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Reacquainting myself

One of these days, I’m going to  believe I’m actually pretty good at this writing gig.

Where I left off in Dorian:

Faubourg Marigny


A mournful blues slide greeted Alex as she made her way up Ma Mère’s curving wrought-iron steps to the intimate rooftop patio where Mac sat on a small raised platform, head bent over his beloved Gretsch. The hands that during the week dissected bodies with cool efficiency, attempting to draw from them the secrets of their demise, now caressed the strings of the vintage guitar, drawing from them an aching pathos and sorrow that resonated down to a body’s bones. A true bluesman. All it had taken was a few notes from his guitar that first day, and Alex had understood here lay the real Mac. Had understood that his invitation to “come hear me play for a spell,” amounted to far more than casual politesse.

That first Sunday, so long ago now, had been the real beginning of their friendship.

“Well if it isn’t the good doctor herself.”

Hell. And here she’d simply been looking for an afternoon immersed in good food, good music, and good company. Hoping to banish, if only temporarily, those haunting images of mournful gazes and the lingering headache with its relentless, agonizing heartbeat. Wanted to forget she’d imagined whispered entreaties to dare—to open herself.

She didn’t want to open herself, dammit.

Any more than she wanted to acknowledge the greeting, delivered in its typically mocking drawl.

However, it was difficult to ignore a lifetime’s worth of good manners—much as she might want to.

“Afternoon, Gabriel.”

Curly wrought iron scraped across the weathered brick pavers as he shoved a chair away from the table, the invitation clear. Alex stared from the empty chair to Gabriel’s seemingly disinterested expression, debating. On the one hand, she could simply acknowledge the summons with a “No , thank you,” and the polite dismissive nod learned at Nana Louisette’s knee. On the other, if she declined the invitation, she stood to get an earful from Mac regarding her chronic muleheadedness, as well as giving Gabriel further fodder in their not-always silent battle of wills.

“Bloody Mary, please,” she said to the hostess who’d returned when it became clear Alex wasn’t following.  She dropped into the wrought iron chair, shifting to allow for a better view of the stage. That it kept Gabriel safely contained at the edges of her peripheral vision was just an added bonus.

“Now that’s a bit rude, Doctor.”

“You’re the one who asked me to join you. Should’ve been prepared.” She took a slow, deliberate sip of the potent red cocktail that had appeared with the preternatual efficiency for which Mère’s bartenders were famed, then sighed.

“I’m sorry.” She pushed the drink away, not even sure why she’d ordered the damned thing in the first place. For God’s sake, she didn’t even much care for Bloody Marys,.


Mac’s taunt echoed in her head as she turned the chair back toward the table—enough to keep the stage in her line of sight yet bringing her back within the realm of decent manners. “That was rude.” Knowing damned well even though alcohol had never seized hold of him same way the smack had, Gabriel still viewed anything harder than a beer as something to be treated with respect and generally avoided.

He shrugged and gestured at a passing waitress, lifting his bottle along with two fingers. “I take it’s been a difficult morning?” His voice was surprisingly neutral.

“No more so than usual.”

“Isn’t there some rule where Sundays shouldn’t be difficult?”

“If there is, my family didn’t get the memo.”

As soon as the words left her mouth she regretted them, fully expecting some scathing retort, likely involving silver spoons and apron strings. Then she’d snipe back, something completely inappropriate and ugly, and so it would go until she’d up and leave, only to return home cloaked in the nausea and vague sense of unease that had dogged her ever since this morning’s bizarre episode.

Episode—that’s how she’d chosen to denote it. A brief, surreal moment brought on by too little sleep and not enough coffee.

Or booze.

Again, however, Gabriel surprised her, merely tapping the neck of his fresh Abita against hers with a murmured “Santé,” and relaxing back in his chair to listen to Mac finish out his set.

A good part of Alex remained tense, unable to completely shake the feeling he was just trying to lull her into a false sense of security because… well, because. It would be just like him, wouldn’t it? Almost against her will, though, she relaxed, soothed as always by the music and the beauty that was Ma Mère’s. The smoky aromas of blackening spices butting up against the cool, loamy scent of weathered brick all wrapped in the steady hum of an early Sunday afternoon. Quiet, compared to the tourist traps down in the Quarter, but that’s just how the regulars around here liked it. Not to say it didn’t have its noisy, raucous moments—catch it on any given autumn Sunday when the Saints played—but even so, Mère’s belonged to the locals and those they trusted to keep the secret of the best brunch and blues in New Orleans.

Initially, it had been the latter, by way of Mac and his weekend hobby, that had drawn Alex to the venerable Marigny landmark. Still relatively early in the post-Katrina recovery, he’d suggested she drop on by. Listen to him play his guitar and if she had a mind to, maybe even lend a hand because at Mère’s, in those days, they’d needed all the help they could get.  It’d been that rarity: never once closing because of the storm, surviving on generators, charcoal grills, and a wing and a prayer. A loosely organized host of volunteers had cooked, cleaned, and procured supplies from God-only-knows where—best not ask what you really didn’t want to know—while overseeing it all had been Mama  Earlene and Lucille, her trusty twelve-gauge.

She’d offer food and drink to any who needed, take what payment could be offered and if none could, simply scribbled out an I.O.U., assuring the customer she was confident the debt would be paid. Even now, five years on, folks regularly eased in through the palm-shrouded entry, bearing their tattered half of a ticket along with payment, while at least once a week an envelope would drop through the mail slot,  bearing postmarks from as nearby as Slidell or as far away as California. There was even the memorable instance  of a case of fresh-smoked salmon from Alaska that had landed on the doorstep with a simple “Thank you, Mama” scrawled on the side.

One gesture of generosity in exchange for another—one that may well have saved a life.

That was the thing—people remembered.

Even if they no longer lived here—forced out by circumstances beyond their control—they remembered their city and the people in it.

This city, it had a way of holding a body’s heart. And Mère’s itself embodied the very heart of the New Orleans Alex had never been able to escape, no matter how far she’d run.

“Well, now… look at the two of you, playing nice in my little corner of the sandbox.”

“Fuck you,” Gabriel retorted, but there was no real heat behind it. He raised his hand again to summon the waitress while Mac pulled a chair up to the table and drained what was left of Alex’s Turbodog.

“Didn’t mess around, did you, girl?”

Alex shrugged. “Gabriel ordered.”

Mac’s sandy brows rose. “You let Gabe order for you?”

“I don’t let Gabriel do anything—he simply did and I felt it bad manners to argue.”

“As if niceties and proper behavior have ever stopped you before.”

“Just trying to take your repeated suggestions to heart.”

Mac made some unintelligible noise deep in his throat, before turning his attention to the newly-arrived waitress. “Three more Turbodogs, darlin’, along with the large bucket of Frenchman’s wings and a couple baskets of sweet potato fries.”

Alex felt her arteries hardening while Gabriel grumbled, “Why yes, Mac, you presumptuous son of a bitch, wings and fries would be great, thanks ever so for asking.”

Mac snorted. “Pot, meet kettle or was that some other Alex Lacorbiere telling me you’d ordered beer for her without so much as a by your leave? Besides, y’all had your chance to order whatever the hell you wanted while I was up working my fingers to the bone.”

“What can I say? You played such an engrossing set we forgot about eating.” Alex said with only minimal acid.

“And I remain stunned y’all quit arguing with each other long enough to actually listen.”

Gabriel leaned back in his chair the fingers of one hand restlessly playing with a worn silver lighter, sparking a flame and flipping the cap closed several times in quick succession. Remnants of yet another vice left abandoned in the ashes of his past, Alex knew, yet some habits remained deeply ingrained.

“Again, weren’t you the one chastising us to get along and all that Rodney King peacemaking bullshit?”

“Yeah—just never imagined either of you stubborn mules would actually listen.”

“The credit for this one actually goes to Gabriel,” Alex found herself saying, though for the life of her, she couldn’t figure why, exactly. “I would’ve been perfectly happy to find a remote corner where I could hide for a few hours and lose myself in the music.”

A knowing eyebrow rose. “And what kind of fresh hell did Miz Louisette inflict today?”

“Nothing fresh—merely more of the usual. Gossiping about who at church has had what done, being barely civil to Teddy Beckett because she can’t stand the man and wants to make certain he knows it, although I got the distinct impression he could give less of a shit. Oh,” she added as an afterthought, “and giving me hell about not wearing stockings to church.”

No need to go into the episode. Especially not in front of Gabriel. Not as if it was pertinent to the discussion at hand and besides, it was nothing more than an anomaly. Brought on by that lack of coffee. And booze. God only knew, that fresh beer couldn’t arrive soon enough.

“She’s lucky you put on a skirt.”  Mac’s glance took in Alex’s battered jeans and the worn to butter-softness Oxford button-down that had belonged to Daddy and that she’d pilfered from the bag intended for the Saint Vincent de Paul charity drive.

“Choose your battles.” Oddly restless, she stood and wandered to the rooftop’s edge, hoping for the warm spring breeze to sweep away the vestiges of the headache that the brief memory of this morning had resurrected.Gretsch-610x250

From A Tempestuous Noise by Barbara Caridad Ferrer ©2013

Where it began (Dorian)

After more than six weeks of semi-voluntary writing hiatus, I’m finally ready to get back to it. I’ve got several projects I could work on, but the one that seems to be poking its head up out of the ground most often is Dorian. I’m pleased, actually, because I love this project and I’d feared I’d come to such a screeching halt (multiple times) that I’d never actually finish it, which made me sad.

So sometime this week I’ll be opening the most current file (I can practically hear Lovely Agent cheering) and assembling my notes and trying to decide if what I have is really as good as I recall and if it inspires me to go forward.

In the meantime, this is what was once the original opening to the story, scribbled in a notebook in the wee hours of September 12, 2011. The fact that it still makes me shiver is a good sign, I think, because even though it’s no longer part of the story (it was a darling that needed to be killed), it did set the tone for everything that’s followed.


“Don’t look back, somethin’ might be gainin’ on you.” ~Satchel Paige

palm tree bent hurricane EDITED*304


New Orleans, Louisiana

August 28, 2005

His entire life he’d heeded those words.  His daddy’s mantra, borrowed from the great Satchel.  “That’s as good advice as any given by a man, no matter what color his skin is.”  So no, he’d never looked back.  Always looked forward.  Always forged ahead.  But the joke was on him now.  Because that thing that was gaining was coming from ahead, rushing headlong towards them with speed and fury and an unforgiving wrath that roared and howled at the injustice, but refused to let up, to divert its course.  Oddly, he wasn’t frightened.  God knows, he should’ve been.  Even old timers had the sense to be good and scared of the fearsome beast that snarled and spit and breathed righteous fire.  But not him.

No, if anything, he was hopeful.  Hope.  A simple word holding so much weight.  There was hope it would all be swept away—the dirt and filth. The lack of decency and morals and basic humanity.  Hope that the demons and monsters would be swallowed whole and erased—leaving nothing in their wake but perhaps the merest spun sugar dust sparkling in air washed clean and new.  Evidence that once, they’d been good.

Despite appearances to the contrary, they’d all been good.

Once upon a time.

It had all once been so very, very good.

Home (A little piece of flash fiction)

Inspired by a discussion on Twitter today about the word “gams.” It inspired this little quick vintage-styled piece.


It was Hawaii. Swaying palm trees and beaches and the ocean and warm tropical breezes that were incongruous with what November should be. It was the strange plinking sounds of ukuleles and dusky-skinned girls with straight dark hair who said aloha and called him a haole, in sweet, lilting voices.

But that night at the USO, thousands of miles from Illinois with its frigid air and barren fields buried under massive drifts of snow it was a girl who looked like home who captured Skip’s attention.

All peaches-and-cream skin, honey-blonde hair caught up in a net, and wearing a cherry-red dress that perfectly matched the lips that were turned up in a perpetual grin.


Hot damn, that dress was something else. Not because it was particularly racy or showed anything it shouldn’t. Outside of the color his Grandma would sniff wasn’t appropriate for anything outside a bordello, it was a perfectly respectable dress. Hell, she was even wearing a small, enameled flag pin at her collar. Couldn’t get more respectable than that, no sir.

But there was just something about that dress, mister…  The skirt swirling as she danced, riding up and giving peekaboo glimpses of legs left bare, all the patriotic girls having sacrificed their silk stockings for the war effort. Unlike all the other girls in the canteen, however, her legs were truly bare—she’d eschewed drawing lines up the backs of her legs to give the illusion of seams. And maybe because her legs were so defiantly bare—maybe because she danced tirelessly, with flyboys and squibs alike, showing no preference—he was able to look his fill at what he could only deem the finest pair of gams he’d ever seen in all his nineteen years, and that included the burlesque dancers at that club he and his buddies had visited the night before they shipped out and found themselves here.

In Hawaii.

Where he found himself the night before he was due to ship out again, this time for God only knew where and not knowing when—or even if—he’d ever make it back, and looking at a girl who looked just like home.

Sorting through notes and WIPs and trying to reorganize into something that makes sense, I keep coming across idea notes for potential projects. As is my habit, I jot things down as they occur, then set it aside for a later day.

Thought y’all might enjoy the peek into the mushy gray matter. These are notes for a story idea that clearly had its roots in chick lit, back before it became a dirty term. Until today, I hadn’t opened the file since 2004, so not exactly a barn burner of an idea. At least not one that set the lizard brain on fire.

Revenge of the Brat Pack (NOTES)

A woman pushing forty, who had initially imagined that her life would be like a combination of the influential John Hughes/Brat Pack films of her youth

Title each chapter after a different film or divide into sub-sections, referencing a different part of her life.  (Depends on how many films you use.)  Story catalyst is invitation to high school/college (which one?) reunion.  If college, perhaps she went to a college a lot of her high school classmates went to—she’s from Miami, which in the early eighties wasn’t as trendy and desirable as it is now, but had big dreams of getting out ala Andi in Pretty in Pink—hence the influence of those films.  Perhaps wanted to go to school in Chicago, because so many of the films she admired made it seem so clean and fun.  Or perhaps D.C. (St. Elmo’s Fire.)  Plus, it was different.  Those cities had seasons.  They lacked palm trees.  People bought warmer clothes and coats for back-to-school.  They fit the profile of every McDonald’s commercial of every ABC  Afterschool Special she ever watched.

Introduce each section with a blurb about the film saying what year it came out, who starred in it and a brief description of the movie.  And add the Siskel and Ebert review if you can find it.  Then memorable scene & quote from each film, i.e.

Memorable Scene: Ferris croons Danke Schoen and belts Twist and Shout from atop Polish Heritage Festival Float.

Memorable Quote:

“I did have a test today. That wasn’t bullshit. It’s on European Socialism. I mean, really, what’s the point? I’m not European, I don’t plan on being European, so who gives a crap if they’re socialist? They could be fascist anarchists, that still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. Not that I condone fascism, or any ism for that matter. Isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ A good point there. Of course he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off of people.”

Film suggestions-

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Risky Business

Sixteen Candles

Weird Science

Breakfast Club

Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

Some Kind of Wonderful

Pretty in Pink

St. Elmos Fire

She’s Having a Baby

Dirty Dancing

Revenge of the Nerds

Lost Boys

Opening scene:


This is what my life has come to

A bus full of little girls, all under the age of eleven, chanting.


So not what I expected.

Subtitled: what happens when Barb is operating on 2.5 hours of sleep and sees a photograph that captures her fancy. The photograph in question:

Vintage Hollywood

All credit to Arlene Wszalek (@Wzzy) who had posted a lovely full color version of this image taken during a walk around the newly reopened Hollywood Reservoir. I mentioned that it seemed the sort of  image that evoked a sense of Old Hollywood and that I’d love to see it manipulated in a sepia-tint. A while later, voilà—the Lovely Arlene had tagged me in a post whereupon she had applied a sepia filter to the photograph and isn’t it lovely?

My first thought was, “There’s a story there.” (Go on, look surprised, I dare ya.) And lo and behold… a wee drabble emerged.

This is that drabble. Please, keep in mind, 2.5 hours sleep.

With many thanks to Arlene for indulging my idle whim.

Vintage Hollywood

New Year’s Day 1957

No one remembered what it used to look like.

The fruit orchards and citrus groves bisected by wide, quiet avenues and lined with modest Craftsman bungalows and Mission-style houses

Back before Bill Mulholland built his dam, and Woodruff and Shoults had erected that damned monstrosity up on Mount Lee designed to draw people to their “superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills.” Hell, he hardly remembered himself—he hadn’t been that long out of short pants when the sign went up and not long after, the dam was built, changing the landscape forever.

Of course, it didn’t help—or hurt—depending on your point of view, that as the popularity of the talkies grew and the industry along with it, his quiet, sleepy town had also gone along for the ride—huge swathes of acreage giving way to studios and shopping centers.

He still hadn’t quite forgiven Chaplin for that.

Even so, the area had remained fairly sylvan and peaceful for quite a long time, removed as it was from the City of Angels, proper. Especially up in the hills themselves, lots of trails for a body to take a bracing walk or where a horse could still be ridden in peace. Up there, a body could get lost for days—weeks even—almost forgetting the hustle and bustle that invaded and wouldn’t be beat back. Not unlike a particularly insidious strain of poison-oak.

The one invader he hadn’t minded was the Observatory. There was something so regal and serene about it, clean and white and set at a remove from the ugliness. One could sit up there and feel just a little bit closer to the heavens and that was a fact.

There had been that scare some years back—that lunatic, Hughes, making noises about building up on Cahuenga Peak—something about how his princess deserved a castle so she could oversee her subjects.

Man was loopier than the yarn his grandmamma used to spin.

Then again, same argument could be made for City Council, since they actually voted to grant him permission to build.

Thank God, Hughes had all the restraint of a chickenhawk let loose in a henhouse. Ginger had caught wind of his indiscretions—not that he went to all that much trouble to hide them—and had the sense God gave a goat to give the narcissistic bastard the old heave-ho before she got in too far over her head.

Granted, he might not care for the sign much, but for better or worse, it was a landmark and a damned sight better than whatever that crackpot Howard would’ve seen fit to put up, no doubt overshadowing if not obliterating anything in his path. When one took into account that his next big project after Ginger cut him loose had been the Spruce Goose…

Well—everyone knew how that had turned out.

He paused for a breath and to regain his bearings. It was all changing so fast and yet, at times like this, the setting sun bathing everything in a warm gold glow, he could squint his eyes and it almost—almost—had the look of the sepia-tinted photographs so carefully preserved within the leather-bound albums that were his pride and joy.

They told a story, those albums did.

Just not the story everyone assumed.

They thought he was merely the family historian. The dotty uncle trying desperately to cling to a past about which no one cared.

Oh, but they’d care all right.

If they were smart enough to put together the clues he’d so carefully preserved on those bits of celluloid and painstakingly affixed to the heavy parchment sheets of those leather albums.

Of one thing he was certain—by the time they put it all together, that is, presuming they ever did—it would be far too late to do a damned thing about it. He’d be long gone and the biggest secret of all, gone with him.

Something about that—much like this place he loved so much—made him smile.

With that, he picked up the shovel and began to dig.

I’m sitting here with my first cup of coffee of the morning and mulling over a book I finished last night, Gracefully Gone, by Alicia Coppola. Honestly, I’ve been mulling over this book and writing this post since I first started reading it last week.

gracefully-goneNormally, I don’t write reviews—I might leave one on Amazon, as I did for Gracefully Gone, because I know those ratings and reviews can definitely help, but in terms of writing in-depth reviews on books, it’s not something I particularly enjoy doing. Maybe it’s because I know how much effort and sweat and tears and heart go into the creation of a book for me to turn what’s often a very critical eye on it. Call me a softy, but I can’t do it.

But Gracefully Gone has proven to be an exception almost from the get-go. Not simply because it’s prompting me to write about it, but because I even read it in the first place. You see, memoirs generally aren’t my cuppa—odd, since I actually love biographies, but I am a contrary creature. (Go on, look surprised.) But Gracefully Gone isn’t simply just another memoir either—it’s equal parts memoir, journal, and epistolary account. It chronicles the journey of Matthew Coppola, Sr. and his daughter, the young girl/woman who would grow up to become actress Alicia Coppola, as they navigated his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and eventually, the last months of his life.

It was a tremendous read—and yet, I still can’t review it, not in any traditional sense. It would… cheapen the experience, if that makes any sense. So I beg your tolerance as I record my reactions in the manner in which I heard them in my head as I read, which was… a chatty, conversational letter. Kind of apropos, no?

All right, then, here we go.

Dear Alicia,

Well, fellow writer, I finished reading Gracefully Gone last night. And as it has from the first moment I started reading, it has stayed with me. For various reasons—the style (since you are a wonderfully evocative writer), the story, the events, but most of all, because of a line you used more than once and that resonated: “There but for the grace of God…” View full article »

Just a few random observations on Between Here & Gone noted this morning:

I’ve received more reviews and “votes” (1228) which, let’s equate them to ratings on amazon or Goodreads, and “comments” i.e. reviews (104)  than I’ve ever received on any of my traditionally published novels. Hell, I think on all three combined. Including the negative/lukewarm reviews because yanno, Goodreads—where not reading the back cover copy and realizing you’ve bought a book featuring a love triangle when you hate reading love triangles is cause to give the book a one-star review. (I’m so not kidding about that.)

Even if I only look at the stats for Chapter Thirty (89 votes & 27 comments) they amount to more than I’ve gotten on any single novel.

And this isn’t even taking into account the comments left on my profile, which generally tend to refer back to BH&G as well.

I’m not trying to make any specific point here, other than idle curiosity. But I do find it interesting that more people found the book once it was listed as a feature title—a little thing, really, but it was giving the book a little piece of spotlight that seemed to bring it to readers’ attention. Maybe a lesson there for traditional publishers?

All right then, carrying on.



Where did it go wrong?

Where did it go wrong?

When did the change occur?

How did I evolve from the talented writer with so much promise to the afterthought? The one who doesn’t matter? The one whose only value stems from her ethnic/cultural background?

The one who’s passed from editor to editor and publisher to publisher, and no one know quite what to do with her?

Was it when a publisher decided they didn’t like my book and decided to cancel the contract? Was it when another author took offense at my name and decided to attack? Was it as far back as when I argued for a better title for my first book?

I don’t know. I just know it happened and it’s kept happening.

So I have to think it has something to do with me. Some intangible I have yet to identify.

It’s not the talent. That much I know. The talent’s still there—always acknowledged. The work ethic, too, since I’ve never once been late with a deadline, ever, and have worked diligently to give editors all they ask for. Those books I’ve worked so hard on have consistently won awards (even the one that was canceled by the publisher) and critical reviews. So it’s not about the writing. It never is.

It should be, but it isn’t.

So I don’t know what it is.

And I don’t know when it all went wrong.

All I know is it did.

There have been a couple of exceedingly thoughtful articles/opinion pieces lately that while different, are both about the pressure to conform, especially for girls. First was Amy Taylor’s brilliant piece in response to the Abercrombie & Fitch “Why we hate fat people” brouhaha, An Open Letter from a ‘Fat Chick’ to Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, and then today, I read Rachel Simmons’ The Damaging Message of Proms.

Both pieces are aimed a girls and young women and both spoke to me both as the young girl I once was and as the parent I am now.

Fair warning, I kind of suck at editorial/opinion pieces—there’s a reason I’m a novelist and not a journalist—my type of rambliness lends itself so much more effectively to fictional narrative than fact-based or opinion pieces, so if you continue reading, my apologies.

As an preteen/adolescent, I desperately wanted to conform… I thought. I blame ABC’s Afterschool Specials and McDonald’s commercials. While the Afterschool specials themselves were a little too preachy/Very Special Message for me, the McDonald’s commercials were like crack. They portrayed these groups of carefree, homogeneous kids (the 70s equivalent of the Abercrombie & Fitch “ideal”) cavorting along safe, autumn-leaf-strewn streets in some ubiquitous New England or Midwest Small Town on their way to share a bag of fries while sipping creamy shakes.

I grew up in Miami. Palm fronds, not autumn leaves were my norm. I was the only Cuban girl in my (then) white, middle-class neighborhood. My education, while typically public school for the 70s/80s, was differentiated by the fact that I was designated “gifted” and singled out to attend special classes twice a week. I was painfully shy and bookish and didn’t make friends easily.

But I had a McDonald’s.

So I’d hie myself off to Mickey D’s a couple times a week and pretend I was with a group of carefree friends with whom I could share my fries and cavort down autumn-leaf strewn streets. (First sign, maybe, that I was maybe destined to become a writer, but of course I didn’t recognize it back then.) I so desperately wanted to conform and be like everyone else— in a way, it was an expectation desired of me by my parents as well. After all, they were both immigrants and wanted the American Dream for their kids—one reason we lived in a white middle-class neighborhood in North Dade, rather than in the Cuban enclaves of Hialeah or South Miami which would have demanded a different sort of conformity.

At the same time, however, my mother, in particular, always made a point of stressing how different I was. How special. How I shouldn’t want to be like anyone else. Mixed messages, much? (Especially since “different” for her came with rules. It had to be “different” the way she wanted, not necessarily the way I actually was.) Ultimately, though, she wasn’t wrong. I really wasn’t like others and even as a kid, as much as I thought I wanted to conform, as much effort as I made at times, there was still an insidious voice within me whispering how it wasn’t me. Factors I had no control over, such as my ethnicity, my physical build, my intellect, coupled with my own personal interests and the pursuits I chose for myself (drum corps, classically trained pianist , figure skating) conspired to keep me just outside the norm. All through high school and even into college, I was at war with myself—fighting to be like everyone else while my natural inclinations led me down wildly divergent paths.

It resulted in a deeply unhappy and wildly insecure adolescence and young adulthood. I couldn’t help but make the choices I made yet found myself incredibly defensive and embarrassed about having to defend them.

I’m 45 now. I’ve lived in the Midwest and experienced those small towns with their autumn leaf strewn streets. I’ve done conventional in that I got the sort of college degree I thought I should. I realized, after a lot of trial and error how very not conventional and ordinary I am. I have reached a somewhat uneasy peace with my intellect. I have come to far more comfortable terms with my rebellious nature. I’m angry about all the time wasted as an adolescent and young adult; time spent chasing a concept fed to me as an ideal that took me a long time to realize wasn’t my ideal.

I wonder what I could have been, had I been more confident and less susceptible to all those images flashed before me during all those Afterschool Specials and McDonald’s commercials. Had I not had Brooke Shields and her slim-hipped 5’11” body telling us there was nothing between her and her Calvins.

On the other hand, having had the experiences I had—even the educational background I have—did give me the confidence to make choices for my own kids I might not have been capable of making otherwise. I was able to recognize their differences very early on and rather than simply declare “Oh, you’re different, revel in it,” and expect that to be enough, I went out of my way to give them the tools to cope with their unique gifts. (Yes, all kids are unique & wonderful & mine aren’t necessarily Special Snowflakes, but they’re my Special Snowflakes, dammit.)

Because I saw in them shades of how I was as a student and because of my background in education, I was able to recognize that a standardized public school education wasn’t going to cut it for either of them. While it was important for them to grow up around family during formative years, we knew staying in Florida for the long haul wouldn’t be healthy for them, so we moved to Seattle where they would have greater freedom to explore who they are and who they want to be and where we’d have better educational opportunities for them.

The only conformity I wanted for them was to who they are.

I look at them now, at 16 and 15 and see the people they’re growing up into and while I still feel vestiges of anger for all the time I wasted trying to be someone I wasn’t—someone the ads and popular culture and even my teachers tried to tell me I should be—at the same time if it’s allowed me the perspective by which I can give my kids greater confidence and freedom to discover who they are, well then, I guess I’d attempt to conform all over again.

Because in the end, the rebel in me always wins.


So, some of you may have noticed (probably more of you have not) that for the past two weeks, I’ve been Up To Something. That something being I’ve taken a manuscript of mine, Between Here & Gone that is complete and have been putting up, chapter by chapter on Wattpad. Why?

The easy answer is, why not?

The harder answer is, as you might guess, a bit more complicated. Let me see if I can bullet point this into something that makes some sense.

  1. As I said, the manuscript is complete. *waits to hear cries of “But Barb, don’t you want to sell it?* Well, d’uh, of course I’d love to sell the thing. But it’s one of Those Manuscripts. The kind that has no real definition in terms of genre. It’s not YA or New Adult or romance or literary or… I mean, the closest you could come to calling it is maybe a commercial women’s fiction, but it’s not contemporary. It’s set squarely in the 1960s and it’s a bit of a coming-of-age story and…Well… you see what I mean about undefinable? This is the sort of manuscript that’s difficult to sell, especially when you don’t have a track record in said undefinable genre. And aren’t Nicholas Sparks (not that I’m bitter or anything…). It’s the sort of thing that because I don’t have an established audience, I suspect would make it difficult to self-publish, especially with my self-admitted suckagetude at self-pimpery. Y’all know how very, very bad I am at promo. Even this blog post is taxing my ability to jump up and down and say, “Heeeeeeyyyyyyy!! Look at meeeeeeeeeee!!! Pay attention to meeeeeeeeeee!!!! Love meeeeeeeeeeee!!!
  2. Another reason is because among my work, not just the YA, but the adult stories—let’s call it eleven completed manuscripts and probably a half dozen more in various stages of completion—this manuscript stands alone as its own beast. By which I mean it’s completely unlike anything I’ve written before and it’s unlike anything on which I’m currently working. Something else that makes it a harder conventional sell.
  3. It’s a safe experiment. There are those who would say it’s a risk—what if the story’s not as good as I think it is or if I turn off readers or… Screw it. No risk, no reward, right? I’m tired of being a coward, y’all. I write. I want to show that I’m not just a one-trick pony. I can write something other than multicultural YA and if publishing won’t give me the opportunity to show that right now, then it’s up to me to show off what I’m capable of.
  4.  I like this damned story. A lot. I’d love to know if other people like it as well. And being one who lives in her writing cave most of the time, it’s a way by which to get some immediate feedback. Okay, admittedly, I haven’t gotten a lot yet, but still, it’s feedback I didn’t have before.
  5.  But perhaps most importantly, I’m doing this because I’m a storyteller. I had this story I wanted to tell and so I did and now I want to share it.

Is it the best novel I’ve ever written? I have no measure by which to decide, really. I certainly think there are elements that are among the best I’ve written. There are probably places it could be better, but I could say that about everything I’ve ever written, published or not. Maybe even especially the published works.

What it comes down to is I really, really like this story and I wanted to share it. I chose Wattpad as my “publishing” platform, even though I’m not necessarily the site’s target demographic or write in what’s considered a popular genre for the site, because it’s basically idiot-proof. It’s a glorified blog with the novelization formatting built in, which makes it an easy task for me to post the chapters so it doesn’t wind up feeling like a chore or obligation. It’s fun. The most work I did was putting together a cover which, if I do say so myself, I think I did a reasonably nice job on.

So there you have it. Complete story. A 100K word book up for free. There’s drama and adventure and self-actualization and romance and more drama all set around the turbulence of the mid-1960s.

Between Here & Gone

Between Here & Gone

In 1959 Cuba, seventeen-year-old Natalia San Martín was nothing short of a princess, sheltered, pampered, and courted by her very own prince, a childhood friend turned lifelong love. She and Nicolas made grand plans to study abroad and travel the world, secure in the knowledge their tropical paradise—the home they loved above all others—would always be there for them. All that changed on the fateful New Year’s Eve when Fidel Castro and his followers seized control of the island, with tragic consequences for not only the island, but for Natalia herself.

Five years later, it’s the fall of 1964—the U.S. is a country hovering on a precipice of massive change. The halcyon days of the Kennedy Administration have begun fading into memory, as the ongoing Cold War, the escalating conflict in Vietnam, and racial unrest at home begin to erode the sense of purpose and innocence that had gripped the country for three short years.

None of which really matters much to Natalia. For her, purpose and innocence disappeared five years ago; these days, she merely suffers her new existence as Natalie Martin, firmly leaving her past where it belongs—until the moment it all catches up to her and forces her to face the choices she’s made.



Those of you who know me, know how difficult it is for me to pimp myself out, but here I am, donning the Purple Hat of Pimpitude: please, RT, share, babble, whatever floats your boat if you feel as if I’ve written something that maybe has/deserves an audience. I will forever love you (well, more than I already do) and if you’re really nice, I might even give you my firstborn.


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