Most of the characters in The Strongman and the Mermaid wear utilitarian clothing most of the time. But without giving away too much … there are times when women in the book have the opportunity to wear something special. Though this isn’t the dress in the book–its shiny, fabulous, body skimming shape could star in one role in the novel. Be sure to pick up The Strongman and the Mermaid to see how a gorgeous, unusual dress plays a part in the plot!
This gorgeous painting by Gigi Mills “Pink Moon,” inspired a couple threads in the novel The Strongman and the Mermaid. Gigi’s work often includes dark nights and water that reminds me of Pittsburgh and specifically Donora. I don’t get the idea that the artist knows about these places (to the degree she’d paint a night sky of one of them), but to me she captures something that always makes me think of whatever Donora novel I’m working on. In the early to mid 20th century, the mills that lined much of Donora’s shoreline emitted chemicals that played with light and often made for stunning night skies.
Visitors to the Pittsburgh/Donora area when steel was king saw the blast furnaces light the night, the unique and powerful spewing of fire and heat. Seeing the blast stopped first-timers in their tracks. A softer coloring of the sky happened less regularly but could be just as awe-inspiring. Those who lived in these towns up and down the three rivers would see the result of the particles that hung in the air, bending light, painting the atmosphere in colors that occasionally outdid the oppressive smoke and smog. Be sure to pick up your copy of THE STRONGMAN AND THE MERMAID to see how the pink moon figures into the life and times of Lukasz and Mary Musial. https://smile.amazon.com/
In the #strongmanandthemermaid I use Polish and Slavic traditions to give shape to both plot and character development. I do this for two reasons–one is because there are so many lovely, rich events to take advantage of. Need to bring two characters together in order to have them fall in love? How about Shrove Tuesday?
Need to show the inner workings of an established family unit and how their decisions impact newcomers? Invite them to Shrove Tuesday! Shrove Tuesday (also Shrove Thursday THROUGH Tuesday), Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, and Pancake Day are all differently named traditions that mark the beginning of Lent–a time for quiet reflection and plain eating.
The second reason I am using traditions in my books is because when families moved to America from foreign lands they often flocked to areas of the country and cities where there were others from their homeland.
These clusters of Poles and Slavs, Italians and more were in search of the American Dream but they held tight to the rituals and beliefs that created an immediate sense of belonging in a new place.
I can’t imagine Strongman without these traditions as not only did they lend drama and weight to the book, they give it the authenticity that readers are looking for when they pick up historical fiction. Hope you’re having a wonderful day celebrating in whatever way you like! Fill us in on your traditions!
The good old Farmers’ Almanac https://www.farmersalmanac.com/the-legends-and-lore-of-valentines-day-726 has done a wonderful job of illustrating the legends and lore associated with Valentine’s Day. The Almanac even includes a quiz for people super in love with this special day for sweethearts.
According to Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Reviving Victorian Family Celebrations of Comfort & Joy (S.B. Breathnach), Valentine cards “…were among the few tokens that could freely be exchanged between men and women, and much was read between the lines, or in this instance, the hearts and flowers.” Breathnach goes on to discuss the way the degree of elaborate decorations on the cards illustrated the depths of a person’s love for the recipient. The more stuff on a card, the more promising the love.
Things have changed since the coy, secretive Victorian days… Now, overt acts illustrating attraction and desire (special underwear, racy text messages, mutual… well, you get it…) are more likely displayed or sent than a card with hidden messaging.
There’s nothing like the blush of new love. The excitement it brings is perfect for this red-hot holiday. Dr. Seuss said “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” That sums up new love perfectly, when as long as a pair is together, nothing else matters. Oh, those days. Can’t you just call up the feeling if you shut your eyes and imagine… Or maybe you’re in the throes of new love now. Oh, those days.
The length of time this exciting stage lasts is different for everyone, but it’s possible for couples to continue to recognize the truth in that statement even as time marches on, sagging our skin, bloating our schedules, and challenging everything that makes early love wonderful. Continuing to see that reality with lover A (or husband 2 and wife 3) is better than some dream, takes a little more consideration after years of being together. Perhaps each person has to play out in his or her mind what it would be like to live without the other. Time together requires many couples to really imagine it, to envision never sharing life’s developments, good and bad, small and large ever again, in order to remind themselves, that though love is different decades later, it’s even richer. Or not…
Let’s face it, many people need the thrill of never-ending newness and discovery. They aren’t alive if their heart isn’t thumping, spurred by thoughts of the next time they’ll see the current, budding love of their life. If that’s you, then perhaps serial monogamy is your ticket. Everyone is different so it’s best to know thyself and tread through love accordingly.
Here’s one take on ripened relationships: Marcel Proust on love:“When you come to live with a woman, you will soon cease to see anything of what made you love; though it is true that the two sundered elements can be reunited by jealousy.” Good old jealousy to the rescue. It does fire things up, doesn’t it?
This is my favorite… Julian Barnes: “Some of the freckles I once loved are now closer to liver spots. But it’s still the eyes we look at, isn’t it? That’s where we found the other person, and find them still.” Oh, the eyes… the way someone looks at his love… so many stories held in just one gaze, in just that way you’ve come to feel known and loved.
And then there’s Katherine Lee Bates: “Old love is gold love, old love, the best.”
No matter which stage you fall into or how you view it, if you’re with someone, wish them a happy Valentine’s Day in just the way that would be meaningful to him or her. Is that a lavishly decorated card, ala secret Victorian messaging? Or maybe it’s the seemingly mundane act of doing the dishes or putting the kids to bed for your wife or husband. Or maybe the two of you require full blown, crazy romance? Any way it works for a couple is the way to go on this long-lived, much loved by some and hated by others, holiday.
Sticking with a new year’s resolution is easier said than done! This year I’m trying to write faster and better and make more home-cooked meals.
For those of you who are trying to read more, here are some tips;
Always keep a book with you,
Don’t read a bunch of things at one time (or if your mind runs on several tracks, keep different books in the car, in the bedroom, in the family room)
Don’t force yourself to read something you don’t like,
Read before bed,
Find like-minded readers to discuss plot, characters and endings of stories,
Keep track of your progress!
If your in need of some light stories to get you started, try checking out my romance, historical and women’s fiction novels on amazon! There’s a large selection of stories to get you started on making this the best reading year yet!!
“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar…” (A Christmas Memory, Capote).
Most Christmas stories are light and pretty, strung with delicate or bold, shiny words that lend shape to holiday tropes, well-worn and loved, played out with only a change in character jobs, hair color, and cityscape. These stories are wonderful in a million different ways, (see my Hallmark Channel addiction) but to balance all the sugar, there’s nothing like a savory Capote Christmas tale.
These stories are lit with gentle candlelight, the fear that Christmas might not turn out as planned, and the plot delivers a Christmas wish only in part, leaving the reader with a crush of delight, sadness, and yearning, a wish there was just a little bit more to the three short stories in the collection called A Christmas Memory. Grown from Capote’s childhood, these tales take root in our minds and spread to our hearts reminding us of what really matters at the holidays. Hint—it’s never that an entire town is saved from bankruptcy by a lucky character’s last minute inheritance. It’s the simple wish delivered in the form of handmade ornaments, kites, and heart-made fruitcakes mailed to friends all over the world, to some they never even met.
“A trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candy-like light bulbs. Excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn’t far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze “like a Baptist window,” droop with weighty snows of ornament. But we can’t afford the made-in-Japan splendors at the five-and-dime. So we do what we’ve always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper…” (A Christmas Memory, Capote).
When I think of childhood Christmases mine were full of 70’s and 80’s splendor—a time for excess that was never part of everyday life. My parents made sure each year was everything we could have imagined. As I grew up I watched soap operas with both my grandmas. I remember the glistening, shimmering holiday celebrations on Young and the Restless in particular. Throughout December every blessed character wore sweaters of woven gold and silver, their lips moistened with glosses that never dulled, their hair swept into intricate holiday dos. Oh, I couldn’t imagine anything more decadent than one day living through the holidays like that, my high heels clicking and clacking over marble floors, me wrapped in tinseled clothing, dripping in jewels, my eyes brightened by the white lights that decorated the show sets top to bottom.
Yet, here I sit as an adult who could drape every household surface and myself in head-to-toe cheap diamond-like bobbles and what do I find? The holiday stories I love most are set in spare, dusty kitchens where what the characters string together ornaments made of paper and things dug from their backyard, harvested from trees, or made by secondary characters of ill-repute. These Capote stories are edged with sadness from loss and not enough instead of highlighted in soap opera gold and way too much. Told by a sad southern boy who lit up New York with dry wit, wry smile, and pointed writing, I hear both voices in the stories. And each one leaves me wishing Capote had written more… just one more tale about a boy and the little bit extra he wished for each year but never quite got. “This is our last Christmas together. Life separates us…” (A Christmas Memory).
No! I think each time I get to that part, as if I hadn’t read it before. It can’t end like this!
So much is told in the last two pages and many people who receive this book never pick it up again after all of that rustic feeling, dulled tinsel décor and not quite happy ending. But for me, I look forward to it. I set it where I can see it throughout the year and anticipate reading it sometime after Thanksgiving. The spare story, detailed with lovely, handmade wishes and unfulfilled dreams is woven with enough love and hope that I read it again, and again and again, thinking maybe this time it will end the way I want it to. Even though, of course it ends just as it should.
So, if you know someone who likes a little dark mixed into their holiday sparkle, gift her this book. It’s beautiful in its own shabby way, like nothing else you’ll read this season.
December 13th is St. Lucia’s Day. Many Swedish-Americans celebrate this traditional Scandinavian holiday, remembering the legend…
There once was famine in Sweden and St. Lucia was said to have arrived in homes, her head aglow, bearing food for all. To commemorate this event girls don crowns lit with candles, boys wear pointy hats with stars, and they take breakfast to their parents. “…the eldest daughter—as St. Lucia—leads her brothers and sisters in a procession into their parents’ darkened bedroom to deliver a surprise breakfast of such Scandinavian specialties as saffranbrod (sweet saffron buns), pepparkakor (gingersnaps), and cups of hot, steaming coffee,” (Sarah Ban Breathnach, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions).
Writing The Strongman and The Mermaid has given me the opportunity to explore wonderful Polish and Slavic holiday traditions. Many are similar, rooted in common ground, with subtle tweaks and developments setting them apart. I’m sure there were Swedes in Donora in 1910, but the bulk of the people who flooded the valley to work the mills and mines were Eastern European and Italian. When the zinc mill was built, it lured the best zinc workers in the world to Donora—the Spanish. There was also a significant Jewish population in Donora, bringing with them the light and wonder of Hanukkah. The Scots and Irish filled management positions and though they carried traditions with them, much of what that generation experienced was the melding of old country with what was to become Americanized versions of old ways. The Scots and Irish had mastered the art of being American—they were literate in English, adopted American fashions, and family traditions were evolving—They’d already become what many were aiming to be. These traditions and celebrations gave me the chance to enrich the story and introduce drama and unique plot twists. It was one of the most fun parts of writing this book.
The magic of the holiday season was lived fully in Donora and in every town in our growing America… what traditions does your family continue from holidays past?
This map has been a good companion since 2008 when I was writing After the Fog and now as I write the next 4 Donora Stories! Here’s a look at some of the characters and places that figure into the plot. I’m looking forward to sharing this with you in Fall 2018!
A Novella—Book 1—The Bridal Shop Series
New York City dress designer to the stars, Amelia Pettipiece, cleared a unique path to fashion-glory. With her career soaring, grand penthouse apartment on Central Park, and handsome boyfriend who supports her ambitions, Amelia could not have dreamed of a better life when she left Pittsburgh after college.
But when Amelia’s signature design, the famous FiFi Hererra’s, wedding dress, disintegrates off the bride’s body as she walks down the aisle, every thread of Amelia’s charmed life unravels.
Amelia’s Instaglam life turns into an Instaslam. She runs back home to her gram’s place in Eagle Bend, Pennsylvania to hide until she can figure out what happened to the dress and how to weave her tattered life back together.
Though Amelia finds comfort in staying with Gram, she begins to see that she’s neglected the woman who raised her. Pettipiece Boutique is falling apart and a slew of hunky hangers-on are showing interest in the riverfront property and in Amelia.
Just when Amelia is at her lowest, a customer with a unique problem arrives at the boutique, distracting Amelia from her crumbled life. Can she and Gram create the dress of a lifetime for a desperate bride? Can Amelia trust herself to send another bride down the aisle after the FiFi debacle? Does any of it really matter if Amelia’s already lost it all?
I’m doing a workshop on self-publishing this weekend at the 2017 Pennwriters Annual Conference. So many questions, so much to talk about, and so little time! Did you know that one of the most important things for writers to do is to start the next book. Don’t lose all the momentum you’ve gained with the first book by never having a second or a third or a fourth…There are tons of resources out there to help writers who want to start down that path. Stop in and see what I mean. May 20, 2017 at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott.