From Heather Graham.
From Heather Graham.
Ho, ho, ho! Christmas is on the way.
Two years ago I attended Founder's Day with my friend, author Mary Stella, who’s also head of marketing and media for Dolphin Research Center, down on Grassy Key, in the Marathon, the Florida Keys. I love the place. I love the affection they have for their animals, I love the research they do--and I love the way they do their research. . . and so, I wound up bidding on (and winning) the "Dream Date," not really sure what a "dream date" might be.
Well, life has a tendency to intrude on . . . life. The DRC pinned me down to a date, and so I put aside work and headed off to the Keys with friend (and author) Kathy Pickering.
I am not a Pisces for nothing--I dive, I swim, I love boats, reefs, sea creatures, and, most of all, sea mammals. I love the feeling I get when we start on the eighteen mile "stretch" that crosses Lake Surprise (seriously, I don't know why they were surprised there was lake) and the signs that warn you of Gator Crossings and the feel of breeze and the beauty of the water, just as you drive down. I love reaching Key Largo, which is built up, has lots of boating and diving opportunities and is the opiate of choice for many Floridians--you can be there from central Miami-Dade in an hour. I love the more lonely middle Keys, and the total insanity and history of Key West.
I may never love anything as much as the Dolphin Research Center.
I'd never imagined how wonderful our day would be. On a standard dolphin swim, you learn about dolphins and you share your experience with other people--most swims accommodate six. You get your chance to touch, and dance with or perhaps hug or kiss a dolphin, 30 to 45 minutes in the water.
But a whole day . . .
We worked first with Linda Erb, VP of Animal Care and Training. We learned the dolphins are given water, because the fish they’re fed don't contain the amount of water found in live fish. (They do catch fish themselves, but their diet comes mostly from their trainers.) We saw how willing they were to accept their water tubes, and also how they seemed to appreciate the care they received for cuts they received from just swimming around or rough-housing with each other.
We started with the babies. We learned how the mothers watch over their young ones, swimming by to check us out. At any time, the dolphins are free to swim away from their trainers. Yes, they work for fish -- but for attention and affection from their trainers as well. Linda has been there 27 years, and they greet her as warmly as my pups greet me when I come into the house. With Linda giving us instructions, we learned the signals the "babies," Flagler and Gambit, are learning at the same time.
Next, we worked with slightly older "children," Delta and Luna, who are almost two. Kathy and I got to be the first non-real trainers the "children" have ever taken on dorsal tows, and there were false starts, but we all learned together, and it was amazing.
We exited the water, and I was sad, thinking my time was over . . .
But, then--there's more!
Next we worked with the "boys," Kibby and Tanner. I'm particularly fond of Tanner. I was there right after he was born several years ago. Tanner pretends that he remembers me, and we work on signals, and feed them fish and ice (they love ice!) and I'm thinking once again, this has been wonderful . . .
But it's only beginning. Mandy Rodriguez, co-founder and COO, is there to work with us, too. The dolphins are his children; long ago, the place had been Flipper's school; several of the dolphins today are movie stars as well. Mandy wanted to learn about dolphins and teach the world. He didn't want circus tricks; he wanted a real research center, where, yes, they entertain guests, but so much more. There’s an autistic boy there on our dream date day, as the dolphins work with those who need their therapeutic presence. Soldiers, back from trauma, swim with the dolphins, along with other special needs individuals. They've published their findings, and done some of the first "recognition" research, and proven numerous theories regarding the remarkable intelligence of the animals.
This is a most unusual place; many of the trainers stay forever. It's a family, dolphins included. They are never sold; Mandy would not split up old friends. Dolphins come and dolphins stay. I asked Mandy about hurricanes. When storms come, all the gates are open. The dolphins are free to protect themselves at sea. Every single dolphin has always returned to the center when the danger has passed.
Santini is an extraordinary dolphin. She enjoys people as much as people enjoy her. As a group, Kathy, Mandy, Linda, and I went in with Santini. A dream date? I definitely fell in love. Santini was happy to play, do dorsal tows, backward tows, foot-push tows. She loved to hang around for kisses, and she was even fond of hugs. She's ticklish, and loved to be scratched right on the upper chest. When Kathy and I made mistakes, Santini was training us how to train.
Dolphin Research Center takes in dolphins and other creatures that can no longer be kept at their original homes, or have been so injured that they can’t return to the wild. Louis breaks my heart, rescued from New Orleans, a victim of the oil spill. Only the diligent care and patience of those who helped in the crisis saved Louis's life. If you've seen what the spill did to birds, fish, and sea mammals, you can well imagine.
Ajax . . . Ajax will never really be whole. He was bitten several times by a bull shark. Students at a Florida University research center studied his injuries along with the jaws and bite precision of many sharks to make that determination. He was young when he was rescued, and they believe his mother was killed in her attempts to save him--a mother dolphin is an excellent mom.
Another creature that needed a bit of saving? Karen, the blind sea lion. I'm in awe as I watch the way Mandy’s daughter Kelly works with Karen. Her voice is soft and filled with humor and affection. Karen came from a facility where she had outgrown her usefulness, but she had been trained for many tricks. Re-training her so that she doesn't perform at the slightest touch has kept Kelly busy. Karen has received surgery on their eyes, and they believe they can restore some of her sight. She is fun--and obviously loves Karen so much that she's even happy to have Kathy and me.
If you're ever in the Florida Keys, come by. You don't have to swim; you can watch, you can learn. There are beautiful birds here, friendly neighborhood cats, a "splash" zone for children. It's totally nonprofit--you can also find the little square memorials or honorary plaques in the trail that I have there for my mom, dad, stepfather, brother-in-law, and sister.
Most of all, you'll find an experience with dolphins that's amazingly human.
I want to do it all again, and again, and again . . . .
Well, you know all good things come to an end, but you hold on. And time still goes by.
As in children growing up.
I know you have to let go. I've done that. No, really. Okay, sorta, maybe, just a little. I want them to have the best life possible. I just wish it could be with them all somehow kids forever and with me. Impossible, I know.
Summer comes, and it's great, because I know I'll get to see all of them. A number of the conventions are in the New York or New England area, so I'll get to see Derek, one of my 3 sons. And Chynna, my youngest daughter, is home from college.
So the summer started off with a bang. Convention city. And it always ends with a convention, my own benefit, "Writers for New Orleans."
But after that, bringing Chynna back to school.
In New Orleans, we're so busy that we don't know what we're doing. We try very hard to provide great panels and great night life, so there are a million things to set up. These are things I'd be totally incapable of doing alone, so, thankfully, amazing Louisiana friend Connie Perry does all that. But there are the little things. Like discovering that although I'd spent a week writing the bios for “Bourbon Street Bash, Know Your Civil War Characters,” a theme party thrown by Kathy Love, Erin McCarthy, and F. Paul Wilson, we hadn't seen until Kathy is trying on her costume that Julia Dent Grant had suddenly turned into Judy Dent Grant on the cover.
We redid the booklets, finding a few more mistakes along the way. (And still missed the fact that someone died in 1995 instead of 1885!) Ah, well.
But there was also Helen Rosburg's “Angelique” champagne reception to get ready--although weather kept Helen herself from flying in. Then, setting up our amazing band--and they were amazing. F. Paul Wilson again, my friend--and vocal coach for many an American Idol finalist!--Mary Walkley, Chris Croteau, a professional who stumbled in through friend and poet Corinne De Winter, Greg Varecchio, husband of writer Jennifer Hughes, and Bobby Rosello--lifelong friend dragged along. Wow. What they managed in two days--never having worked all together before--was amazing. And there were the rehearsals with the cast, of course, for "Civil War Zombies for Peace" (including our Harley, another true professional who somehow allows herself to indulge in twenty-four hour low-budge dinner theater, and Alex Sokoloff, and Vegas entertainers Lance Taubold and Rich Devin and a lot of my family. And Connie's family. We don't call it interactive for nothing.)
The panels, thankfully, are managed by other friends and include great authors and editors. It was a challenge this year because Irene was rolling around out there. It never got bad, but it was pretty wet. Luckily, attendees were undaunted.
The last night was a trip to the Haunted Mortuary. It wasn't open at the time, but they arranged a "behind the scenes" tour for us. No actors yet to jump out at people, but . . . I'm not sure I'd manage it if there had been. The place was used as a mortuary for many years, and the original embalming room remains,and a crematorium--it was a "full service" mortuary. If you're in New Orleans any time around Halloween (or Christmas! Turns into a great place for little ones!) you must go--it's truly scary and amazing.
The point is that the whole thing is crazy and busy, and there isn't time to get weepy.
Then . . . .
Then it is time to get weepy. It comes to an end, and Dennis and I take off in a plane to take Chynna back to California. My son Derek and daughter-in-law have already flown back to Connecticut, and the rest of the family is headed to Miami.
It doesn't mean that I don't get to cry when they fly away.
Where were you on September 11th? What do you remember?
I was awakened earlier than usual to be told that a close relative was in the hospital with a broken hip, so when I flipped on NPR to catch the morning headlines and heard that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center, I immediately turned on the television and was shocked to watch as that second plane went in. The first could have been a weird accident; the second was clearly deliberate, but who? why? The horror continued as I flashed on the few times I'd taken an elevator up to one of the towers' high floors. How long it took even on the express. To think of trying to walk down through smoke and fire . . .? Ghastly. In addition to all the people who died that day, there were even more deaths to come. Of the two close friends who lived in lower Manhattan, I'm convinced that breathing those contaminants for months caused the death of one and hastened the end of the other even though neither was in the building itself.
I was living on a mountaintop in rural Virgina--alone because my husband had already moved back to Pennsylvania for a job. Between writing the last chapter of my first mystery, I was packing boxes that morning and watching the Today show. With packing tape in my hand, I heard Katie Couric's incredulous voice saying, "We don't want to alarm anyone, but it looks as if a small plane may have crashed into the World Trade Center." And while I watched, the second plane hit. I thought, "My daughter is in New York," and you know that expression "my blood ran cold?" Well, that's how I felt---as if a terrible block of ice hit my chest and spread through my veins all the way to my fingertips.
An instant later, the phone rang, and the voice of my great friend (and backblogger!) cried, "Are you seeing this?" It was just like our mothers telling us about Pearl Harbor. We couldn't believe it. The sky was so blue and perfect. For hours, I kept trying my daughter's phone, but of course it was out. Thank God for Ethernet. When she got back from class, we emailed, and she begged me to phone her boyfriend's mother in DC. Her boyfriend had been on a plane from New York that morning, but I couldn't make the call. I kept thinking he'd been in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. I couldn't call a mother whose son had died. But he was already on the subway in DC when the plane went down, and he reached my daughter by email within a few hours.
My mother called from Pennsylvania. Her voice shook. "An airliner flew over the golf course. It was so low, we thought we could reach up and touch it." That was minutes before it crashed. When I phoned my husband--already at his new banking job--he said in amazement that the guys he'd been doing business with the previous day weren't answering their phones. They worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. My sister, in Brooklyn, said her front steps were covered in burned bits of paper with the Cantor Fitzgerald letterhead.
That night, alone in the house on the mountain, I heard a tremendous roar of powerful engines down in the valley. It went on for hours, and the concussion rattled the windows of the house. I was afraid to go outside to listen by myself, so I took the dog, and Dolly and I stood on the lawn, listening in the dark. Dolly leaned against my leg. I remember how warm she felt, and comforting. Turns out, all the east coast railroad companies had sent their locomotives to hide in the old coal yard in the town below. To be safe from terrorists. Terrorists! What was a terrorist?
I remember how we all felt in the weeks that followed--joined in a common spirit. Makes the current Congress look so self-absorbed and petty. If nothing else, I'm glad we have so many stories of heroism and patriotism and unity from that terrible day.
I had been on a very challenging hiking trip in Provence, and made it home on September 11 at 3 am Colorado time. I awakened to the phone ringing, and it was my grandmother calling to be sure I was home. She said, "Oh, thank God you are not on a plane. I didn't know when you were coming in. They've bombed the Pentagon." I thought she was being alarmist, but turned on the television to see the towers smoking after the first plane hit. The calls continued all morning--my family calling to make sure I was actually home and not on one of those planes. I have a lot of friends in NYC, but my thoughts that morning were for the friend I'd gone hiking with. She was stranded in Paris, alone, because she'd taken a later flight than I did, and didn't get home for two weeks.
The story I think about the most is one from an editor I was working with at the time. She lived in the village and couldn't get to her apartment for quite some time. When she finally got back, she said the smell was awful in the neighborhood and she commented to her boyfriend that it smelled like rotten garbage all the time. He said gently, "Honey, that's not garbage."
From Hank Phillippi Ryan:
It was a beautiful, beautful day on the East Coast, as you remember, too, Nancy. And chillingly, as it turned out, that's one of the reasons the plot could work--because it was so clear that it allowed the terrorists to see the towers.
I was--crazily--at the hairdresser, getting a hair cut. That night was my station's preview party for the upcoming TV season, and we were all sprucing up. Someone came running in, saying something incomprehensible, and then the news came flooding in. I had wet hair.
I knew I had to get to work, GET TO WORK as soon as possible. As a reporter, this was...well, it was work. Separating the journalists from everyone else. I called Jonathan, yelling over the sound of the blowdryer. Yes, he knew. Are the kids okay, in Park Slope? Our step-son works in the city...yes they're okay. I don't know when I'll be home, I said. (And I will admit, what I really wanted to do was go home.)
I walked to work, maybe 4 blocks, in that beautiful day. The bars were all open on Congress Street, all the glass fronts wide open, all the televisions on. I remember, so clearly, deliberately walking slowly. Thinking, so clearly, so clearly, "this is the moment our lives are all changing. When I get to work, our lives will never be the same."
(Ridiculously: I'm the investigative reporter, you know? And my boss came racing into my office. "How did this happen?" he yelled. "You and Mary (my producer) have to find out how this happened!" As if we could do that. I think we stayed in the office for the next--three days? And every time we started to complain, we'd look at each other and say: "We're not dead. Not dead." And then go back to work.)
From Sarah Strohmeyer:
Yes, it was a beautiful September morning and I'd just sent the kids off to school and sat down to write. We'd recently redone our computer system and installed a New York Times news alert. So many ways to procrastinate! Oddly enough, the first message that popped up was from my childhood friend, Connie Jordan, whom I hadn't spoken to in, gosh, ten or more years.
Connie is a smart, beautiful woman, a Swarthmore/Harvard grad and Presbyterian minister whose husband survived a nasty bout of cancer early in their marriage. I've often thought of Connie as being deeply spiritual - though we occasionally butted heads over different interpretations of Christianity. Anyway, I'm still moved by the randomness - or not - of hearing from this woman of God just as my New York Times news ticker started firing bulletins about a plane crashing into the twin towers.
The bulletins were confusing. First it was a small plane. Then it was a jet. Wait, something was going on in D.C.? Was that another plane in New York? Or the same one? I remember thinking that it was probably a joker pilot. About a month before, a single-prop plane had flown precariously close to high rises in Manhattan and in flying from Manchester to New York, our little commuter flight often followed 5th Avenue. You could even see people working in their offices.
But this was different.
Finally, I wrote Connie this: "Something's going on."
Connie wrote back. "I know. But what?"
"It's bad," I wrote back, getting chills as the bulletins became more alarming. A missing plane in Pennsylvania. Reports of a small plane flying into the Pentagon. More planes missing.
"I have to pray," Connie said. And that was it. I've never heard from her since.
I called Charlie at work and he was just getting the news. I flipped on the TV and there was Peter Jennings, smoke swirling from the twin towers in another frame. I told Charlie to come home immediately, that the towers were on fire. I thought of all my friends in New York, of the husband of my daughter's godmother who worked at Merrill Lynch. Like Connie, I prayed.
And then the unthinkable. The first tower fell, just crumbled like a house of cards. Peter Jennings went dead silent as Charlie came through the door and I looked at him and said, "We'll never be the same."
All those people. Gone.
From Elaine Viets:
That’s what I remember most after 9-11. Don and I lived in a beach condo in Hollywood, Florida. After the attack, the airport was closed for weeks, silencing the constant drone of commercial flights.
Instead, the skies were patrolled by sinister black helicopters. Warships cruised offshore, some with the ominous bulge of nuclear weapons.
Three of the terrorist leaders moved to Florida in 2000, near our home. South Florida is an international community, and they blended in. They used our local library, where the computers are free to all. They made one of their last appearances at Shuckums Oyster Bar in Hollywood, where at least two "holy warriors" drank forbidden alcohol – screwdrivers and rum and Coke. You can make what you want of this: They ate chicken wings.
Twelve hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, the FBI flashed their photos around the bar. The Shuckums’ server remembered them – and their lousy tip.
From Heather Graham:
The very words will, for everyone old enough on the day, be horrible and poignant. And no matter how much time passes, we all know where we were and what we were doing on that date.
I went downstairs to get coffee and I turned on a little television I had on the kitchen counter. There was the first tower, with the plane going into it.
I immediately called my friend Lydia Netzer and said, Turn on your television, because I didn’t want to be watching alone. They showed it over and over. It seemed crazy and impossible. We began coming up with explanations for it, back and forth, two fiction writers constructing implausible scenarios, looking for a way it could have happened. We were like children telling each other fairy tales ---- pilots having strokes and electrical instruments going haywire, anything to keep ourselves from understanding.
The second plane came. We saw it happen.
Then we knew. There wasn’t any way to not know. This is on purpose, we said back and forth to each other, but only because there was no other explanation left. We had tried so hard to make it be Fate---God---Accident---Error, anything at all. Anything except a deliberate, human choice.
From Brunonia Barry:
I worked at the World Trade Center for several years in the mid-seventies, soon after it opened. I was in the accounting department of Toyoda America, Inc. on the fiftieth floor of the North Tower. It was one of my first jobs out of college, and I loved the whole experience. But most of all, I loved the WTC. It was like a small community. I was there when Phillippe Petit walked the tightrope between the towers.
Windows on the World had not yet opened, and, for a short while, we were allowed to take our lunches up there and enjoy the view from the top floor. A small group of us representing many different companies lunched there most days, until the construction crews put an end to our visits. After that, we all continued to meet for lunch at the restaurant on the 44th floor.
I was our company’s fire marshall, and used to lead the employees in monthly evacuation drills, things they sometimes participated in and sometimes refused to take seriously. Thankfully, my friends at Toyoda had relocated their company offices a few years before the towers came down, but there were others I knew there who remained, friends who were lost.
Ten years ago on September 11th, I was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. I remember the television and everyone huddled around staring. I remember hoping that I was hallucinating from the medication, and then realizing that it was not a dream. In the ten years that have passed, I have not visited the site. It’s still difficult for me to think about, as it is for many of us.
Volunteering: Causes, Passions and the Salem Lit Fest
By Brunonia Barry
I don’t know about you, but these days, I seem to be volunteering for more than ever before. This is something I’m happy to do, but I’m finding myself spread far too thin. As a novelist who only made her last deadline by forty-five minutes, I’m now hesitating to take on any new projects.
I am already involved in a variety of passionate causes, one of my favorites being The Women’s Lunch Place in Boston, a daytime shelter that provides refuge and services for Boston’s homeless and poor women and children.
Then there is teaching. I do some writing workshops, and visit local high school English classes to talk to students about writing and literature.
I have joined boards to preserve historic landmarks, committees that provide scholarships, fund raising efforts to end domestic violence. The list goes on.
But sometimes (alright many times, if I’m being honest here) I’m just exhausted. I can’t take on one more thing. There aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s a good thing I sleep a lot less than I used to, but, frankly, there aren’t enough hours in the night, either.
So it was a surprise even to me when I said yes to yet another project, one that has required more time from me than all the others combined. This year I agreed to co-chair the planning committee of the Salem Literary Festival.
“Are you insane?” was my husband’s question. “Probably,” I answered. If I had known what would be involved, I might not have continued. But the Salem Literary Festival is one of my all time passions, and I wasn’t about to let it die. And that’s just what would have happened, if it weren’t for a group of dedicated volunteers (one of whom turned out to be my husband).
When Salem’s independent bookstore, Cornerstone, closed last year, one of the less obvious casualties was the three-year-old Salem Literary Festival, which was started and anchored by the bookstore. It was a great festival for both readers and writers.
Salem is the ideal city for a lit fest. It’s small, walk-able, beautiful, and it has some of the best historic architecture in the country. Touted as the birthplace of the great American novel (a legacy left by Nathaniel Hawthorne, our native son), Salem has a rich and enduring literary tradition. Add to that Salem’s other American firsts: first millionaire, first candy store, first brick house, first elephant. (The elephant evidently had a drinking problem, but that’s a story for another day.) Salem’s full of quirky places and creative people, the perfect combination. We were determined to see the festival continue.
First we recruited more volunteers. The Spirit of ’76 bookstore in Marblehead offered to stand in for Cornerstone. We held committee meetings at my dining room table. We secured historic venues including The House of the Seven Gables, the Salem Athenaeum, the Phillips House. Even the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) made room for us.
We were a bit less lucky with hotel rooms. The Lit Fest runs from September 23-25, but we found ourselves blocked by Halloween visitors who seem to come to town earlier every year. There wasn’t a hotel room to be had. Well, actually, there was exactly one. We grabbed it.
When I tell you that our committee meetings have been stormy, I am being literal. Our second meeting was spent huddled around a television set in our kitchen watching the news. A tornado was ripping across Massachusetts. Our founder’s husband and daughter were stuck at home in their basement, waiting out the storm.
We wrote the festival brochure during hurricane Irene with a copywriter who lived near New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and kept losing power and a collaborator who had no electricity for three days. Somehow we managed. We picked up the printed brochures last Wednesday amid renewed rains and flooding.
Besides working on the brochure, my assignment was securing writers and creating events. Erin Morgenstern, writer of The Night Circus (written while she lived in Salem), and Lipstick’s own Joshilyn Jackson will be our keynote speakers. And speaking of The Lipstick Chronicles, we are hosting a panel on Sunday September 25th featuring Hank, Cornelia, Heather, Sarah, Joshilyn and me. Believe it or not, it will be the first time some of us have met.
All in all, we have over fifty authors and many great events. Check it out at https://www.salemlitfest.com/schedule.
If you’re anywhere near Salem the weekend of September 23rd, please come. We’d love to see you. And for any of you writers out there, we have an open mic session at Gulu Gulu café on Sunday at 4PM. We welcome your participation.
This is one volunteer job that will soon come to an end. I’m sure I will feel simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. And even though I swore I would never do it again, I will undoubtedly volunteer again next year. After a short break, we’re planning to have a meeting to discuss next year’s lineup. Knowing New England and our stormy history, I figure it will probably snow.
So what kind of things are you passionate about? What inspires you to volunteer?
Heather Graham: I'd like to introduce Ms. Cherry Adair as our guest at TLC today. Wait? You say she needs no introduction? That's quite possible. Cherry has received all kinds of awards and hit almost every list created for writers. And she does much, much more! Cherry isn't just friendly and kind (with a wickedly warm sense of humor, quick wit, and the ability to have you laughing in a flash) but she gives away "scholarships" and has "Pips" out there who win not just books in her giveaways, but wonderful opportunities. She has the same life were all living one--hectic, confusing, and torn constantly between or home situation and work--but she manages not only to produce, but encourage others to keep the upper lip, get out there and go forth, and be her "Pips!" And now, beware! The one thing Cherry isn't is shy! If you know Cherry, you'll already enjoy. If you don't know Cherry, you're in a for a treat. Come on now "Pips," pay attention!
Living in Seattle, I’m used to rain, drizzle, downpours, showers, cats-and-dogs, sprinkles, and everything in between. Normally we have the hot, glorious sunny days of Summer to off-set 8 months of gray. This year, one newscaster pithily claimed we’d had 87 minutes of Summer all year. Not true - we’ve had 3 days of summer. Three. Freaking. Days!
Most of the time I don’t really notice the weather. Despite living on a lake with a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, I write facing a wall. As it is, I’m easily distracted. (Especially when I’m writing the dreaded first draft.) To be clear, I’m sidetracked by a worm crawling on a leaf in my garden. Imagine how diverted I’d be by a snow capped mountain reflected in the sparkling lake right outside my door.
I know I’d be much more aware, and annoyed, by this incessant rain if I had to drive to work every day. The closest I get to a commute is to put on make-up, dress and do my hair before making the journey downstairs to my office, which is just at the foot of the stairs. and a convenient ten feet from the kitchen. (A perfect location J) Instead of a lake/mountain view, I look out over my front garden.
Like writing (that #@%^* first draft), I love to have gardened (and hate to weed). And like writing, once the first draft, and clearing of the bed is done, you can’t pull me away. The fact that there have barely been any notable sunny days has no impact on my flowers. Rain or the invariable lack of shine, my lavish and glorious garden flourishes.
Bulbs come up where I don’t remember planting them, flowers bloom where I was sure I hadn’t planted anything, weeds thrive everywhere, and every year shrubs and trees grow bigger.
I have to admit, I’m not terribly well rounded. I write 23/7, which means everything revolves around the book I’m currently writing, the book that’s coming out in five minutes, or planning activities around a book in the near future. It’s all about The Book. And having it be all about The Book means I have tunnel vision.
A garden is a metaphor for life. Rain or shine, good or bad, life goes on. My garden reminds me that to have a more balanced life, I need to tend to my family and friends. My garden reminds me that friendships will continue, even in rocky dry soil. But also that friendships wither if I forget or get too busy to tend them. My garden reminds me that with hard work (even digging in rock-hard, dry stony ground) something beautiful will grow. It reminds me that anything worth having is worth putting in a little elbow grease. It reminds me to be patient, and that while I look impatiently for that glorious orange dahlia in this bed, it might come up over there instead.
Gardening reminds me to be patient, to expect and welcome the unexpected. It reminds me that there are worms and gophers, slugs and bugs, but there are also colorful butterflies and shimmery hummingbirds.
So I go out into my garden every day, rain or shine. Summer or pretend-Summer. I pull a few weeds, I joyfully jettison a few slugs, and amid all the dirt and mud, slug guts and occasional buried dog bones, I am surrounded by colors plucked from the sunset, painted by nature. Cultivated by me. It’s satisfying, even on gray days, knowing that I worked my ass off to get it this pretty.
Like all things in life, we reap what we sow.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The three h's are Horrified --time is going by so quickly--but Happy to be here today. Isn't it amazing? The crickets are cricking, the dahlias are revealing their colors, the basil is going to seed (if you're not careful) and although I refuse to look carefully, I swear I saw a leaf turning. But if might just be blushing in embarrassment about how quickly the season is changing.
So today, we think of the fragrance of Bain De Soleil and coconut oil and remember the sound of the ice cream truck....but wait. There's still the rest of August to go! Hold on to summer...was it a good one?
Remember when it was June? What did you plan? Did you do it?
HANK: June. I know there was June. I know, because I, um, what did I do again?
HARLEY: I didn’t lose 10 pounds and I didn’t find True Love. I did, however, get my teeth cleaned.
HEATHER: I barely remember June. I know that I had a lot of plans that I didn't see through . . . there were a lot of conventions, and I spent a lot of time thinking that it was the last summer I'd get Chynna home from college, I wanted some quality time with her. The time has all slipped away, and I'm sad. I did get several great occasions with all five of my kids--and my nephew niece in law and the little ones. I'm grateful--even though I didn't get a lot done I intended to do!
HANK: Oh, wait! My dear darling agent sold my new book THE OTHER WOMAN! Hurray hurray hurray. BEST JUNE EVER. Or maybe that was May. Either way. It was at least two months of goodness.
HEATHER: I dimly remember it, yes, it came and went.
HANK: Oh, July I have down pat. I was working on a big big big project with a deadline of June 20, or something like that, so I worked ALL THE TIME, all the way through July 4th dinner party and the grandkids visit and several outings which I did NOT attend. I made the deadline, hurray, good for me. And the project--is now on hold. (I got paid. Fine. I'm sure it will all work out for the best.)
HARLEY:See July; replace root canal with new crown on Tooth #30.
HANK: Revisons, revisions. I love revisions. I do. I really do. I'm serious! I really do. The book is getting better and better. If I do say so myself...and I'm almost finished. Very excited. And our dahlias are exploding. Very nice August. And still underway, imagine that!
HEATHER: It's August now, and I'm in a panic, of course. Derek goes into his last year of nursing school, Chynna goes into her last year at CalArts, and I'm frantically trying to finish everything for our benefit workshop, writers for New Orleans. And of course everyone involved with me on the project is also panicking at the end of summer . . . .
What are you proud of?
HARLEY: I took my kids on a great New York City adventure. They turned out to be natural subway riders. I could not have been more proud.
HANK: Okay, if we're talkin' kids...my grandson Eli is adorable, brilliant, and at 8 years old, he told me the BEST idea for a YA book. Truly, it's so good I can't even reveal it to you . I have to call him,soon, to see how it thinks it should end.
What did you learn this summer?
HEATHER: That when you really see a problem, grab it at the onset!
HARLEY: I learned I’m a lot happier when I’m playing the piano and painting with acrylics on canvas (not at the same time) even though I’m not that great at either one.
HANK: I re-learned that no deadline is impossible. You just do what you can, and be done. (It happens all the time on Project Runway, right?)
Favorite food of the summer?
HANK: Chicken salad. I know it's weird, but I never liked chicken salad. Suddenly, I do. Yummy chicken, yumy mayonnaise, yummy celery, and grapes. Now I have a new mantra: "Know what would make this better? Chicken salad!"
HARLEY: Frosted circus animal cookies.
Favorite drink of the summer?
HANK: Palmyras: vodka, mint, lime juice, simpe syrup. Also! Those little bottles of diet Coke? You can freeze them, til they're slushy. Oh, delicious! Just be careful openign them, they splatter. And beware of forgetting you're put one in the freezer.
HARLEY: Lipton Green Ice Tea, Berry flavored.
Favorite outfit of the summer?
HARLEY: White Dockers shorts; Cole Haan patent leather flip flops.
HANK: I found this dress, I had purchased it last summer, and it wasnt right, but suddenly, shades of chicken salad, now it is. It's khaki, and wraps, and looks like a sleeveless trench coat. I've worn it about five million times this summer.
HEATHER: As always . . . black.
Favorite book/movie/tv show?
HEATHER: Shameless, great show, love it! Book--I'm reading a bio on Humphrey Bogart. Movie . . . I saw several that I liked a lot. My favorite . . . The Conspirator. Brilliantly told, historically excellent, Robin Wright just as I might have imagined the character to be.
HARLEY: Nancy P.’s The Scent of Rain & Lightning/Pirates of the Caribbean Whatever Number They’re Up To/Buffy reruns
HANK: Oh, we got hooked on The Killing. And Zen, which was just okay, except for the third one, which was great. Movie, let's see..oh, we finally saw the King's Speech. Yes, yes, we're SO behind. Happy that Project Runway is back! Books? I'm an Edgar judge. Nuf said.
What will you DEFINITELY do different next summer?
HEATHER: Ohhhhh . . . been trying to fix me for years. I will try not to pull out my back again. It really hurts! Stretching, yes, stretching.
HARLEY: Lose 10 pounds; find True Love.
What will you DEFINITELY do the same way next summer?
HEATHER: Try my hardest to see all the people I love!
HARLEY: Get my teeth cleaned.
HANK: Finish my next book! Now all I have to do,sigh, is start it.
How about you, Tarts? Any summer memories, or resolutions? Favorites you can point the rest of us to--while there's still time?
BREAKING NEWS: Hank says: I just had dinner with Carla Neggers (gazpacho, scallops with corn salsa, peach pavlova) She's such an amazing friend of the Tarts--and in honor of the publication of her newest novel of suspense SAINT'S GATE (which comes out tomorrow) she'll send a signed copy to one lucky commenter!
I’m recently back from a crazy business-family trip. It started out with Necon—Northeastern Writer’s Conference, in Bristol, Rhode Island, and ended in Salem, Mass.
First off, Necon is belovedly crazy. Where else can you enroll in the Fussball or Dart Olympics? Beyond the Saugie Roast and Author Roast and zany fun stuff, there are fantastic opportunities, like watching comic and book cover artists work (Matthew Dow Smith, now working on Dr. Who, created a likeness of me as a superhero!) If you’ve a mind to go, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s an added benefit—it’s just a twenty minute drive to the Lizzie Borden house. A group of us—Brent Chapman, Lisa Morton, Dennis Cummins, my Dennis and myself—met Corrine De Winter and four of my five offspring at Lizzie’s. Lee Ann, the charming owner, has restored the house to its 1890s appearance, down to a replica of the couch where Andrew Borden lay when he took his “twenty-one whacks.” In reality, a hatchet was the suspected murder weapon, and Andrew Borden received eleven whacks (one so violent it knocked his eyes from its socket) and Lizzie’s step-mother received eighteen or nineteen (hard to tell when inspecting a crushed skull).
The house is beautiful, and beautifully kept. An exceptional guide, Will, took us through, and a medium was called in. I’m not at all sure about the medium; a table rocks beneath your fingers (a little table!) and she’s convinced that Andrew was pedophile. Most of this was contrary to what the guide had told us. (He gave us facts, just facts; we had to plague him to give us his opinions)
It’s fun, and, unless you have true strength of heart, spooky. I don’t believe that Lizzie is haunting that house. She hated it. If she’s a ghost, she wouldn’t be haunting a place she loathed in life. But, hey, Mr. and Mrs. Borden could be hanging around. God knows, they fit the criteria for violent deaths.
We’re up late, of course. And it’s a strange house. The front staircase leads to the girls’ side, and the back staircase leads to Mr. and Mrs. Borden’s rooms. (And to the attic, where we stuck Brent, and my sons Derek and Shayne) While Dennis and I had the “murder” room again, my daughter Chynna wanted me with her and her sister Bryee—on the other side of the house. By 4 AM, I knew I wasn’t going to make it any longer and went up to bed--on the other side of the house.
The place was dark, with only Dennis Cummins still awake, in the front parlor, watching DVDs. I went down the back stairs, through the kitchen and murder parlor, and up the front stairs to the murder bedroom for my computer. Did Mr. Borden reach out and grab me? No. But my footsteps were moving pretty darned fast. Among the perfect Victorian décor, Lee Ann has a number of headless dressmaker dummies in period clothing—a few with actual Borden garments. There is nothing in that house that scares me like those mannequins! I ran by them—moving like a bat out of hell.
Then, on to Worcester, where we had a great time visiting family and playing candlepin bowling, heading off to Higgins Armory, and visiting O’Connor’s, a super Irish pub where they make the best shalalie sticks known to man .
Then, Salem. I have a book coming out on August 30th that brings the Krewe of Hunters to Salem when a boy is accused of having—you guessed it—axed his family to death. I’ve always loved Salem. There were a few new museums since I was there last, many seeking to explain the truth behind the witchcraft craze, a few dedicated to pure horror fun and fest, a terrific pirate museum, the House of the Seven Gables (by the way, the gables were gone for a while and then put back!) Ghost tours, witch tours, and vampire tours. What’s not to like? This year, my daughter got it into her head that we had to do the Segway tour, and so we did. Not without misgiving—I was sure I would end the day as road kill. But it turned out to be a lot of fun—and we had a cool, knowledgeable guide.
And now . . . a few of my old favorite shops have started adding steampunk pieces! Go figure—the wiccans of Salem getting into steampunk. (Population 40,000, and about 4,000 practicing wiccans.) Laurie Cabot—official witch of Salem since the seventies—has added pieces by her daughter to her wares, and she had me at the first hat. I bought it, of course, and some jewelry. At the Fool’s Mansion on Essex Street they’ve got some nice pieces too. Right when I’m heading into a series called Steampunk Annie. Hey, convenient, or what?
Anyway, I’ll be heading back again next year. I get to be a special guest at Necon, the family’s in the Worcester area, and I’ll always love Salem. (Years ago, did a Séance at the House of the Seven Gables for a book called The Séance. Okay, so the book took place in Florida! Have to admit, it was super cool doing a promo piece at the House of the Seven Gables. I don’t think that Nathaniel Hawthorne was hanging around—he hated his association with the “hanging” witch judge!)
September 23-25, I’ll head back p to see blog sisters—Brunonia has created a TLC panel and I’m delighted to be part of it. A few TLC bloggers are special guests, so it'll be wonderful.
Yeah, Salem! Go, Steampunk wiccans!
Okay, I can’t help it. It’s my day to blog—so it is a bit of an advertisement, but for a really good reason, I promise.
That’s one of the best and most alluring descriptions I’ve heard regarding the incredibly historic city, New Orleans, Louisiana.
I love it! Now, it’s a strange place, one of those places where people go and fall in love, or go—and decide not to go back. It’s a mixed bag of unbelievable architecture, Americana, history, debauchery, music, art, and so much more.
I was there one weekend years ago with my family, filming a trailer for a book about to come out
then called Ghost Walk. That same week, Katrina came in and ripped up South Florida—and continued across the Gulf to kill and destroy all along the coast, with flooding destroying homes and lives in the grand old city.
My dad brought me there when I was very young. (No, Dad and I did not go cruising down Bourbon Street!) I saw the old houses, the cemeteries—the “Cities of the Dead,” the cathedral, the art—and I heard the music. It began a lifelong relationship for me. After Katrina, I acquired another child when schools there shipped their students out. I have friends I cherish there, and in Houma and Lafayette, and family over in Baton Rouge.
So . . . after the storm, I’m talking with friends and they were bitter, of course—NOLA was failed by the city, the parish, the state, and the federal government. But they were ready to pick up the pieces, and to pick up the pieces, they needed to get back to work. So . . . thus was born Heather Graham’sWriters for New Orleans. www.writersforneworleans.com
The conference is at cost, and we started it out with . . . hm. Who uses New Orleans? Writers! So writers will want to keep the city going. Except that the con wasn’t going to be for any particular kind of writer, just writers. Then, hey, who cares if you write? Maybe you read. Okay, if you don’t read, you probably eat, so come to NOLA, and enjoy the parties we put on! Whatever, come!
Now we do some great panels, with great guest speakers. We have editor/agent appointments. Helen Rosburg of Medallion Press is putting on a champagne welcome party this year, and Kathy Love, Erin McCarthy, and F. Paul Wilson are doing an evening bash—guess your Civil War characters—to go along with the theme of our Saturday night dinner theater—Civil War Zombies for Peace.
Please come! Just check out the website (writersforneworleans.com,) contact Connie, and come spend some money in a city that is so unique, and so profoundly American. The grand—decaying and elegant—city survived the storm and the oil spill and now, the economy is taking its toll. So, if you’ve ever been fascinated by the cemeteries, the architecture, the music, the art—come!
Head out to the plantations! The trailer we did here for the Krewe of Hunter series was filmed out at the Myrtles, where our group had the whole house and the Peace River Ghost Trackers to film and explore.
There’s so much!