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Interview with Author and molecular biologist , Joram Piatigorsky

Joram Piatigorsky penned his first novel, Jellyfish Have Eyes, following a distinguished career in scientific research at the National Eye Institute. He went on to author an autobiography, The Speed of Dark, in which he describes the influence and expectations of his exceptional parents – world-renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who had escaped the pogroms in Russia, and Jacqueline de Rothschild, a Parisian heiress.

Joram’s parents fled France just days before the outbreak of World War II and weeks ahead of his birth. As the family’s first American citizen, he set out to find his own identity and voice while honoring his heritage, pursuing a career in science and as a writer.

His newest collection of short stories, Notes Going Underground  and an earlier collection, The Open Door, and Other Tales of Love & Yearning  are published by Adelaide Books. Both were illustrated by award-winning Spanish artist Ismael Carrillo.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

JP. I write in my study downstairs surrounded by my Inuit art collection, which energizes me, but also can be distracting. Large windows let the outside in, so to speak, and look out on the lawn, flowering trees (depends on the season) and woods; I see deer roaming, several foxes coming and going, squirrels galore and many types of birds. I don’t need blank space for my imagination to roam and concentrate. My space is what I’m writing.

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

JP. I don’t have any special rituals that I follow before or while I write. I do try to keep my desk and surroundings somewhat neat. A messy place tends to make my mind messy too. As for dress: Sometimes I’m in regular clothes, sometimes exercise garb, but not pajamas. I leave those upstairs in my bedroom. Physical discipline helps me, as uninspiring as that sounds. When I start to write I typically go over what I wrote the last few days. The problem is that when I start looking over what I wrote yesterday I can’t help rewriting. That slows my progress, of course, but I can’t help it. I’m always rewriting, even in my mind once it’s published!

Before I quit writing for the day, I often remember what I read Hemingway did: Stop when I have an idea to explore. If I follow that advice, I can play with whatever my ideas are overnight, let them expand or shrink, mature, and I’m not stuck on how to start the next day. It doesn’t always work! Nothing always works.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

JP. Readers of my memoir, The Speed of Dark, know, I never feel fully at home in one world or another. I live in two mental universes. I was conceived in France with my mother Jacqueline de Rothschild, the daughter of the Rothschild French banking dynasty famous for their art collections among other things, and my father Gregor Piatigorsky, the renowned Russian 20th century cellist who lived through pogroms and escaped the Bolshevik Revolution as a teenager. My parents and 2-year-old sister eluded Hitler on September 3, 1939, the day France and England declared war on Germany, and made it to America. Whew, just in time! I was born the first American citizen in my family six months later in upstate New York and raised speaking French before English, with a European outlook. So, to some extent, I feel American in Europe and European in America. It’s not by fluke that my publisher, Stevan Nikolic of AdelaideBooks is Serbian married to a Portuguese woman, lives in New York and Lisbon, and publishes in both places.

My family and lineage were entrenched in art and knew nothing of science, yet I became a research scientist studying evolution and gene expression. Thus, I have always felt split between being a scientist by profession and an artist by temperament and family roots. After 50 years of science I switched to writing fiction, memoir and essays, another world to inhabit where I can express my artistic bent.

Inuit art

So, what else might you not know? Thirty years ago, I fell in love with Inuit art and have amassed a major collection of Inuit sculptures, so add that to my several worlds. And, oh yes, I played tournament tennis in Los Angeles growing up and took that very seriously, so there’s another world I experienced. … As I said: I’m a chimeric person, so to speak.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

JP. I prefer to write in the mornings when I’m fresh and my mind works better. Later in the afternoon is less productive for me, but I still often trudge on anyway.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

A. I hesitate to advise writers about procrastination or anything else, since, when I give advice, I’m really telling what has worked for me, not what they should do. And what do I do about procrastination? I force myself to write. Procrastination for me usually means I let other things interfere with my writing, so I do my best to put writing first and procrastinate the other stuff. I believe that procrastination often reflects that I don’t know what to write, not that I don’t want to write, so I’ll start and let the work bring the muse rather than have the muse stimulate the work. When I’m stuck in front of a blank screen, I’ll write something, almost anything, to get going and often keep at it even when I know it’s not quite right.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

Join us for part 2 of this Interview on May 21th
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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Celebrating Black History Month!

Billie Holiday, black history month, African-American, people of colorBillie Holiday, jazz singer,one woman cast,segregation      A Tribute to Billie Holiday, in celebration of Black History Month.  It’s always a joy to hear Billie’s music again.

Scent of Magnolia” by Trisha Sugarek.……’tells the story of a young woman who rose above poverty, rape, bigotry, prostitution and imprisonment to become one of the most memorable and celebrated artists of the twentieth century. The one woman show portrays the life of a black jazz singer in America during the 30’s. The script does not dwell on the sensationalism of her addiction to alcohol and drugs but chooses, rather, to celebrate the whole woman and her music.

Billie tells not only her story, but our nation’s story. She interjects her tale with her most famous music as well as some of her more obscure songs. In her own words, she talks about her struggle to succeed in spite of the segregation of that time and the billie Holiday, black singers, musicians, jazz,difficulties she experienced singing with the great bands, most of which were white musicians. Without self-pity , she talks about the

(Note: Original song written by Gary Swindell, for this stage play.) daily slings and arrows that are a part of bigotry. Billie takes complete responsibility for her life, her choices, and her actions. Her triumph was her music and her songs that will live on forever.’                                          

Billie Holiday, jazz, stage play, one act play,

Latrelle Bright as Billie – 2004

black history month, billie Holiday, people of color,…….Ben Rafuse as the ‘piano man’

 

We have much to celebrate this year with people of color serving our country in the   military abroad, serving the community and nation in the political arena.  The many musicians who gave ‘birth to the blues’.

The giants and philosophers, playwrights and politicians…..authors, writers, Walter Mosley

It’s taken us over eighty years to evolve to this point, t williamssince Billie Holiday struggled as a black woman to survive in this country. …….we still have a way to go but we, as a nation, have much to be proud of. Did you miss the post about Savannah’s black orphan kids

James Baldwin, writers, authors

(Hank Aaron,  Kamala Harris, Corey Booker,

Tennessee Williams, Walter Mosley,Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee,   James Baldwin, ) and thousands of others who fill our world and our history. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~black musicians, jazz, Billie Holiday, music

 

Start your month off right!! DON’T MISS UPCOMING BLOGS. “The Writer’s Corner” INTERVIEWS with other best-selling AUTHORS! March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 

 

So come along with me; we shall sneak into these writers’ special places, be a fly on the wall and watch them create!
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Book Review ~~ Above the Bay of Angels

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing 5  out of  5 quills            Above  the  Bay  of  Angelsreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

The story was great. Well written as always by Rhys Bowen. She never disappoints even when she ventures into stand-alone fiction and leaves (for a pair of seconds) her series like Her Royal Spyness and the Molly Murphy series. 

We all love an underdog who fights toward an even playing field. Hard to do for a young woman in the Victorian (Queen Victoria) era. Being of gentle birth tragedy and bad luck has forced Bella Waverly  ‘into service’; waking before dawn and cleaning fireplaces in every room of a large mansion. Her talent for cooking is soon made apparent and she is moved to the kitchen as an assistant.  She suddenly has a once in a lifetime chance at bettering her place in life. But it’s a huge risk and will mean lying to her sovereign. Can she? – Should she do it? The tale weaves and turns to a satisfying ending and I high recommend this book to my readers. 

Nurse, Circa 1937

However, the cover set my teeth on edge. The wardrobe suggested that the story was about a nurse, in the (Royal) Army Nursing Service, during the first World War and serving in India. The pinafore apron is from that era and not that of a chef. The apron for a chef/under-cook had a simple strap around the neck. Because of the nature of their work (and the women forced to wear full length sleeves), the illustrator should have placed sleeve protectors on her arms. The title was uninspired. How about: ‘The Chef and the Queen’ or ‘The Royal Chef‘ or ‘Cooking for a Queen‘.

Kitchen help, circa 1937

The cover is beside the point but I couldn’t help but critique it. It’s the work of a graphic designer at the publisher not that of Ms. Bowen. The cover designer should have done their research more thoroughly.  The author and the book certainly deserved better. 

 

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker 
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Interview with Naval Captain, turned Author, David Poyer

Naval Captain DAVID POYER grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. His naval service included duty in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and ports around the world. His nearly fifty published books include THE DEAD OF WINTER, WINTER IN THE HEART, AS THE WOLF LOVES WINTER, and THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. His latest is OVERTHROW . His work has been translated into Japanese, Dutch, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian.

Poyer holds a master’s degree from George Washington University and has taught or lectured at Annapolis, Flagler College, and other institutions around the country. He has been a visiting writer/writer in residence at Flagler and Annapolis. His fiction has been required reading in the U.S. Naval Academy.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DP. I’ve written just about everywhere . . . aboard ship, in bars, in offices, on residencies abroad . . . anywhere with a pen or a keyboard. These days I usually write in my custom-built office, which has large windows with a view out over the Chesapeake Bay. And lots of reference books!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DP. Uh, not really . . . not superstitious about that, no. I check the email, look over the news, and set to work!

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DP. One wall of my office is covered with typewriters. Manual typewriters, from all countries, that I’ve collected over the years. I came back from a research trip to Europe last year with five typewriters in a duffel bag…which interested the customs officials no end when they saw them on the X-rays!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DP. First thing in the morning works for me, when it’s quiet and not too much else has impinged on my day. I try to get at least a thousand words down, and then the rest of the day is mine to answer email, do research, or have fun!

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DP. Here’s what I emphasize to my creative writing students: I think procrastination or “block” is usually just the result of a failure to properly prepare. I go through a long process of imagining my characters, daydreaming about their scenes. Eventually, I generate a detailed chapter outline that extends all the way to the end of the novel. (Things change, natch, and the outline is fluid to accommodate gifts; but having the outline there in the morning in place of a blank page removes all my stress.) When I know what will probably happen next, there’s no reason at all not to be able to do my thousand words that day. And usually more!

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DP. They stem from various sources . . . some from people I knew . .. others are patterned after earlier fictional characters, especially in WHITENESS OF THE WHALE . . . and some spring fully born onto the page, like W. T. Halvorsen, who was a walk-on in DEAD OF WINTER but who took me through the next three books in the Hemlock County series. My wife says she’s often puzzled when I talk about my characters as if they’re people she should know! But then, she’s a novelist too, so she understands….

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DP. I tell my students at Wilkes, “One becomes a writer, not because one can, but because one must.” I realized very early, around age four, that writing was what I was sent here to do. And no matter what I did in between childhood and becoming a fulltime writer, that was preparation, rather than the main event.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DP. Well, sometimes one, at other times the other. My continuing characters, such as Halvorsen, Dan Lenson, Tiller Galloway, usually find themselves confronted by ‘The Situation’, as you put it. Then they are called upon to react. Typically, things then get very dark. I mope around, trying to think of a way they can possibly escape. Eventually, I (or really, they) figure it out! Then all I have to do is craft the prose. Which is absorbing, too, in its way. The style of each of these series seems to differ. That, I think, is half organic and half from what my mentor Frank Green called a “felt knowledge.”

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Join us for Part 2 of this griping interview next week
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Tai-Pan, Shogun and James Clavell ~~ Nostalgia

James Clavell & one of his manuscripts

Summer of 1971. My then husband and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of ….. our custom built 26ft sailboat. We had settled on the name “joss” for the boat, as its loose meaning is good and bad luck. Given how fickle a sailboat can be, it seemed highly appropriate. I was currently reading everything James Clavell was publishing and I came across the word in his novels. 

So being the gutsy girl (for the time) that I was, I wrote Mr. Clavell for more info about the word, especially how it was used in the Orient . And he ANSWERED me!  See below. He wrote with his personal address in Vancouver, B.C. and invited us to sail up and anchor at his house on Vancouver Island, offering a cup of tea!

Click to read

 Clavell wasn’t just a writer.  Both he and his wife were Chopper pilots. Clavell was also a dedicated sailor of sailboats.  It was one of the highlights of my life to receive a personal letter from him and be invited to ‘drop anchor’ at his home on the sea.  No, we never did make the perilous trip, under sail, to his home port. A deep regret, but we were new to sailing and anyone who knows those waters between Puget Sound and Horseshoe Bay (B.C.) will understand how we were so not capable or experienced enough to attempt it. 
But! we were crazy enough to take our 420 (International Dingy Sailing class) sails with us to Portugal and sail the Tagus River, not knowing the waters, currents, language or people! 

We were young and adventuresome! 1971

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   April: International adventurer, writer, Tal Gur.  June: Manning Wolfe. July: Kevin Ecke. August: Susan Mallery Coming this winter: Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick) !

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The White Rhino Hotel by Bartle Bull ~~ A Review

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing6 out of 5 quills   
                                                The White Rhino Hotel   ~~ A Review

A sweeping epic reminiscent of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Kipling. But, none of these…a unique voice that will touch you deeply if Africa touches you. 

The setup for the legion of characters and the landscape of Africa took about 100 pages. By then I was hooked by the richly developed people that fill Bull’s story. The writing is pure prose.

“Remember these stories, Tlaga. My people live inside them. When a tale is told, everyone who ever heard that story is alive again….” 

“An alphabet makes the words that keep a people together….” 

The story is dusty, hot, dangerous and violent. But so is Africa.   Just when the new settlers think they’ve domesticated the continent, warrior ants, a herd of elephants and floods storm through.  Bull’s characters populate Africa but never effect it, much less conquer it. Olivio, the grotesque dwarf. The reader can’t help themselves, they love and hate him at the same time. The star-crossed lovers, Anton and Gwenn. Hugo von Decken and his son, Ernst. German pioneers homesteading their piece of Africa. The list goes on and on. 

The story begins in (literally) the last days of World War I as a German unit traverses the plains of Africa, toting along their prisoners of war, some severely wounded. I don’t write spoilers so that’s about all I will tell of the story. I adore fiction that teaches me history. I had no idea of a Soldiers Lottery for land in West Africa after the world war ended. Whereby soldiers who fought in Africa could enter a lottery and homestead land that belonged only to the African native.  

This is their story. But it’s also Africa’s story; how it was fought over and then the land was passed out as booty after the war. Given away even though none of it belonged to any white man. 
I highly recommend this book. Take your time, savor each word, taste the air of Africa. That’s what I did! 

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January: Sue Grafton ~ In Memory
March: Mystery (and Western) writer, Larry D. Sweazy.  April: in60Learning ~ A unique, non-fiction mini-book read in 60 minutes.
                        
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Interview with Janet Macleod Trotter (part 2)

  Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?    (continued) Did you miss Part I

JT.  I once created a totally imaginary strong-willed heroine who was a suffragette called Maggie Beaton. Then speaking at a talk to a convention of Women’s Institutes, a woman told me that her great aunt had been called Maggie Beaton and she sounded just the same sort of person! I got a tingle down my spine at that!

Other characters have been inspired by people closer to home. My grandparents lived and worked in India for years, where my granddad was a forester. I have used their background and some of their experiences in my second India novel, THE TEA PLANTER’S BRIDE, to get a really authentic feel of 1920s Scotland and India. Three years ago, my husband and I did a trip back to India to trace where my grandparents had been, and also where my mother had been brought up for the first 8 years of her life. I had a thrilling moment in Shimla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, when I managed to track down the old guest house where my family had lodged after trekking in the mountains in 1928. It still existed! Standing inside, I could almost see my mother toddling across the hallway. Shimla features in my third tea novel, THE GIRL FROM THE TEA GARDEN.

Bedroom where family had slept/ India

Q. What first inspired you to write your stories?

JT. I’ve been writing stories since I was a wee girl. I lived in a boys’ boarding school where my father was a history teacher and house master.  The kind matron used to type up my stories so that, in my eyes, they looked like proper printed pages! My father was a great story teller of clan and family history, and my mother always read fiction aloud to us when we were young, so I grew up with a thirst for stories. Added to that was a love of history, so that it was natural for me to want to set my stories in the past.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

JT. I think actually it is the setting! I start with a historical incident or momentous event (First World War, the Suffragettes, Miners’ Strike etc) and then read around the subject. First, I must have a sense of place. Once I’ve visualized the setting – the home, village, tea plantation, city slum, Hebridean island – then ideas for the plot and characters come.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

JT. On a good day yes! It’s thrilling to check the time and realize that I can’t remember the last hour – I’ve been off in some other place at a deeper level of concentration.

Q. Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment?

Janet & Friends dressed up as Suffragettes

JT. My mother! I’ve just begun writing another tea novel set at the end of WW2 and the time of Indian Independence with a heroine who returns to India after being ‘exiled’ in Britain during her schooling and the war years. She is the same age as my mother would have been, who was also in that situation – separated from her father in India because of the war. Though my mother never got back out to India, I am trying to imagine what she would have done if she had.

Q. Do you have a new book coming out soon? If so tell us about it.

JT. The next novel in the pipeline which has already been written is THE FAR PASHMINA MOUNTAINS and is set in Britain and India during the early 19th century. It has a spirited Northumbrian heroine and a Scottish hero who joins the East India Company Army to seek his fortune. (One of my own MacLeod ancestors also did this a generation earlier in the 18th century). India was an exciting and fascinating place for Europeans at this time, a place of exploration, romance and where fortunes could be made, but it was also fraught with dangers. In the novel this also includes the first ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

At university in Edinburgh I wrote articles for the student newspaper but it was a couple of years later that I decided to take a correspondence course in writing. I wanted to have the discipline of writing to deadlines and trying out different forms of writing.

Q. How long after that were you published?

JT. I finished the course of twenty assignments and then offered my money back because I hadn’t been published by the time it was completed! Instead, I elected to take a further course, concentrating on fiction writing. Before this was finished I began getting short stories published in teenage comics – providing the storylines and the words in the bubbles! So I suppose that was after about two years of learning the craft. I continued to get short stories published in women’s magazines but the first break-through into novels was after about five years. I had a teenage novel, LOVE GAMES, published in the same year as my first Scottish historical novel, THE BELTANE FIRES. Three years after that, I had the first of my historical family sagas set in North-East England, THE HUNGRY HILLS, published. That was in 1992. I’ve been writing for over 30 years and produced 21 books.

Join us for the conclusion of this wonderful Interview  July 21st

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MY BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?     June: Mehreen Ahmed.  July: Janet Macleod Trotter, author of Tea Planter’s Daughter and in August we say ‘hello’ to Cheryl Hollon.
                                                                                   
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Nostalgia…remember when… (part 11)

NostalgiaA Greek word meaning to Grieve, to Ache

Modern Dictionary a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition

I guess I’m the last person, on the planet,  to watch the series, MAD MEN.  I was so surprised; it’s my life as a (very) young  married housewife. I was treated (as seen in MadMen) like that as a woman. It’s hard to believe now and of course when it was happening, I didn’t know any better…..and the men in my life CERTAINLY DIDN’T!!!  That was my husband; me always asking for permission. Him handling the money, etc. Cheating on me. Demeaning my worth with tiny arrows and jabs. And the employers I had at the time….just like the ‘ad men’ in Mad Men.  Talking down to the female employees and always reminding us of our place. Where did men, at that time, learn this behavior? Their fathers…and their fathers before them?

me – circa 1978

  I swear I even had some of those skirts that Peggy wore.  And one of the dresses that Joan wore was in my closet.

I am  amused and shocked that I had that life and then to watch it back in such precise and accurate detail!  Given where I (and most women) are today,  it seems like a life time ago. Oh! It was.

And here’s the really wonderful thing…..the music of that time. As the show opens and closes the sound tracks are from that era. And, fifty+ years later,  I can sing along REMEMBERING EVERY LYRIC OF EVERY SONG.  (The brain is truly a wonder.)

 

 

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MY BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January was Dinah Jefferies and Feb/March’s author is Sheryl Steines. Johan Thompson (South African author) will join us in April.

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Life Is Like A Box of Chocolates…..or Words #7

         If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know by now that I love words and more; their origins.

Ashtray  ~~ noun.  A receptacle for tobacco ashes of smokers. 

In the Urban Dictionary it has taken on a new meaning: ash–tray, useless, unwanted, failure.

Never having been a smoker, I wondered why these two words were slung together; ‘ash’ and ‘tray’.  I pictured a butler, back in the day, arriving with a silver tray holding a box of ciggies, gold lighter and a bowl for the smoker’s ashes.  Nope. I asked myself why not: butt-dish, fagtray, rollie-bowl, stogie-saucer?  These are all slang words for the cigarette: ciggy, lungdart, smoke, coffin nail, butt, fag, rollie, and cancer stick. 

At my first wedding back in 1959 we received a cut-crystal ashtray and I loved it.  We didn’t smoke but had family and friends who did. Back then visitors smoked in your home and ashtrays were mandatory.  This wedding present had place of pride on our coffee table.

‘While rudimentary forms of ashtrays existed long before the 19th century, it was during this time that the design, aesthetic and their popularity really took off. As more and more women began to smoke in the early 1900’s, the ashtray inched closer and closer to an art form of sorts. Many women shunned the use of the traditional ashtray as it failed to reflect their feminine values through an activity that was long heralded as being exclusive to men. What emerged were detailed, often very ornate ashtrays. These ashtrays depicted pastoral scenes of maidens wandering through vibrantly colored landscapes. Some even featured very lavish, cast-iron models of women in frilly dresses, animals in states of play and the occasional porcelain/ceramic tray highlighting extravagant floral arrangements.’

I love to watch people’s rituals when they light up. (the writer in me).  They never deviate from it. Open the pack, shake or draw one out. Stick it in their mouth, reach for their lighter, cup the flame with the other hand (whether there is a breeze or not) and take that heavenly, first drag deep into those poor, beleaguered lungs.  Ahhhh!
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MY BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?   November was best selling author, Grace Burrowes and in December, Reed Farrel Coleman, contributing writer for Robert B. Parker series. January is Dinah Jefferies and February’s author is Sheryl Steines.
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The Birth: ‘Scent of Magnolia’, a Tribute to Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, stage plays, scripts, monologues, jazz singer, segregration  It all started when a jazz singer/actress asked me to write a one-woman show for her; portraying the life and music of Billie Holiday. At the time she had a three piece band and they played small jazz clubs in Chicago. She had just finished acting in a showcase that I had produced (Women Outside the Walls) and was on her way back to the windy city. 

I laughed.  Why would she want a middle-aged, white Irish woman to write a play for her showcase of an iconic African-American woman? She replied, “you got inside the heads of the women in this play you wrote. You’ve never been in prison or been married to a convict. But you were able to make us feel empathy for these forgotten wives and families.”

 I said I’d think about it and started researching Billie Holiday’s life. Sure, I’d seen “Lady Sings the Blues” but felt certain that there was more to the story than a song-bird who OD’d on hard drugs. I discovered  the story of a fearless woman who rose above poverty, rape, bigotry, prostitution and imprisonment to become one of the most memorable and celebrated artists of the twentieth century. 

The resulting one-woman show was not only Billie’s story, but the nation’s story. In her own words, she talks about her struggle to succeed in spite of Billie Holiday, jazz, stage play, one act play,the segregation of that time and the difficulties she experienced singing with the great bands, most of which were white men. Without pity for herself, she talks about the daily slings and arrows which are a part of bigotry.  She took complete responsibility for her life, her choices, and her actions.  Her triumph was her music and her songs that will live on forever.  The script does not dwell on the sensationalism of her addiction to alcohol and drugs but chooses, rather, to celebrate the whole woman. 

You might wonder about the title. After all Billie was known for her white gardenias.  I chose Scent of Magnolia from the lyrics of Strange Fruit. 
‘Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh…..’

Original music  by  composer/song writer: Gary Swindell  PRESS play
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