Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas With Daisy - A Cynthia's Attic Christmas Story


Christmas 1964, brings a mysterious visitor to Cynthia's house; a reclusive great-aunt nicknamed, "Crazy Daisy." Is she really crazy or just eccentric? Cynthia and Gus are determined to find out, but a stray ember and a flaming nightgown take the girls on an unexpected trip through time, back to 1914, where compassion and friendship gives new meaning to the spirit of Christmas.

Read an excerpt!

Christmas With Daisy

Chapter One:


"How crazy is she?"

"I don't know. Her real name is Daisy, but I've heard some members of the family call her Crazy Daisy." Cynthia, my best friend since forever, hangs her favorite pink ballerina ornament on the tree and then stands back surveying her artistry.

I rummage through cardboard boxes filled with multi-colored decorations and grab a silver garland. "And, she's spending Christmas with you? What if she sets the house on fire or murders everyone during their sleep!"

She rolls her eyes and flips her blonde, red-ribboned ponytail. "Gus. Shut down your wild imagination. She's not a serial killer or an arsonist."

I shrug. "I'm just saying that you don't know much about this great-aunt of yours. Why do you suppose no one has talked about her before?" I'll get the scoop on Cynthia's Christmas visitor if it kills me! Er...poor choice of words.

Cynthia makes a big production of straightening the garland I've just thrown onto a large section of branches.

"I liked it that way." I complain. "Not everything has to hang in perfect symmetry. So boring."

"I'll decorate my tree, and you, Augusta Lee, decorate yours. Or, should I say, you stand ten feet away, throw ornaments and icicles in the general direction of your tree and hope something sticks."

I should've expected she'd bring up my given name sooner or later. My mom and dad just had to name me after my grandfather, Augustus Leeander, but when my avid love of sports and my dislike of fussing with my hair and clothes surfaced, they took to calling me Gus.

"Hey! I'm just here to help, so there's no need to be insulting." I grumble but can't dispute her description of my decorating technique. She's seen me in action. So...I change the subject back to this crazy aunt. "Where's she going to stay? Your room?"

Cynthia's attention is squarely on the tree that has stood in the same corner of the den every Christmas since...since either of us can remember. "Doesn't it look beautiful, Gus? I think I've outdone myself this year."

I give an absentminded nod to the perfectly placed ornaments: red, green, silver and blue equally spaced. Silver garland drapes precisely on each branch of the six-foot pine chosen from a tree farm this past weekend. Bor-rring. "Yeah, yeah, it's gorgeous. But, what about your room?"

"Mother hasn't said, but you don't think Danielle has any intention of being inconvenienced, do you?"

I couldn't imagine Cynthia's older sister allowing a stranger to take over her bedroom, and it would take a bulldozer to get her brother's room ready for human occupancy. Obviously, Cynthia would spend the holidays on the living room sofa. "I have an idea. You can stay with me, if you'd like. I'm sure Mom wouldn't mind."

Her eyes widen, and a smile breaks across her face. "I have a better idea! You stay with me."

Huh? She won't have a bedroom. A crazy aunt could be roaming around the house–possibly rooting around for butcher knives and axes–and she wants me to stay with her? "Oh, great. Then both of us would be without a bed. Why not stay at my house? You'll be safe and have a comfortable place to sleep."

"Oh, but then we'd miss out on maybe the best Christmas ever. Aren't you always saying that Christmas is so annoying with your bratty cousin banging on the piano all day and feeding sweet potatoes to your dog, Sam, just so he'll throw up? Wouldn't you rather be here to experience, first hand, the holidays with a strange, maybe scary, aunt?"

She has me there. Getting away from dear, sweet cousin Bradley for a few hours has to be an improvement, even if I have to sleep with one eye open, watching out for a shadowy figure to jam a pillow over my face. "I'll ask if I can stay Christmas Eve. Mom and Dad will want me home in time for the family dinner Christmas night, but someone has to watch your back."

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Baseball and Ben-Gay

1945 World Series

A young boy sat on the windowsill of his grandmother's Sheffield Ave. Brownstone, and watched his beloved Cubbies.

Binoculars in hand, and radio nearby, his view was unobstructed, straight down the first base line. Grandma would bring him a sandwich and ask for updates on the game.

The summer heat settling in the top floor apartment, coupled with an over-powering smell stinging his nostrils from his grandmother's "overuse" of Ben-Gay, made it imperative to lean as far out the window, as possible.

"Now, Kenny. Don't you fall," she'd warn.

A World Series appearance and win was always first and foremost on his mind.

The last Cubs pennant win was 1945; 7 months after he was born, so another pennant or series win was just around the corner.

Right?

It would be a lifetime before the Cubs would make it to another series. 71 years.

In case you're wondering, Ken isn't still sitting in the window of his grandmother's Brownstone, but he's just as excited now, as he was then, to see his team play.

It's been 7 decades for this long-suffering fan, but joy, along with relief, came flooding back.

Go Cubbies!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Falling in love with reading again - With author, Donna Galanti

In becoming a novelist I soon lost the one thing I had loved all my life.

Reading.

Hard to imagine, right? My dad likes to brag that I had read every book in the school library by the time I was eight.

But now it was as if I had traded my love of reading for a new love, that of writing. And writers need to read to write. If success comes with sacrifice must it be the one thing that I need to do to be a writer? Could the two senses, writing and reading, not coincide?

It struck me in way it was like having your first baby. When my son was born all my love and affection went to him. It was so intense, this new love. It colored my entire world. It was a force that hit me and covered me in need, driving all my energy to it. Mothers know what I am talking about. You love your husband but a child–that is a crazy intense love that takes you unaware. Eventually, I found my own identity again as a mother and wife–and author. I had balance again.

And I realized I needed to find balance as a new author. I had become so sucked into the world of creating. My brain burst with words, ideas, dialogue, action, and characters speaking to me. I couldn’t slow my thoughts down. And in doing that I lost my love of reading. All of my energy went toward reading.
 
I knew I would need to force myself to read. Slow down my brain and allot time to read. And I did. From book to book I moved. I would read a few pages then move on like some wandering nomad. I couldn’t find my joy again. I couldn’t concentrate on the words.

Then a friend told me something that changed everything. She said now that I was an author I wouldn’t be happy with easy reads. I would need more stimulating books to challenge me. She was right. I had become bored with reading. I needed more. More from an author in the stories they created and words they chose. I wanted to be affected by what I read. Changed, transformed, and moved. I didn’t want to just occupy my time with empty entertainment, like watching TV.

I kept looking for the book to change me. One day I happened upon a sweet young adult book, Sparrow Road. It was beautiful and sad and hopeful. I cried (twice) as I read it straight through. I had fallen in love again. You can read my review of Sparrow Road here: (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/335479980).
 
Stephen King said, “The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen.” I aim to be less of a fool for sure.

So then I thought, why not re-read my favorite books over again? The books I held onto for decades. The ones close to my heart. And that’s just what I’m doing. I’m re-reading White Fang now by Jack London, then it’s on to Fahrenheit 451 (RIP Ray Bradbury), The Secret Garden, The Crystal Cave, and Island of the Blue Dolphins.

As a writer I need to keep reading. And I’m glad I found my lost-love again. The Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, said “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

I’m glad my paradise is back. Have you lost and found your kind of paradise lately?

 
Donna Galanti is the author of the award-winning and bestselling novels A Human Element and A Hidden Element of The Element Trilogy (Imajin Books) and the Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer, and has had a career in marketing communications. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.elementtrilogy.com and www.donnagalanti.com.

 

 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cynthia's Attic: Cast of Characters - My dad

My dad was my hero. Not surprising that he would be a character in my series, Cynthia's Attic. I inherited the desire to write from my dad, so I pretty much owe him for anything I am as a writer. He was a journalist for over 40 years and my inspiration and roll model. In fact, I'd go with him, on occasion, when he interviewed an interesting character for a story, then watch said story go from interview to edit to print.

Wish he'd been around to see my books. Every now and then, when the house is quiet except for the tap, tap, tap of my fingers on the keyboard, I feel him looking over my should as I write. I hope he approves.

His character, an 18-year-old cave guide in The Magic Medallion, saves Cynthia and Gus from certain death when they are swept into an underground river while searching a Southern Indiana cave for a lost medallion. Didn't I tell you he was my hero? Cynthia and Gus think so, too.

Read an excerpt:

I went flailing into the water the split second Cynthia reached out to grab me.  I couldn't see what happened to her, but the scream I heard and the following splash said it all.

The current seemed to be moving faster and faster.  I tried unsuccessfully to grab onto the rough ledge, but instead, I floated deeper and deeper into the cave.

I helplessly tumbled over and over in the blackness and thought about the irony of the swimming trophies and scout badges I'd collected over the past three summers.  Hmmmphh.  A lot of good that did me!

With every breath, I gulped more and more water.  A feeling that I probably wasn't going to get out of this alive swept over me, and at the same time I wondered if Cynthia was faring any better.  For some reason, it was comforting to know that she was probably going to drown with me.  Oh, that's a generous thought, Gus!  Here you are feeling good about the fact that your best friend is probably drowning, too!  I knew I didn't really feel that way.  I wanted her to make it out because…well just because.  Also, so she'd be able to tell someone where to find my lifeless, broken body.

Yep, I'm dying all right…there's the bright light I've heard about.  I was being pulled straight toward a small glow in the distance as a feeling of peace began to take over.  That peace didn't last long, though, as my ears picked up the deafening roar of a huge waterfall…a real one this time!  I started paddling backwards as fast as possible but couldn't fight the current and started falling and falling and falling.  Moments after I heard screams telling me that Cynthia was falling too, I landed face down in the water. Gathering the strength to look up, I couldn't believe my eyes.  We were in a river outside the cave.  If I could only swim to that bank, but my arms were like dead weights.

"Grab onto the rope!"

I turned in the direction of the voice and saw a splash in the water just in front of me.  I reached out and held onto the rope with all the energy I had left and was relieved to feel myself being pulled toward dry ground.  As I crawled to the bank, I heard the command repeated.

"Grab onto the rope!"

Soon, an equally exhausted Cynthia lay beside me.  "Are we dead?" I gasped.
"I…don't know," she said weakly.  "I think we're alive because every inch of my body hurts.  I don't think you hurt when you're dead."

"No, you're not dead…but you are lucky to be alive," a voice lectured.  As I painfully rolled over on my back, I saw a figure in green khaki pants standing beside me, but the glare of the sun hid his face.

"How in the world did you two get to the waterfall?  There's no way to reach it through the main entrance since it was blocked off years ago, and I know you didn't sneak into the cave the back way…and what in the world are you doing exploring caves in those old granny outfits?"  He laughed.

"Who are you to criticize our spelunking attire?" I asked, indignant.  "We just didn't have time to change and certainly didn't think we were going swimming today!"

"Whoa there, Nellie.  I don't care what you thought you were going to be doing…you look silly."

That did it!  I jumped up, in spite of my exhaustion, hands on hips, and spit out a withering comeback…"Oh yeah?"

That's all I managed to say because it hit me like a pan-full of my mother's burnt biscuits…I knew this person.  Although I'd seldom seen him in a hat, the faded green scout cap looked familiar.  It was identical to the one I'd found in the tent.  He had the same smile and unmistakable twinkling blue-gray eyes.  We had made it to 1934…and the young man who pulled us out of the river…was my dad.

 Click on my website for Buy links to all 5 Cynthia's Attic series books!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cynthia's Attic: Cast of Characters - Great Grandma Samantha

A glass jar...sitting on a round kitchen table...filled with candy sticks. That's my one and only memory of my great grandmother, Samantha.

Samantha Jane Huff was born on Nov. 1, 1865, married a man 20 years her senior (my g.grandfather, Charles Conrad) on Christmas Day, 1882. She died August 20, 1957. I suppose I can be forgiven for not remembering much about her since I was five at the time.

My cousin, Paul Conrad, e-mailed a wonderful picture of Samantha, nicknamed, Mant for no reason I can fathom. Why would you do that to such a beautiful name? She lived with Paul's mother and dad (my great aunt and uncle) after my grandfather's death in 1926, and he remembers her as a kind and wonderful person to be around. Wish I'd had more time with her. 

In Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the BayouSamantha (Connor) is portrayed as an excitable, free-spirited mother of twelve children; all of whom she worries over constantly. In COTB, she is a notoriously bad cook, which is simply literary license, and is married to Cynthia's g.grandfather, Beau Connor. Okay, so I took a LOT of literary license. Confused yet? Here's an excerpt:

Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou (Book Three)

 

As promised, there was hot food waiting for us. To say that Samantha Conner was the most awful cook in the world would not be an exaggeration. I hadn't tasted anything quite as bad as her dumplings since I'd had the brilliant idea to eat my first-grade art paste.

But, to be polite, Cynthia and I ate as much as we could choke down. At least the family stories told at dinner, helped make the food a little more palatable, especially since we'd already heard bits and pieces from Cynthia's mom. Samantha mentioned that her husband was traveling, and had not returned. I could tell she didn't want to talk about his disappearance, but that didn't stop her from talking about everything else.

"Go ahead, Ma," Jay insisted. "Tell them about how you met Pa. You know you want to."

Samantha laughed self-consciously. "Oh, Jay. These two don't want to hear tales about some old couple…well, if you insist…" She went on without ever taking a breath.

I shot a sly smirk toward Cynthia, but she was already caught up in the story.

"…and so I decided that no one was going to tell me I couldn't ride across that creek. My brothers were able to cross, and they weren't nearly the bareback rider I was!"

I could see the smug satisfaction on her face, even after all these years.

"But, Ma. Tell them what happened when you did start to cross."

Her voice took on a mildly annoyed tone. "I'm getting to that. I still say my brother, Thomas, rest his soul, deliberately frightened Powder, causing that horse to buck me off in the middle of that raging river."

"Well, that's not the way Uncle Jude tells it, Ma. But, you tell it your way."

Samantha sniffed, and then continued the story. "As I was saying…that pitiful horse bucked me off into a raging current and, land sakes…I was sure I was going to drown. I went tumbling, head over applecart, until I felt my lungs were going to burst right through my chest."

Although Cynthia's great-grandmother did have a flair for the dramatic, I didn't have to imagine how Samantha felt. I knew, from my own experience, tumbling helplessly through the underground river in Big Blue Cave, exactly what it was like to nearly drown.

"But, now to the good part." Samantha laughed heartily. "I was just about to give up the ghost when I felt a hand on my shoulder." She touched her own hand to her left shoulder and smiled, sadly. "I didn't see him until he'd pulled me to land and smacked water out of my lungs with a crack between my shoulder blades. I still wonder what he saw in a girl spewing river water into his face, but I knew, as soon as I looked into those kindly, brown eyes, that I would spend the rest of my life with Beauregard Conner."

Charles & Samantha Conrad, and children
Great Grandma, Samantha, I wish I had known more about you, but I suppose there are worse things than being remembered for a full candy jar.

 


 Click on my website for Buy links to all 5 Cynthia's Attic series books!