tracieorsi

Punxsutawney Stew

tracieorsi

tracieorsi

Owner of Ragin' Cajun Restaurant in Belmar, New Jersey. Author of "Sittin' Bayou Makes Me Hot!"

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Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!

"Sittin' Bayou Makes Me Hot!" is not only a cookbook with easy and delicious recipes, the stories will make you laugh. As Tracie Orsi Godier will tell you, "Laughter is free, share it."
What better way to have fun and laughter with your best friends then to cook up a delicious meal, have a few glasses of wine to make life a little more enjoyable?

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Punxsutawney Stew

groundhogs2

“I’ll capture them wild and I’ll capture them scrawny, I’ll capture a scraggle-foot mulligatawny.”

Dr. Seuss, “If I Ran A Zoo”

God gave me blond hair and blue eyes so I can romp half naked on a beach somewhere.

Not dressed the size of a Sumo Wrestler.

It’s not winter I hate.

It’s being cold.

I hate the cold wind.

I hate when wet cold rain gets in my neck.

I hate when my hair turns to icicles because I’m late for work and didn’t have time to dry my hair.

I hate breathing with icicles forming in my nostrils.

My hands and feet crack. I hate it.

I want to stay inside and take a nap.

Cliff is headed out to get his numbers for the Super Bowl. He buys a few boxes with his friends and wins a quarter or two every year.

I ask him if there’s a pool for whether or not Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow.

“What?”

He gets impatient with me sometimes.

You know. Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog.

“Is today Groundhog Day?”

No, I tell him. Tomorrow is.

“Six more weeks of winter no matter what Phil says.”

Cliff hates the winter as much as I do.

“Let’s just move to an island,” he says every year.

My last name means bear in Italian. I’d like to hibernate all winter, not peeking from my comforter until there are light green buds on the trees.

I wish we could move to an island.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we can expect more winter weather.

If Phil sees his shadow, Spring will be on schedule.

No winter storms in April. No blizzards in May.

I thought if he didn’t see his shadow it was a bad thing because he’d come out of hibernation early and die in the next winter storm.

I’ve seen it happen to my tulips.

There are advantages to winter time.

I love to snuggle on the couch Saturday afternoons and read a book.

I love when it snows big snowflakes; covering the ground and the trees like a soft fluffy blanket.

So silent. So magic.

I love how the sun feels on my face though my breath is frosty.

I love the winter sky, the stars are bright, the constellations so clear.

I love when my nose is a bit chilly while I sleep.

I love soup.

I make a different soup every week.

Besides the Lobster Bisque, the Creole Onion Soup, Seafood or Chicken Gumbo that are on the menu every day,

I like to make Crab Broccoli Soup, Spicy Chicken Corn Chowder or Sausage and Bean Soup.

What am I in the mood for today?

Cliff is entering a chili cook-off tonight.

I’m not in the mood for chili.

I think about Old Punxsutawney Phil waking up from his nap.

I’d be a little perturbed if some old dude in a top hat and tuxedo rapped on my bedroom door telling me he invited a few thousand people over for a drink.

Of course Phil sees his shadow. He wakes up to 15 heavy-set Fred Astaire’s and a thousand drunken fools yelling his name.

He gets out of bed for that!

Since 1887, Phil has been predicting the length of winter. Ninety six times he ran back to bed.

I can’t blame him.

I’m a little cranky some mornings when Cliff wakes me up at five thirty to kiss me good morning before he leaves for work.

Next year, Phil should leave a copy of The Farmer’s Almanac by his doorstop.

That rag has been predicting the weather since 1818!

I suppose it wouldn’t be as much fun.

I do go out on February 2 every year to see if it’s sunny or not.

If it is, I put on a sweater and go for a walk.

I want to feel the sun on my face.

Today I take Bella out and we play in the yard. DSC_0219

I bet she’d love to roust a groundhog.

I look around for sprigs of green. I’m hoping the crocus will come early.

That’s how I predict Spring.

Today the sun has been in and out. A light snow dusted the front yard and I did see a bit of green showing through last year’s mulch.

I go inside to make a pot of soup.

Hmm. What should I make?

A little curry today?

Mulligatawny Stew?

I feel a bit devious.

Maybe I’ll make a different version of Mulligatawny. I’ll add some hot Italian Sausage and some white beans. I’ll use red curry paste instead of curry powder and see how it turns out.

I’ll call it Punxsutawney Stew, let it simmer, and go back to bed.

Punxsutawney Stew

6 cups chicken broth

1 boneless chicken breast cubed
2 small hot sausage links sliced
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced green pepper
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 can small white beans, rinsed
1 tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. thyme leaves
2 tsp. red curry paste
Pinch cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in a stock pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for ½ hour.

Some folks like to put a Granny Smith apple in their stew. I don’t, so I ate a pear while it was cooking. Is that the same thing?

Writing Fears Nothing

Jumping-Off-Cliff
To do anything truly worth doing, I must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in with gusto and scramble through as well as I can.
Og Mandino

I’m on my way to Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp. This will be my third year attending. The first year I went, I was unsure of myself.

The worst thing about writing is having to show it to someone.

What if they don’t like it? What if their nose squinches up and they put on that smile and tell you it’s great?

What if they down right say it stinks?

Who would you remain friends with, the honest one or smiley face?

What’s worse than that, is I paid good money to get beat up by 16 fellow “grunts” and three accomplished authors.

Are all writers sado-masochists? We love the punishment and love to punish?

I met some great people that year. And the year afterward. We keep in touch and encourage one another in our writing, praise one another for our accomplishments.

I learned from Writer’s Bootcamp why Marines are so tight.

We did our share of mental push-ups, I assure you that!

On my way home from Towson, Maryland, I couldn’t contain myself. I had more creative energy than I’ve ever felt in my life.

To be in the constant company of like minds!

In the real world, few of my friends read books. Many of them don’t retain anything.

I had a friend tell me she read a book she took out of the library. She said she read it before but didn’t remember until she got to the end. I opened the back jacket.

She had checked that same book three times!

I want my books to be remembered. I want people to talk about them. I want my stories to change lives!

I want my characters to live!

We learn a lot in Bootcamp. We actually learn, that in reality, we shouldn’t use words like “actually” and “in reality.”

No body “thinks to themselves.”

I was just thinking hungrily to myself that maybe I’ll just get up and actually walk gingerly to the kitchen and then make myself a sandwich. In reality, I’m desperately aware that I haven’t been grocery shopping in weeks.

Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Doug Winter would hate that.

So do I. But I wrote it. Just now.

We all do it. We read over our first drafts and look for knitting needles to put in our eyes.

At Bootcamp we learn about Point of View. One year, a grunt asked what that was. We all laughed and then listened intently as our drill sergeants grew red in the face and explained. Gimme a hundred, soldier!

What’s a participle?

Another twenty, you sorry maggot!

We learn about plot and pacing and strong character voice.

What’s more important, Plot or Character? Hmmmm.

We learn comaraderie and that writing, though a competitive field, is also an intimate environment.

We have to cheer each other on because we’re not sure anyone else will.

I came home from Maryland and turned my 35 page submission into  195 pages.

I was so pumped up, I wanted to sell the restaurant and buy a bottle of scotch.

Just kidding. But I was pumped. I decided that no matter what I do in life, I will pursue this dream. I still have to be responsible to my life, but as long as I’m writing, I can’t hurt anyone right?

It doesn’t matter if I ever get published, though it would be nice. I mean really nice. And I really shouldn’t care if nobody likes what I write. There’s nothing to fear.

I can always call my smiley face friends and my mother.

As long as I keep writing, I’m doing what I love and that’s what makes life worth living.

It helps to have people critique your work. It makes you a better writer. Like anything in life, you can’t learn unless you make mistakes.

My bags are packed and I have 16 manuscripts with red ink all over them.

Hahahaha she sneered with a sinister laugh.

I too can play that game!

Grasshopper Pie

blurb postcard

     Excerpt from “Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!” (TAO Publishers, $35.00)

“Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!” is a compilation of recipes and stories from Ragin’ Cajun, a small restaurant in Belmar, New Jersey since 1992.

I was twenty years old when I went to St. Thomas.  I bought a one-way ticket and cried when Christopher left me at the gate.  I didn’t  know anyone down there but I was listening to that song by I can’t remember his name but there’s a line that goes: “We walked along St. Thomas beaches every night…” I thought that would be romantic so I decided to go.

My father once told me that if I ever find myself in a strange place to go find a bartender.  Order a drink of course, but bartenders know all the scoop.  So I do just that and within 2 hours I found a job, a place to live and helped create the now famous frozen drink called The Bushwacker.

I started working at a pretty fancy steak house right on a lagoon.  There were no windows anywhere on the island, everything is wide open.  I loved it because I could see the stars, smell the flowers and hear the tree frogs serenading the breeze.  It was balmy yet cool and I was in love with the world.

Did I say tree frog?

That reminds me.  Oh yeah.   That night.  A nice elderly couple came in.  They order a piña colada and  a strawberry daiquiri as most tourist do when they get to the island.

With umbrellas of course.

In tall, very tall hurricane glasses.

Balancing the very tall very sticky sugary frozen libations, I approach the table only in time to witness the most brilliant-colored tree frog fly through the air and land right in my lady’s hair — white hair, probably just came from the beauty parlor so she would look nice on the plane.

I yell,

DON’T SQUISH HIM!

Too late.

She’s screaming and squishing the poor guy who’s trying desperately to shimmy his way through her fingers.  She jumps up hysterically with arms flailing.  Her husband jumps up knocking my tray up into the air and down comes

cocolopez pineapplefreeze strawberrydaquiri alloverme ohdeargod I’mamess.

Where’sthefrog?

That might have been my first week at work.  I didn’t get into trouble even though the people didn’t stay for dinner.

A few weeks later I’m waiting on a party of ten.  Husband at one end, wife at the other.  Friends in between.  They all order appetizers and steaks and drinks and they’re all laughing it up having a grand ole time.

We clear the appetizer plates and I start bringing out the entrees.  The last plate was something like a 32 oz sirloin or some disgusting amount of  cooked cow.

I put it down in front of the man who’s telling a story.

Before I place the platter, I noticed the bug.

Now there are cockroaches and then there are the cockroaches of the Caribbean.  These guys seem to interact more brazenly with human folk much more than their American brethren.  They also enjoy a plethora of eats and many disgustingly slimy places to live.

This guy was a brute.

The fat-daddy of cockroaches.

He was so big I didn’t know why nobody else noticed him.

I didn’t know what to do so I quickly put the plate down on top of him.

And slid from the table with stealth speed.

I go into the kitchen and tell everyone.  We all look through the kitchen door window, watching our poor unsuspecting man carve away and chew chew chew, and take a sip, and munch a potato and carve and chew and sop up the  extra juices with the last of the bread.

Time to clear the table.  I tell the bus kids but they refuse.

Come on guys!  What am I suppose to do?

I ask the manager. Can l just leave the plate on the table until he leaves?

“No way,” he tells me. “Go clear the plate.”

I stomp my foot in a bit of a tantrum.

No,  a full tantrum.  I thought of quitting.  Just walk right out of here.  I’ll find another job.  I’ll go back to Virginia.

No, I just got here.

I don’t quit.

I clear the table starting from the far end.  When I get to my man, I’m sweating.  My heart like a cartoon is leaping from my chest.  I think I may pass out.  Maybe I should just start flopping around on the floor right next to the guy and he would be distracted.  One of my colleagues ever so kind will remove the plate, the culprit will scurry and I would be off the hook.

No accomplices here.

See if I buy you a drink after work.

My coworkers laugh at me.

Back to plan A.  I walk over as sweet as I can be.  I look my dude directly in the eyes.  I figure if I engage him in conversation I can simply slide the plate off the table.  The Bug will drop to the floor and scoot away undetected.

Well it didn’t go down that way no matter how pure my intention.

“How was everything,” I ask in the sweetest I love my grandpa voice I can muster.

“Fine, fine, everything was great.”

“Great,” I say. “Look at you finishing 32 oz of meat and all your veggies too.”

Look eye, Trace.

Do not look downomigod.

That SOB ran around the side of the plate and is cruising across the table!  Don’t lose  eye contact!  Oh no!  Peripheral vision betray me not!  Of course I look.  Look eye!

Too late.  He saw.

“What was that?” he asks.

“What?  What was what?”

That”  he points as the bug disappears down the side of the white table cloth.

“Oh, just a bug.”

“Just a bug?  Just a bug?  Was that just a bug under my plate this whole time?”

“Yes.” Sniff.  Shift.  My eyes begin to burn, the tears well up like water on a dam spilling nothing over the side.  Yes!  I think I might just pass out now. Everyone in the restaurant is now focused on the scene.

“How did it get there?”  I shrug.  I’m terrified.  Paralyzed with fear.

“You knew that BUG was there the whole time and you  did nothing?”

I can’t respond.

“I’m lucky he didn’t carry my steak away with him!”

That’s it.  I can’t contain the flood.  The tears drop bigger than boulders.  I cry full of lament “I didn’t know what to do.”  I can’t breath.  I turn and  run through the bar and out the door.

After being coaxed back in, I return to the table to offer desserts.  Evidently the guy was super cool and his friends all thought is was extremely funny, particularly his wife, so he wasn’t too upset about it.

I ask if anyone would like some dessert.

His wife grins.

“Do you  have grasshopper pie?”

Bootcamp Nightmare

Dream: According to the Merriam Webster Dictionarybootcamp nightmare
1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep
2: an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream
: a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality.
Nightmare: something (as an experience, situation, or object) having the monstrous character of a nightmare or producing a feeling of anxiety or terror.

I know a lot of people who don’t remember their dreams. Many of mine are so vivid, I wonder if I’m living a dual life. My biggest question is why do certain dreams stay etched in my mind after I wake and others are forgotten as soon as I open my eyes?

I think the answer is…that subconsciously our dreams help us cope with ourselves in ways that we are unwilling to explore in the waking state.

I have a recurring dream where I am about to go on stage. Either I’m naked or I never read the script. In some dreams, I’ve never even heard of the play.

Or I’m naked and don’t know my lines. I ask another player if I could see her copy of the script and she’ll say, “You’ll be fine.” Most of these times I’m late because I just woke up from a nap.

Hmmmm.

I’m the lead. I never panic but I’m not happy about it. The play goes on without me whether or not I utter a single word. Usually, as I walk out onto the stage, I wake up confused and anxious about my day.

Funny though, I always walk out onto the stage knowing I’ll get through it somehow. I’ve never walked away.

The show must go on.

I have no idea what this says about my character, but I always do manage to get by no matter what the circumstances. The restaurant business demands I make it work no matter what happens.

I started having these dreams when I was a child. I’d end up at school in my underwear.

Though I never cried in my dreams, I don’t try to go home. I’d stay at school as if nothing was wrong.

I thought at one point it was my subconscious teaching me that because I was the only kid at school who had divorced parents (early 70’s) and my apathetic mother didn’t care what we wore to school or even went to school, I would still succeed and stand out despite my handicaps.

My report cards always read A for academics, 3 (the worst) for effort, and F for conduct. I got by because academically I was at the top of the scale.

Throughout my life, teachers and coaches would say:

“Orsi, if you’d just apply yourself you’d be a star.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I won track meets. I scored goals in soccer. And basketball. I was in plays. I got into college, what more do I need?

An amazing thing, the mind, what we convince ourselves is reality.

Dreams are more of an enigma. I wonder who I am in my dreams. Some mornings I wake feeling unfamiliar with my surroundings having left my “real” world behind.

I opened Ragin’ Cajun after having a dream I drowned when I dove off a bridge to save a drunk girl who had fallen in the lake.

Don’t ask, I have no idea. I remember that dream vividly to this day as if I lived it yesterday.

When I was young, I thought maybe my real life was another place altogether and that I had fallen asleep under a tree somewhere for a nap and came here, Tracie Orsi, to live the life I’m in now. When I die in this world, I will wake up under that tree look around me and say, “Wow, I had a dream I died.”

Perhaps there are parallel universes and perhaps I am living multiple lives, but it seems that in this one where I write this, I am most tangible, earthbound (or am I?) where in my other worlds I can fly and do amazing things like fall through the floor when someone attacks me emerging in another realm altogether.

I can surf really big waves and be in two places at once.

Not that I’m a super hero because I’m far from it. I know more in my dreams and am able to make decisions easily without doubting myself.

I have dream people who are with me on several different occasions. I recognize them and places I’ve never been to in this life.

This is why I have to wear pajamas to bed. So the dream people won’t see me naked. Ha!

And then sometimes I dream of people from this world (a confusing crossover) and when I wake, I feel as though I’ve disappointed someone and that when I see that person our relationship will be strained in some way. Call it insecurity, but I wouldn’t say that I have trouble with self-esteem.

Last night (or early morning, it seems) I dreamed of being at Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp. It was different from the last two years I attended. Not the hotel and conference rooms in Towson, Maryland.

I felt like we were in Martha’s Vineyard or Nova Scotia on a cliff over-looking the sea. I was talking to three little girls about what they wanted to be when they grew up. They were all quite precocious, especially the one with her hair cropped like a boy and a face full of freckles. She was entertaining and very clear on what she wanted to do with her life though what she told me escapes me.

I knew that whatever she did, she would be successful.

Then I was talking to Meghan Arcuri. She kept handing me cigarettes and breaking them off in a Dixie cup. She said she was trying to quit.

I don’t think Meghan smokes.

I looked around for Richard Payne. He was hunched over with a cane. For some reason I thought I had caused this disability in some way but have no idea what happened. Some people were serving themselves from a buffet and I tried a bit of salmon which I don’t like in real life.

In the dream, it was incredibly salty.

I walked up to Richard who didn’t want me near him. He turned his back to me and went to sit with Edith Clarkson and Michael Bailey. Gardner Goldsmith was there talking to Malcolm Salls and Sheldon Higdon, all Bootcamp graduates. Tom Carson was there chatting up a group of ladies. A ceremony was about to begin and everyone had their backs to me as though I wasn’t part of the “seminar.” I tried to get someone’s attention and knew I was being snubbed. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. This made me uneasy.

The three little girls stood under a tree and were laughing at me.

I asked someone if I should run up the street to buy a bottle of wine. Richard turned and said I was too late; that by the time I returned it would all be over.

I was sad. Richard made a comment about me being too good to show up in time and spending all my time talking to other people.

They all raised their glasses to a speaker I couldn’t see and I was ignored.

I looked up the street. There was a liquor store. I said I was going to get a bottle of wine. Meghan and Edith laughed drinking whiskey from cut crystal glasses.

“It’s too late,” said Richard.

“You should’ve been here on time,” Michael said. He raised his glass.

“I was just talking to the little girls,” I pleaded. I glanced over to the tree. They were gone.

I blew it.

Damage done.

I looked around. There was no seat for me at the table.

I knew that when I got back from the store, everyone would be gone.

When I woke up, I thought it bizarre to have such a dream and wondered what it all meant. I wasn’t naked but I felt extremely unprepared, like everyone else was privy to a joke I’d never hear.

I looked back at all the manuscripts and my notes. Was I too critical? Was I too harsh? I went through 3 red pens and felt guilty. I convinced myself the reason we all go to Bootcamp is to learn what mistakes we make and that critiquing other people makes us stronger writers.

I thought about my own submission and winced. It’s boring. There’s no action. They’ll all hate it. Blah, blah, blah.

If we were all good writers we’d have no reason to be at a workshop, right?

I’ve read all the manuscripts and am now typing out my notes.

I’ll be sure to leave early Friday morning in case there’s traffic. And I’m going to pick up the wine beforehand.

And to be sure to pack my wine opener. I don’t want to miss this weekend.

Attention Deficit

red ball
 

Here’s my theory on Attention Deficit Disorder, otherwise known as ADD.

Puppies outgrow it eventually. But I think it’s because puppies are cute and though they require a great deal of attention, they still find ways to entertain themselves.

Like eating your most expensive pair of shoes that you put on a shelf in the back of your closet and closed the door. You wonder how he got in there and up to the top shelf.

Or like digging up the 50 year old jade plant your grandmother raised from a 3” pot.

Or like spreading the garbage all over the kitchen floor and down the hallway, and eating the trim off the wall in every room and the fence in the back yard.

And eating the side of the couch though you feed him more than the vet recommended. And the legs of the coffee table.

Yes, he ate those too.

The sheetrock off the wall. The refrigerator door.

No matter how many toys you trip over in the middle of the night to let the beast out. No matter how many times you yell “No!” They find some way to entertain themselves.

Once they pass the terrible twos, your friends come over and say what a good dog you have because Buster sits in the corner politely gnawing at his rawhide, minding his own business.

And licking himself.

After the awkward moment where he sniffs your best friend’s new girlfriend’s crotch.

They romp mud puddles and ruin your brand new carpet dragging the mud in with them.

They show their love with mangled squirrels. They roll in dead birds when you take them to the beach.

You wonder when they ate the dead fish as they lick your face. You wonder if you should take them to the vet or what disease you might have contracted.

You don’t do either. You don’t give him pills. He’s just a puppy, you say. He’ll grow out of it.

And he does, eventually. Not the dead bird, dead fish, squirrel, mud puddle thing. But you get used to it.

Buster sits at the door waiting patiently for hours until you come home from work. He jumps on you, you push him away.

You make yourself a drink and sit in your lazy boy with the TV on while you read the newspaper.

Your wife wants to know if you want a salad before or with your dinner.

Buster sits loyally at your feet. You rub his belly forgetting how many pairs of socks came out of his butt. You know about the socks because you pick up his poop every morning after his constitutional walk.

You laugh at this. You can’t’ remember when Buster had his last checkup because he’s so healthy.

“Remember how much energy Buster had as a puppy,” you proudly ask your wife as she spoons mashed potatoes on your plate.

She smiles.

“Remember how much energy you used to have as a puppy?”

You don’t find this funny at all, but she clearly does.

“You don’t work as hard as I do,” you tell her.

“Don’t I, then?”

Billy throws a spoonful of mashed potatoes across the table at his sister. He then picks up peas one by one and splats them against the dining room wall.

Your wife picks him up by the shoulder and drags him to his room.

“Did you forget his meds this morning?”you call down the hallway.

She walks into the dining room with a scowl on her face. The kid is wailing in the background through the closed door. His sister picks up the mashed potatoes that landed on the table next to her plate. She lowers her face in shame as she drinks her milk.

“You don’t think I work hard?” your wife asks. She’s mad and you know it.

Buster sits obediently by your side waiting patiently for his share in the family meal. You oblige and Buster smacks his lips. He doesn’t chew and waits for more.

“You spend more time with that dog than you do your son.”

“That’s not true,” you say. You brush your hand over Buster’s huge skull as he gulps the last piece of pork chop.

“Did you give him his medication this morning?”

“Yes, of course I did.”

“You know how he gets without it,” you remind her.

“Yes, I know how he gets. He’s a child. He wants to play. He wants to play catch with his father like you do with that damn dog. He wants to splash around in mud puddles without getting yelled at. He’s sorry he made a mess of your garage. He wants to keep the dead frog he found on his desk because you won’t let him have a fish tank. He wants a BB gun so he can shoot squirrels out of the tree in the back yard.” Your wife is angry now which makes you defensive.

“He needs to learn how to behave like a normal human being and not throw temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. He can’t be disruptive in class when the teacher is trying to teach.”

“He’s six,” your wife says. “He can only color elephants so many times. He needs to go outside and play. No video games. No drugs!”

Buster puts his head on your lap. You pet him. You wish your son could be more like your dog.

But he is, you just don’t remember. And the funny thing is, once you teach your son how to catch a ball, he’ll learn how to throw it back to you.

I’ll Show You Yours If You Show Me Mine

Red PenAnyone can be a writer. A 10 year old who keeps a diary is a writer.

Anyone who can tell a story can be a writer, engaging an audience to the very end, to the punch line, is a good story teller. To put it down on paper would make that person a writer.

A written story is nothing but a set of symbols that when read together have meaning. How the story teller conveys the meaning is what makes for good writing. To be a good writer takes a lot of hard work, practice and dedication.

And a little help from our friends.

By friends, I don’t mean your BFF who is not going to tell you the story stinks. Or might get peeved you made her look fat.

I mean fellow writers, that strange group of people we meet with on the QT like some secret society because we’re all a bunch of weird nerd-like creatures who like to spend a lot of time on the computer when there are a whole lot of people in the other room watching a football game.

People who are just as scared as you are putting thoughts etched in stone revealing your inner most self for the whole world to see. You want to unlock that diary but afraid of what others will know goes on in that pretty little head of yours.

When we write, we open ourselves up for criticism. In fact, anything done on a creative level is subject to critics because everyone has an opinion.

And some people can be downright brutal.

So maybe my lasagna was a little burnt around the edges. Maybe I sang off key. Maybe my story is filled with dangling participles.

The key is to remember not to stomp your feet and pout and point fingers. “Yeah, well, whadjou do?” Sniff, sniff.

Accepting solid criticism is an art in itself. I could write a story that gives me Goosebumps; I’m jumping up and down “this is it! This is it!” but I get one rejection letter after another.

My bestie says, “I didn’t get it.”

That’s okay. I ask her why.

She runs down each point. I take notes thinking how much I hate her.

Eventually, the story becomes clearer. I’m excited and buy her dinner.

I’m going to Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp for the third year in a row. I can’t wait to see my peeps from last year. Does it help with my writing? I think so. Does it kick my hiney into writing? Absolutely. I have to submit 35 pages of me. I have to present it to 20 people for a spanking (17 fellow campers and three accomplished authors).

I’m terrified.

I’m excited.

I get to spank them as well. When I critique the stories of my fellow “grunts” I cry. I grimace. I squeeze my eyes tight into my head because they give me a headache. Last year I told a guy I wanted to punch him in the head after reading his story.

He was horrified!

“Why?” he whimpered. I told him why (I didn’t punch him, I was only saying that to sound tough).

If we were all great writers we wouldn’t be at Bootcamp. Everyone needs a good critiquing no matter how good we are at something. I can come up with a recipe I want to add to the menu at the restaurant and my bus kids laugh in my face.

The point of being critiqued is to learn from not only our own mistakes, but those of others.

So here are some of the horrors I found while reading the works of my colleagues:

• Participle phrases or better known as the “ing” words.
Riding his bike, he glanced at the girl. Grinning, he waved to her as he passed by. Yelling, she ran to him as he hit the telephone pole. Shouting, the people came running. Boy meets girl.

It wasn’t that bad, but yeah, it was. Every sentence began with an ing word.

• Conjunction junction, what’s your function. The ultimate hook-up.

• The Thesaurus can be your worst enemy!

• Use language that moves the characters along, sets the pace. Zoom! My brain screeches to a halt. Right into the telephone pole.

Onomonopeia was my favorite word in fifth grade. Look it up. When you’re 10, it sounds like a big bad word you’re allowed to say in class. Giggle.

When a guy passes under a fog shrouded lamp post, I know he’s shady and something bad is going to happen.

• The same with dialogue. The conversation has to sound real. Nobody speaks in complete sentences. Let dialogue bring in the back-story. “You’re just like your drunk father.” Okay, so the main character likes whiskey and his wife is unhappy with him.

• Point of view. Whose story is it? Period.

• Brainstorming is excellent for first draft. Sometimes it can take your story to a place you hadn’t thought of. Your characters might lead the way if you let them!

• Parallel universes have to be complete with parallel structure. I like eating, drinking, and to take [taking] naps.

I did my homework for Bootcamp. I read all 18 stories, mine included. I saved mine for last because I was afraid of what I had submitted to my fellow grunts. I wanted to see what they had to offer before I reread my own.

I squeeze my eyes shut as I reach for the bottle of aspirin. And I wait.

I’ve seen yours. Now what do you think of mine?

The Toilet Brush is not a Toy

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No one wants to see it in your mouth as you parade around the house so proudly the way you do.

When company is over you don’t need to show it to them, “look what we have in our house,” you say as you prance from guest to guest head held high.

I’m mortified. Cliff laughs.

“That’s not a toy,” I say, dragging you by the end of the brush back into the bathroom where it belongs. You think I’m playing tug of war.

At least you grab it by the handle and not the brush itself.

You’re smart that way.

You’re a lab. A very smart dog.

You are proud of your house and your people.

You enjoy entertaining guests.

But the toilet brush is not the family treasure that needs showing.

And it’s not a toy.

New Year’s Celebration

“I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”
– John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley

The celebration of a New Year is a holiday the entire world shares. I wish there were more.

No Big Deal for Christmas

We made a deal. No Christmas presents this year. In fact, we didn’t even put up a tree.

November flew by with Hurricane Sandy taking up most of our time. Cliff worked eighteen hour shifts for the power company while I sat in the dark for three weeks.

Halloween came and went with no Trick or Treaters. That bag of candy is still on the counter.

It wasn’t bad being without power. I was cold, but I had candles glowing in every room. I read by night light and outlined a novel about a haunted house in Bradley Beach.

We went to the Dominican Republic the week after Thanksgiving – a trip planned and paid for in June. I wasn’t into it as much as usual. All the people who lost their homes and businesses, I didn’t feel I deserved a vacation.

I was sadder than I usually get in the winter time.

When we got home, I turned Fifty. Not that I care about the age because you know I’d be lying.

But there was no birthday party.

No big deal.

I just lived a half of a century and no one cared. I had trouble with turning twenty five because I thought I’d be some high profile attorney by then.

I wasn’t.

I was a bartender at Ocean Eddie’s in Virginia Beach.

The morning I turned fifty, I woke up to a card and a dozen purple roses. I thought of Woody Allen and wished Cliff had booked us on an Egyptian adventure. Something clever for my fiftieth!

“We’ll go to St. Pete for Christmas,” he said. “I still have vacation days left.”

“No,” I told him. “You’re tired. Take those days for yourself.”

“K.”

A couple days later:

“St. Pete would be nice. We could sit on the beach for a couple of days.”

“We could go to Busch Gardens.”

“Yeah. We could do that, too. I have friends in Tampa.”

“We could go see my cousins.”

Our quiet Christmas would be spent in a rental car.

“Let’s just stay home and be together. I haven’t seen you in months.” I really mean this. No guilt trip here.

“Overtime. I can’t pass it up.”

“I know. Let’s just stay home.”

“Ok. Do you want to have a Christmas party?” I fought tooth and nail to have one five years ago. Now it’s a tradition.

“Not really. We don’t have a tree.”

“We don’t need a tree to have a party.”

“No. I don’t feel the spirit this year.”

“Ok. Whatever you want.”

“You should’ve thrown me a party,” I told him a few days later. I fired up my computer. Two hundred and ninety eight Facebook friends wished me Happy Birthday with comments about being over the hill. Most well wishers welcomed me to the Club.

“Hey. I tried. Okay? They wanted twenty bucks a head at the Elks for five hour open bar with appetizers. I know you’d want two hundred people there.”

“I could have done the food.”

“You catered our wedding! You’re not catering your fiftieth surprise party!”

So I got nothing.

I’m not going to lie. I was sad. Dejected more like. I turned it around like I normally do when life doesn’t go my way.

If I can’t celebrate my birthday, I can’t get old, can I?

On Monday he tells me we’re having our Christmas party on Saturday.

“Yeah,” he said. “Too many people asked when our Party was happening, this weekend or next. I couldn’t tell them we’re not having one.”

“I don’t want a party.”

“Too late. I already told people we were. Only a few people. No big deal.”

About fifty people showed up (one for each year?). I cooked my usual spread. I had appetizers and lobster bisque. Lasagna and jambalaya. Butternut squash ravioli. Sangria and Brandy Alexanders.

No big deal.

Before anyone got there I was sad. I would’ve have rather cooked for two hundred people. And had a huge 50th birthday party with a band that played all night long.

Like at my wedding.

But that didn’t happen. Jen brought a birthday cake and everyone sang and we did a shot of something made with caramel vodka which was tasty. I blew out the candles and kissed Cliff on the cheek. The pictures are cute and can be seen on Facebook.

Every year Ellen brings me an ornament for my tree.

“No tree this year?” she handed me a cute Santa. We both agree that some Santas are creepy. This one was cute.

“You can hang it on a door knob,” she tells me.

The party was a success. I think I made it to bed around four am after we put the fire out in the back yard.

Cliff has been spending a lot of time on the computer. He’s looking for a good deal for our trip to Alaska in the spring.

Another reason we decided not to have a party.

“We’ll save our money. We’ll do Alaska right.”

“I want to go in the helicopter.”

“Okay.”

“I want to see the blue glaciers.”

“Perfect.”

“I want to kayak with the orcas.”

“You do?”

“Yeah.” I had to think about that for a moment. Be careful what you wish for, that sort of thing. “Yup. I do. And the train to Denali.”

“Okay. Whatever you want.”

“I’m going to tell people you’re taking me to Alaska for my fiftieth. And I want a big lens for my camera so I can take pictures of bears.”

“Of course, dear. Whatever you want.”

Christmas Eve I decide to open the restaurant because I had a couple people call for reservations. I usually don’t take them but one lady wanted to bring in eight people. Ok. And then another lady called and they were coming in with six. I thought it was cool they wanted to spend Christmas Eve at Ragin’ Cajun. I’m usually there for a while anyway selling last minute gift certificates and this year I had the cookbook. I sold a lot of hot sauces for stocking stuffers.

A few tables came in but not the eight top or the six. And they didn’t call to say they weren’t coming.

I stayed open until 9:00. Cliff called and asked when I was coming home.

Even though we agreed on no Christmas presents I still had to give him something. He’s like a six year old. He would have pouted if there was nothing for him to open Christmas morning.

Nothing from Santa.

But there was no tree. No stockings. Our joke is he fills my stocking with stuff he finds in the bathroom and kitchen cabinets.

One year I turned out my stocking looking for a little blue box.

I got nothing from Tiffany’s, but there were a couple of Tootsie Roll Pops, a bag of Twizzlers and some loose tampons.

Oh yeah, and a couple dollar coins he found on my dresser.

This year I’d get nothing because we had a deal. So I bought myself underwear from Costco and wrapped them up. I bought a new pair of gloves with faux fur and finger tips so I can use my iPhone. I wrapped them up.

I bought the new Thomas Jefferson biography by Jon Meecham because I want to read it.

So I wrapped it.

I did this so he wouldn’t feel bad when he opened his gifts and I got nothing.

I got him a new pair of slippers like I do every year.

And some wild print swim trunks.

I got him new socks. And a big box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because there were only a few in the big bag of Halloween candy I bought for the Trick or Treaters who never came because of the Hurricane.

I also wrapped up sample tiles for our new bathroom we’re having done after the new year. I ordered the jacuzzi tub.

I called Cliff to tell him I was on my way home. He told me to be careful because the roads were slick with the freezing rain.

We should have gone to St. Pete.

No wonder I’m depressed. It’s cold and nasty out and I’m getting underwear for Christmas.

Cliff heard me pull into the driveway. He came out in his New York Giants lounge pants I bought him for Christmas last year.

And his old beat up slippers.

I handed him the grocery bags. We were going to spend Christmas in our pajamas and eat all day.

We’d have a big breakfast and a Bailey’s and coffee.

I’d make lasagna.

Some shrimp cocktail.

Cheese and crackers with pepperoni.

Chips and homemade dip.

A nice salad.

Prime Rib for dinner.

Tiramisu for dessert.

Cliff was happy about that. Sure. I’d be the one in the kitchen all day.

I handed him the Foodtown bags.

“Are those my Christmas presents?” he asked pointing to a brown shopping bag filled with red wrapped gifts.

I told you he was six.

“We’re not doing presents, remember?”

“Oh. I thought maybe they were from Santa.” He gives me that little boy smile I love so much.

“Maybe.” I smile. He kisses me and takes all the yellow plastic bags. I bring in the Santa bag. I didn’t put any ribbons and bows on any of the gifts.

Oh well.

No tree. No big deal.

Although his hands were full, he opened the door for me. He’s like that. He wants to make sure he locks the door because he doesn’t want anyone to come into the house in the middle of the night and steal me.

I step into the living room.

And there she is.

Just sitting patiently, waiting.

Her ears go back.

Her tail moves side to side.

She leans back on her haunches and springs up against the crate.

I think I drop the brown bag and drop to my knees.

Cliff is somewhere behind me but I don’t care.

The box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups falls out onto the living room floor. I know this because it was the last thing I wrapped.

She’s in my arms, her pointy little teeth scratching my nose.

Puppy breath fills the air and I cry.

Sweet Santa's Belle

The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors

“The Next Big Thing”

is a viral sensation where one author answers ten questions about his or her current work. That author then tags 3 to 5 other authors, who answer the questions and, in turn, tag 3 to 5 more, thus spreading the word exponentially.

I was tagged by Meghan Arcuri. You can read her answers at http://www.meghanarcuri.wordpress.com. Meghan and I were at Borderlandspress Writer’s Bootcamp last year with authors Michael Bailey (http://www.nettirw.com ) and Richard Payne http://www.rbpayne.com . It was an intense weekend which encouraged me to continue writing. Incredible to spend the weekend with like minds!

Our work is critiqued by fellow “grunts” while authors F. Paul Wilson (http://www.repairmanjack.com), Tom Monteleone (http://www.borderlandspress.com), and Doug Winters guide us in such a way that not only do we learn to critique the works of others, but help us see our own writing from another point of view. I’ve written short stories because of my time at Bootcamp which is something I didn’t think I ever would have attempted. Short stories are harder to write than a novel. Not as forgiving and every word is crucial to the story itself.

This year Meghan and I will be roommates at Bootcamp. I’ve read her latest short story and am amazed at how much her writing has improved from last year. I enjoyed her story “Worse Ways” and believe that if she keeps this up, she’ll go beyond “The Next Big Thing.”

Now for my questions (sort of like interviewing myself):

1. What is the working title of your book?

I’m almost finished with a book titled “Song of the Cicadas.” I’ve put it on hold for a while because I had an idea for another book I submitted to the Borderlandspress Writer’s Bootcamp, “The Family Tree.”

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

“Song of the Cicadas” was a manuscript I found in a box I had in storage. I started it when I was 19 years old and apparently put it away for a time in my life where I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent. I don’t remember writing it. I found it at an appropriate time and thought it was a great story. The funny thing is, it’s about a woman who comes home to bury her mother she hasn’t seen in 17 years and the mysteries leading to their separation. I couldn’t figure out why I would write such a story when I was young, but when I found the manuscript it had been 18 years since I’d seen my own mother. How could a 19 year old know what it’s like to be estranged from her mother for so long? I know now.

“The Family Tree” came to me when I read some of the stuff my aunt dug up about our family. She’s been researching our genealogy and there are some great characters in my ancestry. I put a few of them together and gave them a sinister plot. I told a friend about the story I outlined and she told me about the fairy rings around the oak tree in her parents’ back yard and I thought what an awesome way to keep the curse going ( my family is actually blessed but I couldn’t let that get in the way of a good story). The premise of “The Family Tree” is jealousy is a curse and bad deeds carry throughout family history acting as a curse not doled out by an evil spirit but by the wickedness of family members.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
“Song of the Cicadas” would be considered Southern Gothic. It takes place in the mountains of Virginia and defies the Southern Belle traditions. It has all the elements found in Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. Not that I think this book will be as great as those written by these authors but one can only try. Racism and misogyny are prevalent and there is a hint of supernatural. The mysteries of southern superstitions drive the characters.

“The Family Tree” also contains elements of the supernatural. The Walsh house has an energy that seems to speak its history. The wicked deeds of the past carry forth to the future claiming yet another “victim” even though the “cursed” tree has been uprooted. Genre? I don’t know. Maybe horror in the sense that “Wuthering Heights” was horror, or “Rebecca” with her “ghost” lurking about.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

“Song of the Cicadas” cast? I can see Beyonce playing Rachel, Charlize Theron as Kitty, Queen Latifah or Angela Basset as Sadie Johnson. I think Donald Glover would make a good Whitey Johnson. Since the movie would be more of a woman empowerment film, I wouldn’t have any A-list male actors but someone who could steal the show and become a hero because of this movie. Mysterious and handsome, paternal with a dark side for Michael Rivers.

“The Family Tree” I would cast Elle Fanning as Sophie, Dakota Fanning as Hannah, and Kathy Bates as Aunt Margaret. I like Jake Gillenhaal as Richard Walsh since I can see him playing a Heathcliffe type character.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Song of the Cicadas” is about a young woman who returns home to bury her mother only to dredge up a mysterious past that led to their estrangement for seventeen years, her mother’s murder and possibly her own in a killer’s need to keep their past buried forever.

“The Family Tree” is about a young architect who falls in love with a house she yearns to restore only to find hidden secrets buried in the attic which brings her close not only to discovering a family curse, but her own link to the family’s past and her part in continuing the legacy.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will seek representation.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Like I said earlier, I started “Song of the Cicadas” when I was nineteen. I found it in a box about five years ago and have been working on it since. I work-shopped it at The Borderlandspress Bootcamp two years in a row. I’m almost finished but put it aside to write short stories and “The Family Tree” which came to me one morning after reading about my family history. I was able to outline it during Hurricane Sandy which left me out of work and in the dark for three weeks. I wrote by candlelight which made me feel like a true scribe. I was amazed at how easy it all came to me since I had no other distractions and was able to focus solely on the story. If I didn’t have to go back to work, I think it would be done by now.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

“Song of the Cicadas” is like no other book I’ve read, but has elements found in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“The Family Tree” seems a little like “Wuthering Heights” meets “Rebecca” but I might be a bit too ambitious in thinking I could pull off such a great novel. A contemporary novel that might be comparable is “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton in that it flips back and forth from past to present with different characters’ point of view.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Ragin’ Cajun (my restaurant) was shut down by the fire marshal when the town used eminent domain to redevelop the downtown area. While I was trying to get reopened I read a lot and went to the gym every day to work off the negative energy. I read a book by Rita Mae Brown who lives in Afton, Va. where I grew up. I bought the book for 75 cents at a paperback exchange store. While riding the bike at the gym, it took me 45 minutes to read the book.

I can do this, I thought. My story is much better than a dog and a cat solving a murder. I could write a book about what was happening in my community, to me and other business owners because of eminent domain. I decided not to complete my workout but go to Barnes and Noble to buy all books on writing in the Mystery genre (my sense of mystery works were limited to Charles Dickens and Willkie Collins, I never bought books at the grocery store). Here was a chance to tell my story and maybe start a new career. Wouldn’t it be great if the town closes my restaurant and in my revenge I sell a novel about that same story? My second thought was I would call F. Paul Wilson (www.repairmanjack.com) and see if he would help me because I’d never written a novel.

As soon as I got off the bike to head to the locker room, Paul was standing in front of me and my heart raced. I told him what I wanted to do. He was pleased and told me to get the restaurant open because he missed coming on Sundays. I started writing “Imminent Domain” and from there found “Song of the Cicadas.” Paul convinced me to go to Boot camp and that’s how all this got started.

I believe that once you get the creative juices flowing, there’s no stopping it.
The restaurant reopened and is doing better than it ever has. I have three novels that are almost complete. “The Family Tree” was inspired by my own family history and I wanted to write it as a fabulist fairy tale. Because of the storm that left me in the dark, I was able to outline it in a way I never did the other two and so this will be the novel I’ll complete first. Wouldn’t it be great if I can tell my publisher I have two more novels to immediately follow?

When bad things happen, it’s best not to think of it as the end of the world so much as the beginning of something potentially greater than you’ve known. Every time “bad” things happen, I put pen to paper. Now all I have to do is follow up.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

“The Family Tree” has a little history of Bradley Beach. Anyone who grew up on the Jersey Shore will appreciate some of the references to landmark spots and things like eating Jersey tomatoes and going to Vic’s Pizza.

“Song of the Cicadas” addresses racism and misogyny. Overall, it’s a story that empowers women and whose characters are strong. This book will make a great movie because that’s how I see it in my head, like a movie.

I’d like to tag a woman I met not too long ago. Patricia Florio is author of “My Two Mothers” published August 2011 by Phyllis Scott Publishing. Patricia is a travel writer for http://www.stripedpot.com and lives in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She contacted me for The Literary Adventure Author’s Reading Series where I was able to talk about my cookbook “Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!” (http://www.ragincajunnj.net). It was a great afternoon and I met some awesome people. Patricia is active in the Jersey Shore Arts Council and has invited me to join their writers group. Read Patricia’s blog http://www.patriciaflorio.blog.com.

I also met Rosemary Calabretta who told me to call her Sugie. She helped me set up the food and made me feel comfortable at The Literary Adventure Author’s Reading Series. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Sugie wrote a children’s book for her two granddaughters “Bella the Bright-eyed Reindeer.” She also collaborated on a book with two other authors V.G. Wells and Rosaleen Mooney Myers “Three Brown-Eyed Girls.” I haven’t read it yet but look forward to it since I enjoyed Rosemary’s company and can’t wait to see her again.

I can’t wait to get back to Bootcamp (http://www.borderlandspress.com) in January. My first year was amazing and you should be on the lookout for Kyle Steele, Angie Deptula and Thomas Carson. We all sat up well into the wee hours writing our Sunday assignments. Kyle and I then drank screwdrivers out of coffee mugs and talked about what we wanted to do about our writing and other matters of life. Angie and I stayed an extra night (her flight was Monday and I decided to stay and keep her company in that creepy hotel). We sat up all night eating Chinese and freaking each other out. It was a spooky night with strange happenings. Definitely haunted and Angie ended up writing a short story about a woman who kills her roommate because she dreamed she was a sea hag. Thanks a lot Angie for allowing me to inspire you. It was a great weekend and we all keep in touch. Angie is moving to Paris to write for a year and Kyle is almost finished with his novel. Thomas Carson is a character himself. He lives in Maryland and pops in to bootcamp to say hello. He’s currently working on a book about his grandfather Ray Ewry who won 8 Olympic gold medals at the turn of the twentieth century. His novel “Unsung” is due for publication soon and I can’t wait having read the beginning and loving the main character who is someone you might find in a Carl Hiaasen novel.

A shout out to Gardner Goldsmith http://www.gardnergoldsmith.com and Sheldon Higdon http://www.sheldonhigdon.com for all the work their doing on their “Next Big Thing!”