A Love Story for Valentine’s Day – “Juliet”

JULIET

(From the collection of short stories, Seven Tales of Love.)

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Howard Ashbury strolled along Columbus Avenue, enjoying the fine weather – autumn in New York – a welcome break from the gray of Seattle. Something about the pulse of the city, the charm of the Upper West Side, brought back his younger self, and he felt happy, hopeful. He stopped in front of a little café, and, though it was too early for dinner, he decided to go in. He would read the new script over a glass of wine.

As he entered, he took in the exposed brick walls, the long windows, the candles just being lit in the softening light. Then his heart gave a little lurch when he saw her sitting there – Anna Avilov, his old Juliet. Suddenly, the twenty years since the production of Romeo and Juliet in San Francisco vanished.

My God, he thought. She’s as beautiful as ever. There she sat, with a dreamy look in her eyes, pen poised in her hand as she searched for some word or phrase. She wore her hair loosely swept up, and the shimmering aquamarine blouse caught the color of her eyes. What was she searching for – some hidden world of beauty? What did she see?

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Howard felt the old chivalrous urge to help her.

But Anna had never needed anyone. He remembered how they were all in love with her, in love with the beauty and charm she possessed. Men and women alike took to her, as did the audience. They all wanted some of whatever it was she exuded – to possess it, to be in its presence, however briefly. He remembered how she had felt pulled down by that hungry need from everyone, and had shied away from the very attention the other actors sought.

Perhaps feeling his gaze, Anna looked over at him. Their eyes met, and her brow furrowed as she tried to place him.

Howard gave a small, wry smile. Have I changed so much? he wondered.

He walked over to her. “Hello, Juliet,” he said, hoping the name would bring back the memory of him. He waited a beat. “Don’t you remember your old stage manager?”

Anna’s eye widened as she gasped. “Howard!” She jumped up and hugged him. “I can’t believe it! Oh, how wonderful! Can you sit with me? I just can’t believe it!” In between each exclamation she searched his face, stepping back a bit to take in the changes.

He had forgotten how petite she was. She had to stand on her toes to kiss his cheek.

Howard pulled out the chair across from her, and waited for her to take her seat. He then sat down.

They ordered a bottle of wine. As Howard crossed his legs and turned the saltshaker around in his fingers, Anna clapped her hands in delight.

“Oh! You still wear red socks. You haven’t changed. Not a bit. Still so handsome and dapper!”

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Howard smiled, realizing that it was ridiculous for her words to mean so much to him. But his recent failed affair had left him wounded and unsure of himself.

They talked and laughed and caught up on the last twenty years. Howard told her that he was still working as a stage manager, the last twelve years in Seattle. He described some of the more memorable productions.

Anna filled him in on the rather haphazard path she had taken. When she moved to New York eighteen years ago, she had found work as an off-off-Broadway actress, filling in the gaps between shows with waitressing and temping. The years since had been marked by a variety of unrelated jobs, a bit of travel, and, ten years ago, the meeting of her husband.

Howard was disappointed to hear that she had given up acting after she married. But Anna said it was writing that she had always felt more at home with.

“Yes, I remember that. You were always writing during rehearsals. What was it you used to say? That you were trying to create the world you were forever in search of. Have you found it? Or have you created it?”

Anna laughed. “Neither, I’m afraid. It still eludes me.”

“And are you still interested in theater?”

“Yes, of course.” She glanced at her watch. “As a matter of fact, my husband has tickets for tonight. Dinner, and then Chekhov. He’s picking me up here. I’m so happy you’ll be able to meet him.”

She went on to say that she had written some one-act plays and was working on a screenplay. As he listened, he observed the old air of wistfulness about her.

After two hours of talking, Howard noticed that evening had crept closer to their window. The candles on the tables and the lights outside shone brighter now, against the dark. That artful thrill of early evening filled the air, and shone from the faces of the couples filling the tables next to them, and from people hurrying by outside – the thrill that the night might hold something wonderful.

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Howard knew that her husband would be there soon to take her to dinner, yet there was so much more he wanted to know. He gave a small ironic smile; she still had the power to stir up a hunger in her audience. He poured the last of the wine into their glasses and asked if she remembered William Chase.

“Of course, I do! Benvolio. Or was it Balthasar? You’d think I’d remember.” She looked above his head, scanning the stage of so long ago, squinting ever so slightly, as if the stage lights were still in her eyes.

Howard also wondered how she could forget. “Benvolio,” he said. “And so terribly in love with you.”

Anna nodded. “Benvolio. Of course.” She took a sip of wine. “Whatever became of him? Do you know?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I ran into him last year in Portland. He became a lawyer, of all things.”

“A lawyer?” Anna asked, surprised. “Good for him.”

Howard had always wondered if Anna was aware of the effect she had on people. He thought it unfair that beauty could so effortlessly cause pain to others. He recognized his buried resentment, mixed with admiration, for all the things she represented to him. He had never wanted to sweep her into his arms, or make love to her. Rather, he had wanted to be like her, to move through the world with such power and beauty and ease.

Howard would later blame the wine for making him press on as he did. His words came out almost accusingly. “William told me that he never really got over you.”

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Anna leaned slightly back, as if in defense. Her full lips shaped her words as she spoke.

“Well, there was never anything between us. I certainly never encouraged him. I guessed he had feelings for me, but you know how that is – how often that happens in an emotionally charged cast.”

Howard nodded and looked down. The image of the beautiful Roberto filled his mind: how their eyes had met across the stage, how their love had developed, those first perfect months. With bitterness, he remembered the torch he had carried for Roberto, long years after being rejected.

“You know,” said Howard, allowing some of his resentment to creep into his tone, “William always thought it was because of his height. He thought you never took him seriously.”

This was actually Howard’s belief, but he assumed this must be the case since William had been strikingly handsome. “That was one of the reasons he went into law, he said. More weight – or height, in his case.”

Howard waited for her answer. He wanted to know whether he had been correct all these years in attributing to Anna a certain small-mindedness; or whether he had ungenerously projected onto her the reasons for his own unrequited loves.

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Again, Anna squinted into the past. “Yes. I remember him saying something about that once. He invited me to dinner, but I just wasn’t interested. He asked if it was because of his height. I think I laughed out loud at such a ridiculous notion. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his whininess that made him unattractive. It was so off-putting. Do you remember? He complained about everything and everyone.”

Anna swirled the wine around in her glass and smiled. “Besides, I’ve always preferred short men. A better fit, you know.”

Howard snapped upright in surprise – both by her candor, and by his mistaken assumption. He had always believed that height was one of those universally desired attributes – attributes that he, for the most part, did not possess.

He responded with a simple, “Oh?” and began turning the saltshaker around again. His thoughts tripped over themselves as he attempted to reorganize them, realizing that he had indeed misjudged Anna – and perhaps his own beloved – all these years.

Anna spoke as if merely stating a fact, but a sly seductiveness played about her lips.

“Yes, whether kissing when standing, or cuddling at night, or…” Her aquamarine blouse shimmered in the candlelight as she gave a light shrug.

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Howard quickly replayed the arguments with Roberto. He had always assumed that Roberto had rejected him because of his age, ethnicity, or some other quality over which he had no control. For the first time, the thought gripped him: What if Roberto had simply found him boring? Or, God forbid, whiny?

Then, as if on cue and choreographed to maximize the insight into his own failed affairs, in walked Anna’s husband – short, if not shorter, than William Chase. He was equally as handsome, though, Howard had to admit, in a more genial manner.

Anna’s whole being surged with pleasure at the sight of her husband’s flashing smile and warm eyes. She stood to embrace him – in a comfortable fit, Howard noticed – and introduced them.

As she slipped on her wrap, the three of them spoke briefly and exchanged business cards. Howard declined the invitation to join them for dinner but promised to stay in touch.

Anna and her husband waved good-bye and left the café.

Howard sat back down at the table and tried to put his ruffled thoughts back in order, tapping the saltshaker up and down. As he shook his head at life’s vanities and wretched misunderstandings, the beautiful Anna Avilov tapped on the window and blew him a kiss, her arm linked with that of her Romeo.

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946229105/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_5I0rCbK1RQTQ7

The Making of a Book Cover — Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series

I was lucky to find a great book cover designer, Laura Duffy, for all my books. The Christmastime series, in particular, required several drafts.

Laura patiently added snow, made streetlights glow, erased modern buildings, and cropped and colored and added details until I had the image I wanted.

The cover for Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series posed the most challenges. Early on, we decided that it would have a few subtle differences. As a prequel, it would not be part of the color sequence of the other books — green, red, blue. And Laura suggested that the “photograph” be vertical rather than horizontal.

I wanted the cover to evoke a sense of happiness and hope, with just a hint of the shadow cast by the war in Europe. After searching and searching for a photograph that would capture the main character’s (Lillian Hapsey) longing to move to Manhattan and start life anew, I found an image that might possibly work — with a little magic from Laura Duffy.

The photo had certain elements I was looking for: snow, a source of light (a lamppost), and it was immediately recognizable as Manhattan, with the Empire State Building in the center of the photo.

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But it needed some work.

First, the lamplights needed to be “turned on.” It took a few attempts to get the right shade of soft gold. Then we looked at several Christmas wreaths, pine boughs, and red ribbons to attach to the lamppost. We decided on the one below. I purchased the photo and Laura added and aged it.

Next, the Empire State Building needed to be more pronounced. The original photo depicted a foggy day (I wanted snow), and the outline of the building was obscured.  So Laura found and superimposed a clearer photo of the Empire State Building and added a light snowfall.

Empire State Bldg superimposed

We were getting closer, but it didn’t yet capture the charm and promise of new beginnings. I imagined a scene at dusk, people hurrying home after work, the Christmas season in the air — and Lillian pausing to look at the view of the Empire State Building and having a visceral feeling of connection — Manhattan embodied everything she wanted.

So Laura turned day into evening, showing lights in the office windows, and patiently adjusting my requests for “less blue, a little grayer, more dusk-like, a little darker, more snow?” — until finally, it clicked — and I entered the world of Christmastime.

The image captures a moment in the story when Lillian becomes a part of the city she so loves. I could see her dressed in 1930’s shoes and coat, her face raised in happiness, knowing that her two little boys would also love the magic of the city. I felt the image now had charm, a sense of excitement, and the feel of Christmas.

1939

Thank you, Laura!

Check out the variety of Laura’s covers here: https://www.lauraduffydesign.com/ 

Christmastime 1939 is now available (the softcover will be available any day now).

(The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story,  will be published in 2019.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bookstores

bookstore

The longer nights and cooler temperatures of autumn are perfect for browsing through a good bookstore — and leaving with an armful of books.

Bookshop 4

“There were fewer finer things in life … than spending time perusing the shelves of a good bookshop.” ― George Mann

bookstore

“The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.” ― C.S. Lewis

Bookshop 1

“To my mind there is nothing so beautiful or so provocative as a secondhand bookstore.”
―Lionel Barrymore

 

“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.” ― Jen Campbell

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“Books are an escape route. A refuge…. a tunnel to the outside world. A glimmer of something beyond.”―Chloe Coles

 

“Reality doesn’t always give us the life that we desire, but we can always find what we desire between the pages of books.”― Adelise M. Cullens

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Happy reading!

 

 

Summer Evenings in the Garden

GH eve 12

Long summer days mean that we can spend more time out of doors. And one of the best places to linger in the summer twilight is in a lovely garden. There’s something about candlelight and dinner in the garden that is absolutely magical.

GH table 1b

Though I can count such dinners I’ve experienced on one hand, they stand out in my mind. Some memories shine more than others, like tiny jewels in an inner treasure chest — clearer, sharper, more durable.

One such memory is of an impromptu dinner I once had with friends in Seattle. A guest was visiting from Switzerland and we decided to have our dinner outside, just beside the flower garden.

We pulled out the kitchen table, draped it in a lace tablecloth, and added details to make the dinner even more special — fresh flowers from the garden, antique water goblets and an Art Deco silverware set that belonged to my grandparents, and a tiny salt and pepper set — green and white enamel owls. One of my roommates, who was attending a culinary arts school, created a sumptuous meal full of summer freshness — I remember a cold blueberry soup with creme fraiche swirled on top and a salad with orange nasturtiums from the garden.

I never made the connection before, but surely that evening found its way into my novel The Garden House, which is set in Seattle. There’s a scene where the main character, Miranda, sets a beautiful table on the garden deck and enjoys a lovely summer evening with her husband and a few friends.

The Italian poet and author Cesare Pavese said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those words came to him as he sat in a summer garden at evening.

GH eve book

Amazon Link: http://a.co/hsncwXs

 

 

 

Books and Flowers

flowers and books

The grouping of books with flowers is a poetic one — whether it’s a studied composition, an impromptu arrangement, or simply a flower used as a bookmark. Both books and flowers serve as portals to worlds of beauty, meaning, and pleasure. The pairing is made more poignant by the contrast of one being ephemeral, the other ever-lasting.

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” – Oscar Wilde

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“With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy.” – Lope de Vega

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“Flowers lead to books, which leads to thinking and not thinking, which leads to more flowers and music, music. Then many more flowers and more books.” – Maira Kalman

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“Here’s to fresh coffee, sunshine, morning walks, blooming flowers, good books and all the other simple but glorious pleasures of life.” – (I’m not sure who said this, but I couldn’t agree more.)

Tea in the garden

In my novel The Garden House, the main character, Miranda, often takes a cup of tea out into her beloved garden and curls up on a bench as she takes in the beauty of her flowers. Her garden offers both solace and pleasure.  It’s the perfect place to read a good book, to visit with a friend, or to sit quietly and enjoy the simple tranquility of nature.

GH tea 6“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company” ~Author Unknown

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GH tea 10“Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.” ~Saki

“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.” ~James Norwood Pratt

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“You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~C.S. Lewis,

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“Where there’s tea there’s hope.” ~Arthur Wing Pinero

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Valentine’s Day

Valentine blowup

“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

 

“Each time you happen to me all over again.” – Edith Wharton

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“In case you ever foolishly forget, I am never not thinking of you.” – Virginia Woolf

 

 

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”  – Leo Tolstoy

 

 

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” – Victor Hugo

V Amour petals

 “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” – Charles Dickens

 

 

Downton Abbey — in Manhattan

bells

Recently, my sister-in-law was planning a visit to New York City and when I asked her if there was anything in particular that she wanted to do, she said she would love to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. I hadn’t even heard about it, but it sounded like a good idea so I booked our tickets. Though I had only caught a few episodes of the series, I found that I was really looking forward to seeing the exhibit. And in the late afternoon of a cold winter’s day, we stepped into the world of Downton Abbey.

Edith

I was surprised to find that the exhibit was in the recently closed Lee’s Art store on 57th Street, a place I had frequented over the years. The windows that once displayed painting supplies, glittering frames, and whimsical toys, now held an equally enchanting display: images, items, and gifts relating to Downton Abbey — including an exquisite 1920’s dress in peacock blue and gold.

The New York City street was reflected in the window — scaffolding and yellow cabs, parkas and mounds of snow — and seemed a sort of symbolic contrast to the elegance of another era.

window contrast

We strolled through the exhibit, laughing as we were greeted by holographic videos (?) of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes welcoming us to Downton Abbey, before they had to hurry away. We entered the “downstairs” area and worked our way up.  There was the kitchen with something simmering on the stove, the carton of eggs, the sounds of chopping and pots and pans being moved about. There was Carson’s pantry with the decanter, and there were those famous room bells.

And there was the dining room with the beautifully set table.

dining table

One room had video snippets of different scenes from the series: the explosions and trenches of WWI shifted to tranquil interior scenes of a fire burning brightly in the library.

fireplace video

Another area was dedicated to short film excerpts featuring the acerbic wit of Violet Crawley. And throughout the exhibit were reminders of the period’s codes of conduct and rules of civility.

The clothes were beautiful, and I found myself lingering over the details of trim and beading and lace: the Edwardian opulence of Violet’s clothing, the shimmering elegance of the 1920’s dresses,

and those beautiful necklaces and earrings that complemented the clothing.

On every floor, in every room was the sense of a time gone by and the societal upheavals of yesteryear. One quote posed the idea that perhaps that earlier period was not so unlike our own times, with technology rushing us ahead, creating some disturbing trends, while offering other compensations.

Since I had only caught an occasional episode, I never got to know the characters and plots in the way that many people did.

So, on these snowy January evenings, I’ve started to watch the series from the beginning — paying extra close attention to the buttons and jewelry, the silverware and bells.

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my followers and supporters!

May 2018 bring you closer to your dreams. 

NY8

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth — not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

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 “The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette.” – Henry Hoskins

”The beginnings of all things are small.” – Cicero

“To begin, begin.” ― William Wordsworth

 

It’s A Wonderful Life — a Christmas classic (and an inspiration for indie writers)

crop It's A Wonderful Life (1)

People often ask me what movies or books my Christmastime series is most similar to. For many reasons, the movie It’s A Wonderful Life comes to mind. It’s set during and just after WWII, it’s a story about love and family, the importance of friends and neighbors, and it’s about transformation.

Clarence

I happened to catch it on TV the other night, and though I know the movie by heart, I found that I loved it as much as ever.

on phone

The story behind the movie is also “wonderful,” and offers an inspirational example for today’s independent writers. The movie is based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern (1900 – 1984), an American author, editor, and Civil War historian.

The story goes that in “February 1938, Stern awoke with the story in mind. Inspired by a dream that was reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol, Stern wrote a 4,000 word short story called The Greatest Gift. He began work on it in 1939 but didn’t finish until 1943.

Dickens

Unable to find a publisher for his story, he printed two hundred copies of the story and distributed them as Christmas cards in 1943. One of the original palm-sized booklets came to the attention of a producer at RKO Pictures who purchased the rights, and then sold them to Frank Capra in 1945.” (Wikipedia)

Frank Capra title

“From this humble beginning, a classic was born. Stern’s story captivated Capra, who said he ‘had been looking for [it] all [his] life.’ Capra’s beloved adaptation, It’s a Wonderful Life, was released in 1946,” (Zoetrope – www.all-story.com) and has become part of the American Christmas tradition.

bell on tree