simply stating it was one of the best she's ever read. How could I not? (Dang it Deb, I haven't been able keep mascara from streaming down my cheeks for a week now.)

I finished the novel last night, and without giving anything away, I am compelled to communicate the impact the story had on me personally. First, let me try to express the love for my family in the form of a timeline:

May 28, 1991: Met the love of my life and knew we were destined to be together. Never had I met someone whom I couldn't bear the thought of parting...(Married August 27, 1994)
June 6, 1997: Birthed our first child, a daughter. Was amazed by my overwhelming need to protect and care for the beautiful baby. I could barely stand the thought of NOT holding her.
August 27, 2001: Birthed our second child, a son. My fear of not loving the second child as much as the first was quickly squelched the minute I wrapped my arms around the feisty infant.

Undoubtedly, I love my family with every inch of my essence. MY SISTER'S KEEPER filled me with enormous gratitude for their health. I also realized how much I take our daily contact for granted. No longer will my hugs, kisses, laughs and banter will be done by rote. Yes, I hate to admit that I let those wonderful expressions of love sometimes exist in the form of a mental to-do list. No longer.

Thanks, Deb, for lending me Jodi Picoult's MY SISTER'S KEEPER. Sometimes we need friends to give us reminders on how to live. It was the perfect reminder.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Kindle

I can't believe it's been June since I last blogged here! I guess I've been too busy on my Mommyhood blog...it's summer and all. I can't believe I didn't even write a book review! Okay, in a snapshot...

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle.....5 Star! Wonderful character depictions, whether human or beast. A bit of a heartbreaker though.

Little Grrrl Lost by Charles De Lint...3 Star. Cute story, but couldn't get into it. My mother and daughter completely disagree.

A Word a Day by Anu Garg ....5 Star Plus! For all you verbologists, a must-read!

The Host by Stephene Meyer...4.5 Star. I loved this post-Twilight tale. It's imaginative and an interesting commentary on the human race.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Rodrick Rules)...3 Star. Not quite as clever as the first book, but still fun to read with 7 -year old boy.

I think I'm missing one...oh, well. What I really wanted to communicate is how much I love my 40th birthday present to myself -- The Kindle! It's light, easy to use, easy to find titles and never leaves me without something to read! My only complaint is that I wish it lit up in the car and perhaps didn't need charged so often. But I love that fact that I can subscribe to any paper or blog for a lower cost and it's a bit of an environmental saver.

Anyway, if you're looking for a gift for the reader, The Kindle is your answer...Oh, and I was very much against the idea of parting with my book. But now I'm a believer!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Beyond Pippi Longstocking

I am proud that my 12 year old Alex is an avid reader. But it has taken a few years to cultivate her fondness for literature. I'm hoping that Cole eventually finds his stride as well; he's a good reader, but when I make him sit down to read, he grimaces the entire fifteen minutes. Apparently, he's more comfortable reading upside down on the couch.

Avid readers share a certain connection, as I've said before. It can bring together the most unlikely friendships. And it can strengthen the relationships with those closest to you. Thursday night, my mother, my daughter and I trekked to Des Moines to hear author Lisa See speak. It gave me joy to hear Alex ask the author a question about her book, even if the question only involved a Chinese dessert!

I've read more Young Adult novels in this past year than ever because I want to keep connecting with my daughter as she enters the oh-so-scary years of teenagers. In case we can't seem to find much in common, we'll always be able to discuss books. I guess you could say it's my back-up plan. And I'll continue to read Batman stories if that's what it takes to make Cole a book lover.

I came across a link today which gave some ideas on cultivating young readers. Take a look. I hope you get some ideas to spur reading with your kids or grandkids.



And finally, what books are your kids reading???

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Reading Lists?

Now that it is OFFICIALLY summer, what reading are you planning to do in the next few months? I'd love to hear from YOU!

Since the kids have been out of school, here's what I've read...

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
This book provides me nightly reading with Cole. Funny, boyish humor -- great recommendation if you want to find something to discuss with your 7 year-old boy.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wrobleski
Beautiful prose, engaging characters. But the ending will piss you off. I'm serious! No one in my book club felt the ending was justified.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
Undoubtedly, I'm a big fan of Lisa See. The voices of her characters are lovely. Her historical streaming is captivating. I found tears coming out of nowhere as I read various parts of the book. While this book has closure, there's some wiggle room for a sequel.

What's next on my list?
Well, I'm taking a few days to blog and rewrite a few passages of my own books. Then, it's The Host by Stephenie Meyer. But after that? I'm not sure -- what are you all reading or planning to read? I have a long list, but would love to hear suggestions from you all!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Woods, Draft Two

My last assignment focused on polishing prose. Here's a re-write of a story I wrote a few months ago...

The peace of daybreak finally settled over the house that had roared with activity throughout the night. Erin’s sheet now loosely shielded her from the cool air streaming through the rickety fan in the window.

Before drifting to sleep, she fought with the the shrieking voices of her parents’ party downstairs. She tangled with the sheet clinging to her body. No matter how hot or humid her room would get, a sheet couldn’t be sacrificed in the night, for Erin knew ghosts would feed off the bare skin of those who slept. But now it was morning; it was quiet; and she was safe once again.

Saturday. Erin loved Saturdays almost as much as Christmas morning. Dad would be disassembling and assembling motorcycles in the garage. Mom would be stripping the beds and making the house smell like laundry detergent, even with a cigarette burning in her ashtray. Cliff, her little brother, would be playing with his tractors and attempting to escape from the confines of his “Moma.”

Erin snuck down the creaky stairwell, hoping to be the first one awake. But the smell of coffee and pungent smoke hit her as she curved her way to the kitchen.

“Morning, Sweetie.” Her mother held little Cliff on her hip and took a swig of coffee before clearing off her father’s breakfast dishes. “Did you sleep well?”

“It was so hot last night! Why can’t we get an air conditioner? Jo Jo’s family just got one!” Erin snarled, remembering the tortuous night.

The comment was ignored as a discussion on gas prices began. Cliffie blew spit bubbles through his tiny lips, and murmured an unintelligible language of two-year olds. Erin poured Rice Krispies and three heaping spoons of sugar in the bowl that had been laid out for her. She ate three bites of the dry concoction before the telephone interrupted her feast. She jumped up to grab the receiver, connected to a new extended cord which allowed her to speak privately in the laundry room next to the kitchen.

“Hello? Yeah, I’m ready!” Erin’s breath accelerated. “Did you call Tina yet?”

Erin ran back upstairs to dress in her Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirt and pink shorts. After slipping on her tennis shoes without socks, she planned her escape.

Quietly, trekking through the house, she made it to the backdoor of the kitchen. “See ya. Going to the railroad track, so I better not bring Cliffie with me today.”

“Be careful, Slick.” Erin’s Dad looked up before the screen door screeched shut.

Her mother quickly came to the doorway, watching Erin climb her pink bicycle that was nearly too small for her already. “Come home for lunch, Hon. Don’t forget. Please.”

Erin peddled her bike through the quiet town. Already the humidity was threatening to rob her of air the fresh morning air.

As usual, she was the first one at their special hideout. Twenty yards past the railroad track marked the entrance of a wooded area on the edge of town. A large tree stump served as their headquarters. As Erin waited for her two best friends, she found comfort in the chattering of birds and insects. Hopefully she wouldn’t see any snakes. She monitored the ground closely for any slithering motion.

Something glittered in the grass near her feet. Erin kneeled to study a thick piece of green glass. After digging the piece out of the ground, and setting her discovery on the stump, she searched for more. Eventually, she excavated ten pieces of glass, ranging in colors from green to brown to translucent.

Finally, her best friends Jo Jo and Tina appeared. All three girls wore their Lucky Charms cereal t-shirts with varying shades of pink shorts.

“What in the H-E-double toothpicks?” asked Tina while studying the broken pieces of glass.

“Treasures,” answered Erin nonchalantly as she kept searching.

Jo Jo shrugged and sat on the stump. “Looks like pop glass to me.”

“Now it does,” answered Erin as the fervor of her dig intensified. Tina kneeled next to Erin.

“What are we doing today? Riding bikes?” Tina asked hopefully. She always wanted to ride bikes.

“Too hot.” Jo replied, before joining her friends on the ground.

“Then what?” Tina looked up at Jo, who was now digging up her own piece of glass. “We could…build a Barbie city? No, that’s getting boring. Play ball with the boys? No, Joel’s too mean. Have you finished writing your movie, Erin?”

“No,” Erin sighed. “Besides, I need the boys for a few parts. And with ball starting...” Erin trailed off, feeling discouraged about her movie project.

“How about…a swim in the Nishna?” Tina stood up to count the pieces of glass.

“After lunch,” Jo Jo answered. “We’re busy now.”

Every summer, as soon as the river tempered, the town kids stalked through the weeds covering the bank and cooled themselves off in the muddy waters. Every mother in town winced when their children returned from the shallow Nishnabotna River. No child was allowed to enter a house until thoroughly rinsed from a garden hose and examined specifically for ticks.

“Okay, but if I see a snake I’m going home.” Tina always threatened to go home. Jo Jo never wanted to go home.

“Aha!” Erin pulled a rusty tuna can out of the ground and then placed it next to the bounty. “A trove for our treasures.”

Erin stomped toward the railroad tracks and picked up three large pieces of river rock. Holding the rocks in her t-shirt, she ran back to camp. After giving each of her friends a rock, she began to crush the glass on the stump. Tina and Jo Jo smiled at each other and joined Erin in the task. The final product was placed into the rusty can once the glass was reduced to small, but not inscrutable, multi-faceted jewels.

“Jo Jo, what will you do with your riches?” Erin asked, in hopes that Jo Jo would talk. She always wished Jo Jo would talk more.

Jo Jo shrugged, while Tina took the floor, “I know! I’m getting a really cool car. A red convertible. Then I’ll buy Mom and Dad a nice car, so they don’t have to drive the green bomber.”

The girls laughed, since they had all been passengers in the loud, muffler-less Chevy Impala many times. None of the families had new cars, but the green bomb was the ugliest of them all.

Erin watched Jo, who still didn’t answer.

“I’m going to buy shoes,” Erin jumped on the stump as she spoke. “and party dresses. No one at my parties could smoke though.” Erin imagined an affair like those she watched on “The Young and the Restless” – something much different than their parents’ parties of barbecue and beer.

Jo smiled and kept crushing. Then with a shriek, she dropped her rock and began to suck on her finger.

“Jo Jo! You’re bleeding!” Tina and Erin ran to their friend’s side.

Jo closed her eyes tight, as she always did with the anticipation of pain. Tina delicately pried her friend’s slightly bloody finger.

“It’s not bad.” Jo felt embarrassed.

“We should go back and get a band-aid,” directed Tina.

“No,” Jo responded emphatically. “I’ll get in trouble.”

“We all will,” Erin added. But they all knew that Jo would be in the worst trouble if her Dad found out.

Jo wrapped her finger around her t-shirt and looked at her friends. “You know what I think we should do with our treasure? Forget dresses and cars. Let’s see the world! We’ll snorkel off the Yucatan Peninsula, shop on 5th Avenue in New York City, ski in Steamboat, climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Parthenon in Greece, go on a safari in Africa…”

Tina and Erin often listened to Jo describe places they knew nothing about. Jo’s mother had been a flight attendant before moving back home to marry her high school sweetheart.

Erin interrupted Jo. “Hey! Let’s have lunch at Jo Jo’s! Your mom can tell us stories about the places she’s been.”

“Can’t. Mom’s working today.”

Thoughts of the world were quickly replaced by grumbling stomachs. None of the girls wanted to go back to their own houses for lunch. So after a few minutes of waiting for a solution to appear, Jo suggested, “We could go to Granny’s.”

“Tang with 7-Up,” Tina added.

“Let’s go,” directed Erin. “Ride fast by the ball field. Maybe the boys won’t throw rocks at us today.”

“Wait. What about the diamonds?” asked Jo.

“I know.” Tina found a soft spot in the earth and started digging a hole with her rock. Once the hole was big enough, Jo placed the tuna can in the hole. Erin covered the treasure with the loose dirt. The three friends smiled at their accomplishment, then jumped on their bicycles to race toward Jo’s grandmother’s house.They easily whipped past the ball field without being tortured with name-calling and pebble-throwing; the boys were in the middle of a double-play.

As they sped through the pebbly main street of town, a muffled sound of a thunderous engine settled in the air. The girls made a sharp turn at the t-section to hear the revving of the engine getting louder.

“Car!” Erin yelled to her friends who performed the drill of slowing down before scattering to the soft edge of the road. Generally, all kids came to a complete stop to watch a car drive through town. Today was no exception.

Initially the girls were blinded by a deceiving silver flash, created by the sun’s reflection. Then a bright yellow sports car broke through the aura.

“Wow!” Tina exclaimed. “It’s gotta be a Camaro.”

Trucks, station wagons and sedans were common place in the town that housed blue-collar families working as machinists, secretaries or waitresses. Sports cars were rare.

The girls watched the car pace nearer, eventually stopping next to the parade of bicycles.

“Dad?” Jo squinted her eyes in disbelief as the driver rolled down his window. “Who’s car is that?”

The girls parked their bikes to gain a closer look.

“I was right! It is a Camaro. Is it brand new?” Tina felt the smooth paint job.

Jo’s father couldn’t hold back a smile. “Oh, no. It’s two years old. 1978. Think your mom will like it, Jo Jo?”

“Dad? Are you kidding?”

All three girls stood back, eyes wide open.

“Nope. Bought her today.”

Jo looked at her friends in wonder. Erin smiled incredulously. Tina smirked.

Jo ducked her head in the window. “Can we have a ride, Dad?”

“Not now, Hon. I’ll take you girls out for a spin later.”

Then the three girls watched the rumbling, yellow machine drive away.

“How are you and your brothers gonna fit in that?” Tina asked.

“I think it’s very cool,” Erin offered her friend.

“I hope Mom likes it,” Jo stated under her breath. “Wonder what Granny will think.”

The girls made their way to Granny Annie’s, who seemed to have predicted guests. Ham, bread and potato chips were set on the table. As the girls sat down to devour their sandwiches, Granny Annie mixed Tang and 7-Up.

“Guess what, Granny?” Jo talked with her mouth full. “Dad just came home with a brand-new, well not quite brand-new, Camaro!”

Granny stopped pouring the 7-Up and looked up, with a gaze directed to nowhere. “Test-driving, I suppose. Just dreamin. Your daddy’s a dreamer, alright.”

“No. He bought it.” Jo continue to chew. “He told us.”

The girls kept talking and laughing, not noticing the subtle change in Granny’s attitude. Granny set the drinks on the table, kissed Jo Jo on the head and said, “There’s ice cream in the freezer. Help yourselves when you’re done. I’m going out to the garage to talk to Gramps, okay?”

“Bye, Granny. Thanks for lunch.”

Granny Annie left in a hurry to tell her husband about their financially-strapped son’s recent purchase. Despite Granny’s reaction, excitement was the only emotion ruling over the three girls. Even Tina, who felt a bit jealous, was encouraged. If Jo Jo’s family could afford a Camaro, certainly her family could too.

“Should we go back to the hideout? Or should we go swimming?” Erin asked.

“I’m kinda thinking that those diamonds are lucky. Maybe we should go back to the hideout.” Tina decided that it was her turn to dig up some luck.

Erin nodded and lifted her cup of Tang and 7-Up. “A toast – to the diamonds in the woods.”

The three girls raised their drinks to each other, gulped ferociously, and slammed their plastic cups on the table. “To the woods.”

And with a fire kindling in their eyes, they set off to the woods to find more diamonds. But when Jo came to the street that led to her house, she stopped.

“Jo Jo? What’s wrong?” Erin turned her bike around when she realized Jo wasn’t behind her. Tina was still pumping her bike, racing her friends to the woods.

“I’m gonna head home,” Jo looked up the street to her house. “I better finish my chores before Mom gets home.”

Erin sighed in disappointment. She sensed the joy leaving her friend.

“Do you want us to help you, so you can get your chores done real fast?” Erin asked while she noticed Tina still driving to the woods.

“No. If I get done, I’ll come out and find you. Thanks anyway.”

Erin watched Jo peddle to her home. Then she turned to catch up with Tina. There was much more for the girls to discover in the woods.

And they would discover much more.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Woods -- First Draft

All was quiet, except the steady hum of the fan blowing the cool morning air through the window. Somehow, Erin’s bedspread had made its way back over her body in the night. Before she had drifted to sleep, the heat had made the sheet barely tolerable. But a sheet couldn’t be sacrificed, in case ghosts decided to feed off her bare skin. A silly thought in the morning. It was never silly before bedtime.

Saturday. Erin loved Saturdays best, even during summer break. Dad would be disassembling some motorcycle part in the garage. Mom would be stripping all the beds and making the house smell like spring, even with a cigarette burning in the ashtray. Erin would have no responsibility toward her younger brother today.
She snuck down the creaky stairwell, hoping to be the first one awake. But the smell of coffee and smoke hit her in the dining room. Her parents were already drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.

“Good morning, Sweetie. Did you sleep well?” Her mother asked, as she did every day.

“It was so hot last night. Can’t we please get an air conditioner for the upstairs? Please? Jo Jo’s family just got one.”

The comment was ignored and gas prices continued to be discussed. Erin sat at the table and poured cereal and milk in the bowl that had been laid out for her. She ate three bites before bouncing out of her chair to answer the ringing phone.

“Hello? Yeah! Did you call Tina yet? Five minutes.”

Erin ran back upstairs to dress in her Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirt and pink shorts. She brushed her teeth without flossing and ran to the door to put on her tennis shoes without socks.

“See ya, Mom. See ya Dad. Tina, Jo Jo and I will be at the railroad tracks. Don’t tell Benny, please.” Erin’s little brother had a way of showing up wherever she was.

“Be careful, Slick,” Erin’s Dad looked up before the screen door slammed shut.

Erin peddled her bike through the quiet town. Already the humidity was beginning to threaten her refreshed soul. As usual, she was the first one at their special hideout. Twenty yards past the railroad track marked the entrance of a wooded area on the edge of town. A large tree stump served as a table, and often the chairs as well.

As Erin waited for her two best friends, she listened to the insects and hoped she wouldn’t see any snakes. Unlike Tina, she monitored the ground closely for any slithering motion. Tina refused to look at the ground. Joanne didn’t search out, nor did she avoid seeing snakes. She didn’t like them, but they didn’t scare her either.

Something glittered on the dry, native grass near her feet. Erin reached down to pick up a thick piece of green glass from a soda bottle. Setting the glass on the tree stump, she bent down to look for more. Eventually, there were ten pieces of glass on the stump, ranging in sizes no bigger than two inches. Most were green, but a few pieces were brown or translucent.

Eventually Jo Jo and Tina joined her. All three girls wore their Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirts. Tina wore purple shorts that she insisted were pink. Joanne stuck to code with her pink shorts.

“What in the world?” asked Tina while studying the broken pieces of glass.

“Treasures,” answered Erin nonchalantly as she kept searching.

Joanne studied the pieces. “Looks like pop glass to me.”

“Now it does,” answered Erin.

Joanne began searching the ground with Erin.

“What are we doing today? Riding bikes?” Tina asked hopefully. She always wanted to ride bikes.

“Too hot!” Joanne answered.

“Then what?”

Joanne and Erin kept searching the ground, waiting for Tina to answer herself.

“We could…build a Barbie city? No, that’s getting boring. Play ball with the boys? No, Jimmie’s too mean. Have you finished writing your movie, Erin?”

“No. Besides, we need to convince the boys to be in it.” Erin was writing a play with the intention of having the town kids perform for their parents.

“How about… swimming?”

“After lunch,” Joanne answered decisively. “We’re busy now.”

Tina sighed. She was going to be forced to look at the ground. “Okay, but if I see a snake I’m going home.” Tina always threatened to go home. Joanne never wanted to go home.

“Perfect! I wondered where we were going to hide them.” Erin pulled a rusty tuna can out of the ground, then placed the can next to the bounty. “I think we have enough. Be right back.” Erin walked toward the railroad tracks and picked up three large pieces of river rock. Holding the rocks in her t-shirt, she ran back to camp. After giving each of her friends a rock, she began to crush the glass on the stump. Tina and Joanne looked at each other and smiled, then joined Erin in the task. Once the glass was reduced to small, but not inscrutable, sparkling jewels, they were placed in the tuna can.

“Jo Jo? What are you going to do with your riches?” asked Erin first. Erin always wished Jo Jo would talk more.

Joanna shrugged. Tina responded immediately.

“I know! I’m getting a really cool car. A red convertible. Then I’ll buy Mom and Dad a nice car. Something better than our green bomb.”

The girls laughed, since they had all been passengers in the loud, muffler-less Chevy Impala many times. None of the families had new cars, but the green bomb was the ugliest of them all.

“I’m going to buy shoes; high-heeled shoes of every color to match my sequined dresses. We should have fancy parties, don’t you think? But no one could smoke or drink! We’d only serve Tang with 7-Up.” Erin imagined a party like those she watched on The Young and the Restless – something much different than their parents’ parties of barbecue and beer.

Joanne smiled and kept crushing. Then she shrieked, dropped her rock and began to suck on her finger.

“Jo Jo! You cut yourself!”

Joanne closed her eyes tight, as she always did when she anticipated pain. The other two girls stopped working to pry out their friend’s injured finger. Tina delicately held the finger that continued to seep blood.

“It’s not bad.” Joanne felt embarrassed of the tiny cut.

“We should go back and get a band-aid,” directed Tina.

“No,” Joanne responded emphatically. “I’ll get in trouble.”

“We all will,” Erin added. But they all knew that Joanne would get in the worst trouble if her Dad found out.

Joanne wrapped her finger around her t-shirt and looked at her friends. “You know what I think we should do with our treasure? Forget the dresses and cars. Let’s see the world! Erin, Tina and Jo Jo will snorkel off the Yucatan Peninsula, shop on 5th Avenue in New York City, ski in Steamboat, climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Parthenon in Greece, go on a safari in Africa…”

Tina and Erin had often heard Joanne talk about places they knew nothing about. Her mother had been a flight attendant before moving back home to marry her high school sweetheart.

Erin interrupted Joanne. “Hey! Let’s have lunch at Jo Jo’s! Your mom can tell us about places we should visit!”

Joanne became serious. “Can’t. Mom’s working today.”

Thoughts of the world were quickly replaced once the girls realized their stomachs were grumbling. The sun had crept into their shaded meeting spot and the shouting of boys playing on the baseball field could easily be heard throughout the small town.

Neither Erin or Tina felt like going back to their own houses for lunch. So after a few minutes of waiting for a solution to appear, Joanne suggested, “We could go to Granny’s.”

“Tang with 7-Up.” Tina added.

“Let’s go,” directed Erin. “Ride your bikes fast by the ball field. Maybe the boys won’t throw rocks at us.”

“Wait. What about the diamonds?” asked Joanna.

“I know.” Tina found a soft spot in the earth and started digging a hole with her rock. Once the hole was big enough, Joanna placed the tuna can in the hole. Erin covered the treasure with the loose dirt. The three friends smiled at their accomplishment, then jumped on their bicycles to race toward Jo Jo’s grandmother’s house. They easily made it past the ball field as the boys were in the middle of a play.

As they sped through the pebbly main street of town, a muffled sound of a thunderous engine settled in the air. The girls made a sharp turn at the t-section to hear the revving of the engine getting louder.

“Car!” Erin yelled to her friends who performed the drill of slowing down before scattering to the soft edge of the road. Generally, all kids came to a complete stop to watch a car drive through town. Today was no exception.

Initially the girls were blinded by a deceiving silver flash, created by the sun’s reflection. Then a bright yellow sports car broke through the aura.

“Wow! Look at that car,” Tina exclaimed. “It’s gotta be a Camaro.”

Trucks, station wagons and sedans were common place in the town that housed blue-collar families working as machinists, secretaries or waitresses. Sports cars were rare.

The girls watched the car draw closer and eventually come to a stop.

“Dad?” Joanne squinted her eyes in disbelief as the driver rolled down his window. “Who’s car is that?”

The girls hopped off their bikes to take a closer look.

“I was right! It is a Camaro. Is it brand new?” Tina felt the smooth paint job.

Joanne’s father attempted to hold back a smile. “Oh, no. It’s two years old. 1978. Think your mom will like it, Jo Jo?”

“Dad? Are you kidding? Are we getting it?”

All three girls stood back with eyes wide open.

“No, Honey. We got it. I bought it today.”

Joanne looked at her friends in wonder. Erin smiled incredulously. Tina’s smirk reflected her apparent jealousy. Joanne ducked her head in the window to get a closer view of the interior.

“Can we have a ride, Dad?”

“Not now, Hon. Later. I’ll take you, Tina and Erin out for a spin.”

The three girls watched the rumbling Camaro drive away.

“I wonder how you and your brothers are all gonna fit in that.” Tina noted.

“I think it’s very cool,” Erin told her friend.

“I hope Mom likes it,” Joanne said with trepidation. “Wonder what Grandma will think.”

The girls made their way to Granny Annie’s, who obviously predicted guests for lunch with lunch meat, bread and potato chips already set out. As the girls sat down to devour their sandwiches, Granny Annie mixed the Tang and 7-Up.

“Guess what, Granny?” Joanne talked with her mouth full. “Dad just came home with a brand-new, well not quite brand-new, Camaro!”

Granny stopped pouring the 7-Up and looked out the window.

“Test-driving? Just dreamin, I suppose. Your Dad’s a dreamer.”

“No. He bought it. He told us.”

The girls kept talking and laughing, not noticing the subtle change in Granny’s attitude. Granny set the drinks on the table, kissed Joanne on the head and said, “There’s ice cream in the freezer. Help yourselves when you’re done. I’m going out to the garage to talk to Grandpa, okay?”

“Bye, Granny. Thanks for lunch.”

Granny Annie left in a hurry to tell her husband about their financially-strapped son’s recent purchase. Despite the anxiety felt by Granny, excitement was the only emotion ruling over the three girls. Even Tina, who felt a bit jealous, was encouraged. If Jo Jo’s family could afford a Camaro, certainly her family could too.

“Should we go back to the hideout? Or should we go swimming?” Erin asked.

“I’m kinda thinking that those diamonds are lucky. Maybe we should go back to the hideout.” Tina decided that swimming now seemed boring.

Joanne nodded and lifted her cup of Tang and 7-Up. “A toast – to the diamonds in the woods.”

“The magical diamonds in the woods,” Erin corrected.

“No, the magical, mystical, friendship diamonds in the woods.” Tina finalized the toast.

The three girls raised their drinks to each other, took big gulps, and slammed their plastic cups on the table. Now they had orange mustaches to match their Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirts.

And they each had the twinkle of hope in their bright, young eyes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fiction Assn #5

In this assignment, we had to write a series of three scenes, with a focus on plot and the beginning and ending of a scene...so a little more preview to my next novel...

Red sucks, she thought.

Li stood outside one of Soho’s nascent, and highly acclaimed, art galleries. Inside the window sat various sizes of canvases, all splattered with the same hue of red. Tired of being disappointed with another rising artist, she dismissed the idea of entering the shop and turned away.

“Excuse me, Miss? Would you care to see a private viewing of the artist’s works?” An English accent projected from the entrance. “I’m not closing right yet. Especially for such a pretty lass.”

Li turned to face the unshaven and messy-maned greeter. The black t-shirt and raggedy jeans confirmed, in her mind, she was facing the artist. Initially tempted to toss a polite smile and walk away, she remained frozen when she caught sight of his troubled, ocean-blue eyes.

But she kept her composure and with a sigh, confessed, “I wasn’t sure if this was an art gallery or a Gap outlet promoting their Red collection.”

“Ah,” he responded with a slight chuckle. “Apparently, your shoes have gotten the best of you on this early evening! I imagine those platforms can only take the concrete sidewalks for so long. Even if they are...what brand, I dare say? Jimmy Choo?”

Now she really wanted to walk away, but how could she let him have the last word? Her mind scrambled for a comeback, but nothing witty presented itself. Perhaps it was the dull headache from too much wine last night. Or perhaps her feet really did hurt too much.

“Sir?” A matronly pair of ladies stepped in front of Li. “Are you the artist? We’d sure like to see your work if you’re not closing!”

He flashed a smile at Li, then took each lady’s arm. “I’d be honored to reveal my artistry to you and your lovely friend.”

Li watched him escort the ladies inside and paused only a moment to reconsider her initial impression of the art. When had she become such an art snob? What happened to that wide-eyed art history graduate who would have given the artist a fair chance to prove his brilliance? Now, her opinion was based on a ten-second review of a window display.

After a few pedestrians bumped into her, Li went away in search of a coffee shop.

***


Ackley Dunstan excused himself momentarily before beginning his private tour for Gladys and Beverly. He poked his head out the door to see the silhouette of the tall, Asian lady wearing a floral summer dress headed toward Sixth Avenue. He’d hope to find her later.

Despite his quicker-than-normal art showing, the tour proved to be fruitful. Gladys and Beverly, smitten by the polite and handsome Englishman, each made a purchase for $3,000 a piece. Ackley was relieved to divest of some of his earlier works.

After wishing his new fans well, and accepting a raincheck for dinner, Ackley locked the doors and immediately got to work on his next project. Dashing to his art supplies, he carefully selected a sharpened charcoal pencil and a fresh Wilko sketch pad. Then he sat down on the floor to draw.

Within minutes, he tore out the sheet and exited his gallery, ready to begin the second part of his project. Intuition made him feel optimistic about his chance for success.

With drawing in hand, the artist headed toward 6th Avenue, in search of a coffee shop. He predicted she would choose “Twilight Java,” his personal favorite. But when he found himself in front of a Starbucks, he was compelled to take a quick glance. Just in case.

He took a step inside, still amazed to see the line up of people in the ubiquitous franchise. Just as he began to feel relieved about not finding her in the coffee shop, he saw her, standing near the back exit. The excitement of seeing her completely erased the relief of not seeing her.

Afraid somehow she might escape, he barreled toward her as she wiped her fingers with a napkin.

“Hello again,” he addressed her back, admiring her long, black hair. “I’m wondering if you might assist me in an experiment?”

She casually glanced behind her, “Are you talking to me?” Once recognizing the face, she added, “Oh, you are talking to me, aren’t you?”

He extended his hand, keeping his gaze intently on her face, “Ackley Dunstan. And you are?”

She quickly wiped her right hand on her dress, in hopes of eliminating all frosting, before extending it.

“Li Vo. How can I help you?” She focused on the man’s eyebrows, in an attempt to avoid direct eye contact.

Ackley brushed his forehead. “I’m sorry. Do I have something on my head?”

Li laughed and looked away. “No.”

“That’s a relief. When I’m trying so hard to impress.” Ackley motioned to an open table. “Will you do me the honor? Can I buy you another cup of coffee? A pastry?”

“No, thank you. I imagine I’ll be up all night, as it is.” Li’s eyes popped as she spoke, seeming to regret her choice of words.

Ackley understood the innuendo and did her the favor of ignoring it. “A dose of Tylenol PM does wonders in offsetting caffeine.”

Ackley gestured for Li to lead the way. As she gracefully floated to the designated table, he breathed in her essence. A lovely essence, he thought.

Once they sat down, Ackley fiercely studied Li’s face. Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Li asked, “Is there something wrong?”

“Incredible. I wasn’t even close.” Ackley muttered. “Quite an embarrassment, really.”

“I’m sorry,” Li interjected, “I’m not following you.”

He laid out his sketching of a face resembling Li. She picked up the drawing, raised her eyebrows, then faced Ackley.

“Is this supposed to be me? Or is this someone you know who happens to look like me?

Ackley took the drawing and laid it on the table between them. “Well, if I were to draw sunglasses on this woman, she’d be a fairly good impression. But I’m not Superman, and have no ability to see through dark sunglasses, worn by a particularly stunning woman outside my gallery. Especially in the evening when the need for sunglasses had long passed.” He studied her eyes again, with less ferocity. “Actually, there’s no way I could capture your eyes. The most talented artist in the world couldn’t capture your eyes.”

She looked away, pulling her hair back, as if in a ponytail. When she glanced up again, she let herself smile at the charming man.

“Your eyes seem too large to come from China. Is that your lineage?”

“No. Vietnamese. My parents are from Saigon.”

“Of course. ‘Vo.’ I once knew a Vietnamese couple with the same last name. I’m sorry not to catch that.”

She smiled at the apology. Most people she met grouped all Asians together. It hadn’t really bothered her, since she grew up in the Midwest and couldn’t tell a German from a Dane.

“I owe you an apology as well,” she shifted the conversation into a confession. “I didn’t give your artwork much of a chance.”

“Are you a critic?” Ackley asked with great interest. “Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that you’d be a critic. Seriously, I’m not trying to bribe you for a great review.”

Li nodded. “No, no.” Li smiled again. Certainly her attitude fit the part of a critic. “Actually, I’m only in New York for a short while...oh, hold on.” Li’s Blackberry beeped. While she typically didn’t respond to anyone while she traveled, she always checked her caller ID to ensure there was no emergency.

“Oh, no. Oh my God.” She furrowed her brow as she read the text message.

“Li? Are you okay?” Ackley gently touched her arm.

She looked up in a daze. “I’m sorry, Mr. Dunstan.” Li stood up and picked up her bag. “But I need to go home. Someone I know passed away. Yesterday, actually.”

Ackley stood up and put his arm around Lis’ shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Are you sure you’re okay? Can I take you somewhere? On my scooter?”

Li gradually became aware that Ackley was holding her. “No. But thank you. You’re very kind to offer. I need to catch a flight back to Omaha, right away. I’m sorry. Perhaps on my next visit I’ll tour your gallery?”

“I hope you do. Are you certain you’re okay?”

“I’m okay. I mean, it’s not a family member or anything. Just someone I knew from being on a committee together. He was a kind, older gentleman.”

Ackley nodded before facing Li and extending his hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you. If only for a few minutes.”

“A pleasure to meet you as well. I’m sorry for the brevity.” Li nodded and briskly approached the exit.

“Li?” Ackley shouted out.

She turned to address her new acquaintance.

“One quick survey question, if you please.” He scratched his head, waiting for her nod to proceed. “Guggenheim or the Metropolitan?”

“What do you think?” she asked, anxious to hear his guess.

“The Met. You’re a Met girl.”

She smiled, waved and walked out the door.


***

“I no understand. You make trip back for dis guy funeral?” Han shook her head as she opened a bag of green tea leaves.

“Mom, I told you already. We served on the zoo’s board of directors together.” Li handed the infuser to her mother, who immediately put the utensil aside.

“You not know how make good tea.”

Li shrugged and sat down, still dressed in the suit she wore to the funeral. “Paul was a pillar of this community. I had a great amount of respect for him. Everyone did.”

“So whaat? You act like you date him or something?” Han looked at her daughter, waiting a response. “You date him? Or something?”

“Mom! No! He was, like, old!” Li threw her arms in the air. “Every time I mention a man’s name, in any context whatsoever, why do you always assume I’m screwing him?”

“Shhh!” Han replaced the top of the tea kettle to begin her own method of steeping. “No raise your voice so loud. I got neighbors, you know.” She shuffled to the table, setting out two ceramic tea cups. Noticing her daughter’s angry expression, she sat down to face her.

“Here’s an idea, Mom. Why don’t I call you every time I screw someone. Then you won’t have to ask.” Li crossed her arms and peered at the dainty woman sitting across from her. Li knew her mother’s delicate appearance was deceiving.

Under her breath Tran replied, “You no need be snippy. I just worry.”

Now Li felt bad. “I know. It’s just that I happen to have a lot of friends who are men. But that’s all they are - friends. We’re not in Vietnam, Mom.” Li placed her hands over her mother’s, and was immediately embarrassed by her own, expensive French manicure. Han’s wrinkled hands and nails reflected years of hard work in restaurants and nursing homes.

“Men and women never be friends. No matter Saigon or Omaha.” Han stood up to check on her tea. “I no trust none your man friends! ‘Cept Jason. I like Jason. He gay right?”

Li could no longer see the point of continuing the conversation. The discussion about men would ultimately lead to questions about her own father, which her mother would answer diligently, and inconsistently. Sometimes Li’s father was an ace pilot for the Vietnamese Air Force. Sometimes he designed airfields.

As Li considered conversation options, her Blackberry beeped.

“Ack! Dat your phone again?” Han resented Li’s attachment to the device. “How can curator be too important? No one dying, right?”

Li checked the “urgent” message from her assistant as her mother opined.

“CALL ACKLEY D TO ARRANGE VISIT TO OMAHA. CELL # ATTACHED.”

The artist had found her, with nothing but a name and a city. She should have been concerned, but she wasn’t.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fiction Assn #4

This week we focused on voice. Today I introduce you to Li's mother.

I wait for my daughter. It be our last conversation. I so sad, and grow more weary waiting. Morphine drip into my blood. I watch ugly, cruel clock on wall. She be here soon though. I try be patient. 



Footsteps coming, like fancy shoes she wears. I try not weep now.


“Mom!” She runs to me, kissing my head. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here sooner. My flight back from New York City was completely hellish. I missed a connecting flight. Then it took forever to... Oh, it doesn’t matter. Why didn’t you tell me you were sick? How long have you had this pain?”



“Wasn’t so bad,” I lie. She be mad if she knew. “Doctor take it out anyway. I good now.”



Her face no believe.



“Mom, I spoke with the surgeon.” My daughter comb through my hair while she speak, like my mother comb when I a child. “It had to be painful in your tiny belly. The tumor was bigger than a grapefruit.” 



She sigh hard and stop combing. I see tear fall down her pretty face.

“The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, Mom.”



I be strong now and sit up. My belly split, but I ignore.



“Li,” I touch her face. “You everything to me, you know? I love you more than I supposed to love you. But I tell you truth now. Truth about your family. About your father.”



“My father? The truth?” Li ask me. 

Her eyes confused. I hold her hands and try take deep breath.

“You know picture I give you? Of your father?”



“Of course,” Li nods and smiles at me. “I keep it on my desk. It’s the only thing I have of him.”



“Li,” I squeeze her hands, “he not your father.” 

She pull her hands away and stand up. I know she be upset. 



“Not my father?” She throw her hands up. “So, the Vietnamese militant is just some stranger, sitting in my hand-carved mahogany frame?”



“He no stranger! He your uncle, my brother. You not waste good picture frame.” I explain, but she not care.



“But what about my father? Please tell me he really was in in the Vietnamese Air Force, and all those stories you told me are real?”



“Li, Peanut. Sit down by me.” I soothe her, though fire burn in my belly. She sit and I take her hands again. “That better.” I hear clock tick. Time run out soon. “You come from wealthy family in Saigon.”



“Wealthy? Rice farmers?” 

This make me laugh, but pain stop my laugh.

“No rice farmers. My father, very rich exporter. Ancestors make friends with French people long time ago.” I lay back. “Baba love me. Though I only a girl. Oh, how he spoil me!” I close my eyes and see Baba’s treasures. I now in my beautiful bedroom is Saigon. “He make Mother so crazy.” 



“Mom?” Li squeeze my shoulder.



I open my eyes. I must finish. Soon. 


Monday, April 27, 2009

Fiction Assn Part 3

In this assignment we had portray a character using narrative, dialogue and action methods. So, here's a little more about Li.

Narrative:

She had four projects looming, three with deadlines in the next two weeks. And she was out of steam. Other graphic designers took walks to overcome blocs. The only thing that ever worked for Li was a tangible escape.

Her favorite solitary rendezvous was Soho, but the NYC district was becoming crowded with acquaintances. One acquaintance, in particular, was absolutely necessary to avoid.

Since she lived her life by the religion of signs, she interpreted the Wall Street Journal article on the Asian art exhibit as a personal calling and found herself flying to San Francisco.
 
Silversun Pickups played on her Ipod as she easily avoided conversation with other passengers. The refrain reverberated. A chord changed, and there he was. His image consumed her, making her heart stir and stomach flip. 
 
“No more,” she thought, defying her desire to wallow in her misery. She switched to her Classical playlist. But as the first few notes of Debussy’s Reverie  began, she wondered if all music was a self-defeating exercise.
 
She rested her head back and ran her fingers through her hair, still not used to the shorter length. For years, he urged her to try a new cut. She resisted, calling upon her mother’s wish to keep it long. But the very day she pledged never to see him again, she entered a salon and requested her locks to be shortened with layers. Never had she received so many compliments. Now, everyone focused on the perfect features of her face.

Dialogue:

She had been staring for twenty minutes at an image of a goddess, the Green Tara, when the hushed chatter in the museum drowned out a Chakra melody playing in her head.
 
She turned to study the next piece of art, only to find him staring at her with that tenacious smile. She lost her breath, only for a moment, before posturing herself. She was thankful for defying her Vietnamese height genes, allowing her to look him squarely in the eye.
 
“Why are you here?” she asked, hoping to convey her contempt. 
 
“Li!  What do you think I’m doing here? The minute I read about this exhibit in the Wall Street Journal, I took the first flight out of New York.”
 
Her purse fell off her bare shoulder, diminishing her taut  stance. 
 
“My muse looks delicious as ever,” he continued in his alluring English accent. “Love the hair. Very bon ton. Your eyes. They seem darker.”
 
She folded her arms. “I’m not your muse. Not anymore.” She looked away, unable to face him when she added, “You’re despicable.”
 
She reminded him of a little girl, pouting with her lower lip extended. But she was not a little girl.

“You don’t mean that,” he walked to her, ensuring to invade her personal space, then gently kissed her smooth shoulder. He smiled when she shivered.

“Please, just go away,” she begged in defeat.

“You don’t mean that either, Love.”

She tried not to become hypnotized by his scent.

Action:

Li stepped out of the art museum, hoping he would not be outside waiting for her.  When she didn’t see him, only slight disappointment fell upon her. Instead of catching a taxi, she decided to walk back to the hotel.

Her journey to Market Street began with eyes pointed down, her gait slow and aimless. Desperately needing to clear her clouded mind, she whispered the Green Tara’s mantra. By the time she reached the commotion on Market Street, she was lucid.

“I walked away from him.” She stopped to absorb the energies surrounding her. Suddenly, with focused determination, she pushed through the crowded street and trotted nearly a mile to her hotel. 

She stormed into her room, kicking her shoes in the air and tossing her purse on the bed. The view from her window briefly captured her attention. 

“I walked away from him.”  She smiled.

Then she powered up her Mac, ready to tackle the projects that no longer puzzled her. Within an hour, she finished two particularly challenging designs.

Her stomach growled. When was the last time she ate? On her way out the door to catch a bite, her Blackberry vibrated. She didn’t care who it was, even if it was him. But it wasn’t a call. Anne Jenkins, her new client, sent her an email with information that might help Li with a logo design. For some reason, the message made her laugh.

On a whim, Li decided to call her new client back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Anne and Li -- Fiction Assignment 2

In our 2nd assignment, we had to create character descriptions of two main characters in 250 words. So, here is a little more to read about Anne and Li, as you met in my first assignment.

Anne Jenkins intended to prove her worthiness as the bank’s new marketing director. Marketing was certainly beneath her intellectual ability, but it was her only job offer, compliments of mother’s political pull.

If her father had been alive, he would have called her with a word of encouragement today. Instead, she attempted to calm her nerves by playing her favorite Bach Partita on the piano for an exclusive audience. Her cat, Holly, had been the only one to hear Anne play in years. 

She focused on her posture as she entered the bank, then nodded politely, without expression, to loan officers and tellers already diligently performing their duties.

“Could they possibly be comparing me to Audrey Hepburn?” Anne joked with herself.  She had taken the time to swoop her hair up, accentuating her long neck and angular jawline. The classic black dress with the bolero jacket made her feel somewhat like the Hollywood starlet, fueling desperately-needed confidence. 

In actuality, no one compared her to any movie star. They noticed a mute, towering frame. For a second or two, at most.

“Good morning?” Anne knocked lightly on her manager’s open door. Throughout the interview process, she distinctly felt unwelcome, even despised. She hoped today would be different.

 Anne’s fists remained clenched as Mrs. Ashe lifted her gaze from the Wall Street Journal. 

“My, oh, my. Don’t we look sophisticated today,” Mrs. Ashe stated cooly as she folded her newspaper. 

Anne’s color drained from her face. So much for hope.


==============================


Li Vo watered the plethora of plants on her miniscule deck. Navigating through the container garden in her Christian Louboutin pumps was always challenging, but she managed not to trip. 

Then it was time for her to leave. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco was having a fascinating dragon exhibit from the obscure country of Bhutan. She’d call her mother on the way to the airport.

“Only a week, Mom. ”

“I don’t understand though. You no longer curator. You graphics designer. Why all these trips?” Her mother worried. 

These trips were non-negotiable. No matter what, or who, was going on in her life, she’d slip out of the city she loved, but could no longer tolerate. Her mother would be the only one receiving the courtesy of a goodbye. Li’s many friends loved her, but they found her abrupt departures frustrating. There would be no emails or texts for at least a few weeks from her now.

“Lie?” The ticket checker verified Li’s ticket and driver’s license.

“It’s pronounced ‘Lee,’” Li responded with her crooked smile. Li Vo informally dropped the "e" in her Vietnamese name, but hadn’t taken the legal steps to have it removed.
 
He studied the Asian woman, noticeably longer than the other passengers. Surely, she was too beautiful to be kind-spirited as well. Perhaps he would try to engage her on the flight.

Li recognized the checker’s reaction. She looked down while taking back her documents. 

“Thank you,” she murmured before proceeding. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Preview to Rubigunda Podcast

Take a sneak peek at my novel Rubigunda by listening to this podcast! I've discovered a new website -- www.podbean.com. For any of you interesting in podcasts, take a listen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lunch

I thought it might be fun to post a few of my assignments from FIction Workshop Class. Here's the first one -- a 500 word scene description. It's actually the start of a new story I will eventually create.

Anne tried to study the menu, but her eyes kept wandering to the large window of the trendy eatery’s facade. The sound of the steady rain, along with the hush of the sparsely-populated restaurant, soothed her nerves. It wasn’t like the banker to be so bold and accept a lunch invitation from a graphics designer.  

Casually, she glanced at her watch as the place began to fill with professionals. 11:18.

“Miss? Are you ready to order?”

The aroma of the spicy Thai cuisine intensified at that very moment. Her stomach flipped.

“Not yet. I’m waiting for someone.”

Anne sighed in anticipation as more patrons entered the swanky cafe. Chatter began to muffle the sound of the rain as Anne felt her anxiety brew. 

Soon an Asian woman dashed by the window. The lime trench coat and polka-dot portfolio inescapably identified the graphics designer. She entered the restaurant, bustling through  the crowd waiting to be seated. Amiably, she spoke to the hostess who hurriedly pointed to Anne’s table. Anne stood, reminded herself to smile, and offered a handshake to her lunch date.

“Li?”

“Anne! So nice to meet you in person!” Li’s hands enclosed Anne’s stiffly extended fingers. Strangely, the exuberant welcome seemed to diminish Anne’s apprehension.

The waitress reappeared with a pitcher of water. “I’ll be back in a minute to take your orders.”

As Li slid out of her coat, Anne gasped, covering her mouth. Li abruptly looked to determine the source of the gasp. Both ladies adorned the same navy wrap dress, purchased from a Gap store. Only their accessories differed; Li wore a bright silk scarf, Anne wore a necklace with a pendant.

“I see you have good taste,” remarked Li with a smile.

Li powered up her Mac laptop and began her quest to impress Anne with award-winning logos and web designs.

“Did you hear that?” Li’s hand flew to her mid-section. “How embarrassing. My stomach is growling at me.” Her eyes floated toward a waiter carrying a Thai chicken lahvosh appetizer.

“Do you smell the cilantro?” Anne asked while admiring the logo on the computer. She glanced at the food. “That particular dish looks divine, but is probably too much for one person to eat.”

The waitress reappeared, pen and pad in hand. The commotion in the restaurant seemed to fade as the ladies focused on their new order of business – what to eat.

“Can I interest you in something to drink, other than water?” asked the waitress as she caught her breath.

Li addressed her potential client, “I rarely do this, but would you like a glass of wine? To go with our lahvosh?”

As Anne considered the offer, the sudden crash of dinner plates rang throughout the restaurant. Conversations paused for a few seconds, allowing Anne to direct her thoughts properly.

“I better not,” blushed the banker, not wanting to seem prudish to her chic date.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Part of my Playlist

Don't you love it when you find someone who shares the same taste in music as you? I’m sorry if this seems like a sorry excuse for a blog posting, but it occurred to me today, as I was exercising at 5:15 in the morning to my newly revised playlist, how I love seeing other people's playlists! So, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

I must admit that my playlist is currently WAY TOO LONG, with 43 songs. (I know...I should create more than one big, long, honking playlist.)Doug’s playlist is much more manageable at 20+. He deletes songs when he’s tired of them. For some reason, I feel like I’m offending the artist by deleting them. As if they even know. Enough babble, now for the highlight of this posting…Here are the first few songs on "Stef's List", which BTW are great work-out songs.

What I’ve Done…Linkin Park
Holiday…Green Day
I Don’t Care…Fallout Boy
Lazy Eye…Silversun Pickups
Psycho…Puddle of Mud
Yes…Coldplay
She…Green Day
Someone Who You’re With…Nickelback
Bad Girlfriend…Theory of a Deadman

That's the first few. For the last two months, I’ve explicitly listened to either the entire Twilight soundtrack or Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. The Twilight soundtrack really kicks! And of course it reminds me of my favorite vampire.

There you go. In our house, it’s somewhat of a contest who has the better playlist, as if it’s not subjective. What’s on your playlists? Which artists get you going?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wonder



Does anyone remember the song, Wonder by Natalie Merchant? It came out either in 96 or 97? After Alex was born in June of 1997, the song became our theme as I cried and rocked the baby to sleep while Natalie sang how her baby was one of the wonders of the world. Eventually my raging pregnancy hormones eked back down to normal levels (arguably, anyway) and I could listen to the song without a tear dripping.

Anyway, I just had a wondrous day with my mother at the ICAN Women’s Conference in Omaha. Rubi J Organic Clothing made their first appearance and drew a wonderful crowd to our booth! We met many enthusiastic mothers, grandmothers, and aunties…one particular mother left on impression on me that I won’t soon forget. She asked if we had any onesies in the size of 2 or 3 T. Unfortunately, the largest onesie size we carry is 12-18 months. Then she explained why she wanted that size.

She wanted to hide a contraption that her son had to wear on his hip. “Dane,” has a rare brain disease. His brain has not grown larger than that of a two-year old. He doesn’t have the ability to hold his head up, nor does will he be able to walk or use his hands functionally. This beaming mother told us that her son wasn’t expected to live past six months after he was born. Miraculously, he is now over three years old. Dane’s mother only spoke of the blessing he has brought her and her husband.

So I devote this posting only to express the blessing I feel for my children tonight. No complaints on their behavior. No gimmicky topic. I just want the world to know that Doug and I love Alex and Cole more than anything in the world. The are truly the wonders in our lives.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time to Celebrate!

It's spring. Yahoo! And reasons to celebrate just keep multiplying...

1. The Twilight DVD arrived three days before the release date. And Amazon gave me some sort of $5 discount. Yahoo! Doug explains the phenomenon by pointing out the frequency of purchases from my favorite web-retailer.
2. Coldplay decided to surprise me for my 40th birthday by playing at the Qwest in June! Yahoo! Do you suppose Chris Martin will be singing happy birthday to me?
3. My newest book club friends decided to read one of my suggestions – Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Yahoo! I hope they like it and don’t kick me out of the group.
4. Flowers are popping out of the ground. Yahoo! I can’t even kill them yet.
5. It’s Sunday afternoon and I haven’t had a headache since early yesterday morning. Yahoo. Knock, knock, knock on wood.
6. Jim Zimmerman won a customer service award at the Chamber Banquet Friday night. Yahoo! Denise Reinig won last year – the Shelby County State Bank has a pretty good run going.
7. After taking a personality test, it turns out that all four of us Kramers are INTROVERTED! Who'da thought? Yahoo!
8. Mom, aka Rubi J has the most adorable new line of organic cotton T's. Yahoo! Watch for some upcoming deals...
8. Flash, my hamster, I mean Cole's hamster is still alive and seems to be growing into a big, fat guinea pig! Yahoo! He’s so cute. Wait speaking of Flash…

It was brought to my attention that Flash receives more blogging time than my very own father. So, here goes. Dad, you’re the best. You’re funny and look way younger than your 62 (?) years of age. I’m so proud of all the motorcycles you have rebuilt and hope someday I’ll be able to rebuild a 1934 JD Indian Panhead, just like you.

Yahoo!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Readers!

Last Tuesday I joined the "Lunch and Learn" series at our local library. Every month, one of the librarians leads a discussion on a certain book. After completing my gig with the vampires, I read THE READER by Bernhard Schlink so I could join in. Admittedly I was a little nervous before the session. What if I didn't contribute? What if my observations seemed trite?

My concerns were invalid. It was fun, relaxing and completely enjoyable. Truly, lovers of books are a special breed of people. Whether introverted or extroverted, whether a sci-fi or a romantic, whether a realist or a fantasist, readers can easily connect.

The key, I think? Being open to other perspectives AND a love of learning...about anything. There is something so completely engaging about discussing a book with another. This past week, I've had so many discussions about books with different people, (admittedly much about Edward and Bella) and the affect? Truly uplifting! (Of course, this weather may have something to do with it as well.)

Anyway, for all you readers out there (you know who you are!), think about coming to a "lunch and learn" at the library. It's the second Tuesday of every month. I can't wait to find out our next "assignment" and once again join my interesting group of new friends!

And if you're interested in meeting other readers or finding book suggestions, check out Shelfari .It's my favorite social networking site by far! (Although I have the fewest number of friends here...)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Some Quick Book Recommendations

I just read two amazing books... Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterland. Each received five stars on my Shelfari.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan -- a poetic tale that reminded me of the importance of female friendships. What intrigues me is that this theme is SO universal -- across ethnic groups, time periods, generations and social levels. Read it and be reminded to make time for your female companions. (Warning -- hopefully the lesbian connotations won't offend you.)

The Thirteenth Tale -- a bit eerie and definitely a mystery seeping with literary value. I became completely immersed on the issue of love between twins and sisters. As I've told many of you before, if my 61-year old mother told me she was having a baby, I'd be thrilled! I still remember the very moment, as a child, when mother told she miscarried. It still makes me sad in some ways. (Could I also have a sibling spirit who has been with me my entire life?) Anyway, while the novel was a bit haunting, it was completely fascinating.

Anyway, for you avid readers, these are just two suggestions. I have embarked on the Twilight series and am halfway through the first book. Alex has completed all four and loves them more than Harry Potter! I must admit, the book, so far, is compelling and quite entertaining. Thus, I sign off to continue to newest assignment on vampires.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Diamonds in the Woods

All was quiet, except the steady hum of the fan blowing the cool morning air through the window. Somehow, Erin’s bedspread had made its way back over her body in the night. Before she had drifted to sleep, the heat had made the sheet barely tolerable. But a sheet couldn’t be sacrificed, in case ghosts decided to feed off her bare skin. A silly thought in the morning. It was never silly before bedtime.

Saturday. Erin loved Saturdays best, even during summer break. Dad would be disassembling some motorcycle part in the garage. Mom would be stripping all the beds and making the house smell like spring, even with a cigarette burning in the ashtray. Erin would have no responsibility toward her younger brother today.
She snuck down the creaky stairwell, hoping to be the first one awake. But the smell of coffee and smoke hit her in the dining room. Her parents were already drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.

“Good morning, Sweetie. Did you sleep well?” Her mother asked, as she did every day.

“It was so hot last night. Can’t we please get an air conditioner for the upstairs? Please? Jo Jo’s family just got one.”

The comment was ignored and gas prices continued to be discussed. Erin sat at the table and poured cereal and milk in the bowl that had been laid out for her. She ate three bites before bouncing out of her chair to answer the ringing phone.

“Hello? Yeah! Did you call Tina yet? Five minutes.”

Erin ran back upstairs to dress in her Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirt and pink shorts. She brushed her teeth without flossing and ran to the door to put on her tennis shoes without socks.

“See ya, Mom. See ya Dad. Tina, Jo Jo and I will be at the railroad tracks. Don’t tell Benny, please.” Erin’s little brother had a way of showing up wherever she was.

“Be careful, Slick,” Erin’s Dad looked up before the screen door slammed shut.

Erin peddled her bike through the quiet town. Already the humidity was beginning to threaten her refreshed soul. As usual, she was the first one at their special hideout. Twenty yards past the railroad track marked the entrance of a wooded area on the edge of town. A large tree stump served as a table, and often the chairs as well.

As Erin waited for her two best friends, she listened to the insects and hoped she wouldn’t see any snakes. Unlike Tina, she monitored the ground closely for any slithering motion. Tina refused to look at the ground. Joanne didn’t search out, nor did she avoid seeing snakes. She didn’t like them, but they didn’t scare her either.

Something glittered on the dry, native grass near her feet. Erin reached down to pick up a thick piece of green glass from a soda bottle. Setting the glass on the tree stump, she bent down to look for more. Eventually, there were ten pieces of glass on the stump, ranging in sizes no bigger than two inches. Most were green, but a few pieces were brown or translucent.

Eventually Jo Jo and Tina joined her. All three girls wore their Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirts. Tina wore purple shorts that she insisted were pink. Joanne stuck to code with her pink shorts.

“What in the world?” asked Tina while studying the broken pieces of glass.

“Treasures,” answered Erin nonchalantly as she kept searching.

Joanne studied the pieces. “Looks like pop glass to me.”

“Now it does,” answered Erin.

Joanne began searching the ground with Erin.

“What are we doing today? Riding bikes?” Tina asked hopefully. She always wanted to ride bikes.

“Too hot!” Joanne answered.

“Then what?”

Joanne and Erin kept searching the ground, waiting for Tina to answer herself.

“We could…build a Barbie city? No, that’s getting boring. Play ball with the boys? No, Jimmie’s too mean. Have you finished writing your movie, Erin?”

“No. Besides, we need to convince the boys to be in it.” Erin was writing a play with the intention of having the town kids perform for their parents.

“How about… swimming?”

“After lunch,” Joanne answered decisively. “We’re busy now.”

Tina sighed. She was going to be forced to look at the ground. “Okay, but if I see a snake I’m going home.” Tina always threatened to go home. Joanne never wanted to go home.

“Perfect! I wondered where we were going to hide them.” Erin pulled a rusty tuna can out of the ground, then placed the can next to the bounty. “I think we have enough. Be right back.” Erin walked toward the railroad tracks and picked up three large pieces of river rock. Holding the rocks in her t-shirt, she ran back to camp. After giving each of her friends a rock, she began to crush the glass on the stump. Tina and Joanne looked at each other and smiled, then joined Erin in the task. Once the glass was reduced to small, but not inscrutable, sparkling jewels, they were placed in the tuna can.

“Jo Jo? What are you going to do with your riches?” asked Erin first. Erin always wished Jo Jo would talk more.

Joanna shrugged. Tina responded immediately.

“I know! I’m getting a really cool car. A red convertible. Then I’ll buy Mom and Dad a nice car. Something better than our green bomb.”

The girls laughed, since they had all been passengers in the loud, muffler-less Chevy Impala many times. None of the families had new cars, but the green bomb was the ugliest of them all.

“I’m going to buy shoes; high-heeled shoes of every color to match my sequined dresses. We should have fancy parties, don’t you think? But no one could smoke or drink! We’d only serve Tang with 7-Up.” Erin imagined a party like those she watched on The Young and the Restless – something much different than their parents’ parties of barbecue and beer.

Joanne smiled and kept crushing. Then she shrieked, dropped her rock and began to suck on her finger.

“Jo Jo! You cut yourself!”

Joanne closed her eyes tight, as she always did when she anticipated pain. The other two girls stopped working to pry out their friend’s injured finger. Tina delicately held the finger that continued to seep blood.

“It’s not bad.” Joanne felt embarrassed of the tiny cut.

“We should go back and get a band-aid,” directed Tina.

“No,” Joanne responded emphatically. “I’ll get in trouble.”

“We all will,” Erin added. But they all knew that Joanne would get in the worst trouble if her Dad found out.

Joanne wrapped her finger around her t-shirt and looked at her friends. “You know what I think we should do with our treasure? Forget the dresses and cars. Let’s see the world! Erin, Tina and Jo Jo will snorkel off the Yucatan Peninsula, shop on 5th Avenue in New York City, ski in Steamboat, climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Parthenon in Greece, go on a safari in Africa…”

Tina and Erin had often heard Joanne talk about places they knew nothing about. Her mother had been a flight attendant before moving back home to marry her high school sweetheart.

Erin interrupted Joanne. “Hey! Let’s have lunch at Jo Jo’s! Your mom can tell us about places we should visit!”

Joanne became serious. “Can’t. Mom’s working today.”

Thoughts of the world were quickly replaced once the girls realized their stomachs were grumbling. The sun had crept into their shaded meeting spot and the shouting of boys playing on the baseball field could easily be heard throughout the small town.

Neither Erin or Tina felt like going back to their own houses for lunch. So after a few minutes of waiting for a solution to appear, Joanne suggested, “We could go to Granny’s.”

“Tang with 7-Up.” Tina added.

“Let’s go,” directed Erin. “Ride your bikes fast by the ball field. Maybe the boys won’t throw rocks at us.”

“Wait. What about the diamonds?” asked Joanna.

“I know.” Tina found a soft spot in the earth and started digging a hole with her rock. Once the hole was big enough, Joanna placed the tuna can in the hole. Erin covered the treasure with the loose dirt. The three friends smiled at their accomplishment, then jumped on their bicycles to race toward Jo Jo’s grandmother’s house. They easily made it past the ball field as the boys were in the middle of a play.

As they sped through the pebbly main street of town, a muffled sound of a thunderous engine settled in the air. The girls made a sharp turn at the t-section to hear the revving of the engine getting louder.

“Car!” Erin yelled to her friends who performed the drill of slowing down before scattering to the soft edge of the road. Generally, all kids came to a complete stop to watch a car drive through town. Today was no exception.

Initially the girls were blinded by a deceiving silver flash, created by the sun’s reflection. Then a bright yellow sports car broke through the aura.

“Wow! Look at that car,” Tina exclaimed. “It’s gotta be a Camaro.”

Trucks, station wagons and sedans were common place in the town that housed blue-collar families working as machinists, secretaries or waitresses. Sports cars were rare.

The girls watched the car draw closer and eventually come to a stop.

“Dad?” Joanne squinted her eyes in disbelief as the driver rolled down his window. “Who’s car is that?”

The girls hopped off their bikes to take a closer look.

“I was right! It is a Camaro. Is it brand new?” Tina felt the smooth paint job.

Joanne’s father attempted to hold back a smile. “Oh, no. It’s two years old. 1978. Think your mom will like it, Jo Jo?”

“Dad? Are you kidding? Are we getting it?”

All three girls stood back with eyes wide open.

“No, Honey. We got it. I bought it today.”

Joanne looked at her friends in wonder. Erin smiled incredulously. Tina’s smirk reflected her apparent jealousy. Joanne ducked her head in the window to get a closer view of the interior.

“Can we have a ride, Dad?”

“Not now, Hon. Later. I’ll take you, Tina and Erin out for a spin.”

The three girls watched the rumbling Camaro drive away.

“I wonder how you and your brothers are all gonna fit in that.” Tina noted.

“I think it’s very cool,” Erin told her friend.

“I hope Mom likes it,” Joanne said with trepidation. “Wonder what Grandma will think.”

The girls made their way to Granny Annie’s, who obviously predicted guests for lunch with lunch meat, bread and potato chips already set out. As the girls sat down to devour their sandwiches, Granny Annie mixed the Tang and 7-Up.

“Guess what, Granny?” Joanne talked with her mouth full. “Dad just came home with a brand-new, well not quite brand-new, Camaro!”

Granny stopped pouring the 7-Up and looked out the window.

“Test-driving? Just dreamin, I suppose. Your Dad’s a dreamer.”

“No. He bought it. He told us.”

The girls kept talking and laughing, not noticing the subtle change in Granny’s attitude. Granny set the drinks on the table, kissed Joanne on the head and said, “There’s ice cream in the freezer. Help yourselves when you’re done. I’m going out to the garage to talk to Grandpa, okay?”

“Bye, Granny. Thanks for lunch.”

Granny Annie left in a hurry to tell her husband about their financially-strapped son’s recent purchase. Despite the anxiety felt by Granny, excitement was the only emotion ruling over the three girls. Even Tina, who felt a bit jealous, was encouraged. If Jo Jo’s family could afford a Camaro, certainly her family could too.

“Should we go back to the hideout? Or should we go swimming?” Erin asked.

“I’m kinda thinking that those diamonds are lucky. Maybe we should go back to the hideout.” Tina decided that swimming now seemed boring.

Joanne nodded and lifted her cup of Tang and 7-Up. “A toast – to the diamonds in the woods.”

“The magical diamonds in the woods,” Erin corrected.

“No, the magical, mystical, friendship diamonds in the woods.” Tina finalized the toast.

The three girls raised their drinks to each other, took big gulps, and slammed their plastic cups on the table. Now they had orange mustaches to match their Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirts.

And they each had the twinkle of hope in their bright, young eyes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Newest Release

My second novel, Rubigunda, is finally complete! If any of you are interested in the issues of motherhood, most particularly the fear and fascination of raising children, you will enjoy this novel. The theme is explored in a tale of two sisters dealing with various adversities in their life. Jade, in particular, is resentful about having a mentally-handicapped mother while trying to piece her life back together after a near-fatal accident. Ria, on the other hand, continues to reach out to her mother, if only to catch glimpes of the woman she remembers before a tragic incident that changed their lives.

How would your life change if something you believed turned out to be false? How much control do we have over our own fate? Read Rubigunda, then ponder these questions. I hope you enjoy.