Okay, So What’s On Your Playlist?

I suspect most of us don’t see eye to eye on everything in life with our significant other. How can we? It’s perfectly reasonable we have some differences.

Taste in music may be one. My wife and I don’t agree entirely on music and certain artists. So, she being 3,000 miles away in London currently, I feel a bit less guilty about using the speakers to listen to, uh, some Chris De Burgh.

Thinking on that also led me here. Right now, I’m writing, sitting alone outside at my parents’ house, in their screened-in rear porch. It overlooks, well, trees….

View from my parents' back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

View from my parents’ back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the risk of perhaps alienating some of you, I thought I’d share the artists on one of my mixed playlists:

Chris Cornell; Adele; Steve Winwood; Ivy; James Blunt; Sara Bareilles; The Wallflowers; Tina Arena; Peter Cetera; Amy Winehouse; The Goo Goo Dolls; Natalie Imbruglia; The Cars; Judith Bérard; Quarterflash; Pat Benatar; Survivor; Laura Branigan; Mr. Mister; Corynne Charby; Matchbox Twenty; Sophie Ellis-Bextor; Jean-Jacques Goldman; 10,000 Maniacs; Chicago; Patricia Kaas; Journey; The Bangles; Chris De Burgh.

Yeh, I know. I’m showing some, err, “age” there. ;-)

Dad is doing well again today. I’m taking some time to unwind this afternoon. We all hope a general recuperation period has begun.

I hope you’re having (or you had) a good weekend, wherever you are reading this….

Saturday In The Poconos (With The Patient)

With Dad now at home and feeling pretty good, we’re all settling into trying to help him recuperate from his heart “failure” last weekend. I’ve been trying to do what I can around the house – driving my mother here and there, running errands, changing smoke detector batteries, etc. Normally, my Dad’s been the one climbing on ladders and doing “guy stuff” in their home.

He’s also thrilled the English Premiership has restarted. It was on the television all morning. Memo to anyone in U.S. sports media who still believe men “over 50″ will never take to soccer/football: My 73 year old very American Dad – who grew up adoring baseball and American football – loves soccer now too.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of men playing soccer.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of men playing soccer.

If I had ever bet that he’d be immersed in a Leicester City v. Everton match, I’d have lost my shirt.

There is some downtime. So later, and in days to come, I may also have some time to write sneakily. They don’t know about my novels. ;-)

And my wife (back in London, from whom in 15 years’ married I’ve not been so long separated as we will be during this week, or more, apart), bless her, she decided this morning to have a laugh. She iMessaged me this Telegraph piece:

Marion Cotillard: ‘I felt I could lose myself’

My phone beeped at me at 4:30 am with just its link visible. Nothing else in her message. When I spoke to her a few hours later, she said she just couldn’t resist it: “I know she’s not Juliette Binoche, of course. But she’s second….”

8. You wholeheartedly agree with the phrase: “Mélanie Laurent is a goddess.”

…. everyone knows the correct phrasing there is not “Mélanie Laurent is….” At least, not yet.

Obviously, the most accurate statement is “Juliette Binoche is….”

“Marion Cotillard” being one is the other acceptable response.

All things considered, it’s wonderful to feel able to really smile for the first time in nearly a week. :-)

Dad’s Home (And Quite Alive)

We’ve had a wonderful surprise: my Dad was released from the hospital last night. He’s home and looks remarkable following his ordeal. Fingers crossed it may continue….

En route to their house in Pennsylvania, I landed at Newark yesterday at just after 1 pm. It took me an hour to get thru the airport. First, it took an age for my lone bag to appear. It was followed by a huge queue at Customs caused by all those lining up to hand in that archaic customs form: Welcome to the Land of Paper Work the Free. (I would not want to be a non-English speaker having to complete that jargon-ridden form, next to be greeted by scowling customs officers scrutinizing it. It should be gotten rid of. The EU manages with customs exit channels in which you “declare” or “don’t,” simply by exiting through “red” or “green” doorways.)

Those formalities were followed by a wait to get the rental car. I got away finally at 2:30 after I’d called my Mom. I reached their house about 4pm. By 4:05 we were in my sister’s car headed for the hospital.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

In transit, I was out of touch much of the day. I arrived to find Dad was to be discharged within hours! To do so, his doctor insisted he wear a Zoll Life Vest.

It is to be worn all the time except while showering. It monitors the heart’s actions. If anything “bad” happens, it shocks the heart. (At which time my mother calls the doctor, the company, and 911.) That is a rare happening; but if it does, it is far more timely than awaiting paramedics or driving him to the hospital. The woman who set it up explained it to him (to all of us) that usually it is worn for several months. Once a week, he has to upload the accumulated data on the device to the Zoll company just by plugging the device into the company’s modem, which my parents connect to their landline. The info goes to his doctor.

On the drive back to their house, while my Mom and sister stepped into a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, waiting in my sister’s car my Dad told me he was happy I am here. He agreed my Mom needed a break and that she’d relax more now with me around. I will be here a week at minimum. Everyone has rallied around. Lots of people on two continents have been inquiring about him. Facebook’s Messenger has been abuzz for days.

When we were sitting in the lounge with Hot In Cleveland on the TV last night, Dad in his chair (LifeVest on of course), I said I couldn’t believe we were here. I added that when I had gotten on the plane this morning, I never would have even hoped this is where we would be. It is all a great relief. I had been thinking, quite seriously, the end was near.

Oh, do I feel jet-lagged today? Not at all (yet). On the contrary, I feel great! :-)

The Anxiety Worsens

Turns out my Dad may be, well, very bad after all.

The optimism of yesterday vanished this morning. I’m flying back to the States on Thursday. I may not be on here much for a few days.

Hopefully, it’s not as bad as thought. But it’s his heart. It’s not looking great.

One of life’s awful times may be upon us….

An Anxious 24 Hours

We have had a difficult 24 hours. My father, back in Pennsylvania, was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia and sedated – out cold – for nearly 36 hours and administered intravenous anti-biotics. He was also put on a ventilator.

My mother and sister were practically beside themselves. I could hear it in their voices over the phone as they told me. They had already been dealing with it for nearly 12 hours before they had contacted me.

We had left the States to return to England only five days before. Five.

Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a healthcare practitioner in the process of conducting a blood pressure examination upon a seated male patient in a clinical setting.

Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a healthcare practitioner in the process of conducting a blood pressure examination upon a seated male patient in a clinical setting.

On getting the news yesterday afternoon, my wife made it clear to me: “Fly over there if you feel you need to.”

However, my mother wanted me to wait for him to be awoken, when there’d of course be more news. Today was decision day. “If they wake him up and it’s bad, please come over,” she asked me tearfully.

The doctors woke my Dad up on early this (Tuesday) morning, Eastern US time. Things look okay. She discovered they’d done it when he surprised my mother with a phone call from intensive care, with the doctor standing over him.

No immediate travel plans for back to the States. My Mom has headed back to the hospital, to see him fully awake for the first time since Sunday evening. She said she’ll call me later with an update.

Living at a distance is something we all deal with. And if you live an ocean apart in another country, that merely compounds the difficulty. I said to my wife, “We were in the States and Kam died. Your Mum gets put in hospital, and we were in the States. My Dad gets hospitalized and we’re in Britain. We just can’t seem to be in the right place at the wrong time.”

_____
UPDATE: My Mom came back to me and told me he didn’t have pneumonia. He has fluid under his heart pressing against a lung – which looks like pneumonia. He may need minor surgery, or pills could even do the clearing up job.

But that may change too. Nothing’s etched in stone. It has been one of those days….

And Jenny Paints

We had headed to Bristol on Saturday for a barbecue, to watch the Balloon Fiesta fly by, and to stay with friends overnight. Unfortunately, the fly by was scrubbed due to heavy rain. “Ah, the English weather,” the host dryly (no pun intended) announced.

However, the barbecue did take place thanks to a small garden gazebo. So we still had a wonderful evening with them and friends of theirs whom we didn’t know previously. Twelve of us in total.

Our friends are an Anglo-Danish couple: he’s English; she’s Danish. And they have two absolutely gorgeous, friendly and hilarious cats:

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Mingling, my wife mentioned my novel to one man. Trust her always to know how to work a room. (She’s much better at it than I am.) Moments later, he sought me out.

And he was keenly interested in the smallest of details. How do you write? What time do you start? Do you do it every day?

Others jumped in as we stood around the kitchen island, drinking and eating. Later, general conversation in the dining room drifted briefly to my novel, including the plot and my inspiration. “Why do you think I come to get togethers like this?” I joked. “I need new material!”

Grinning, our Danish girlfriend observed, “I was reading it on the Kindle, wondering, ‘Hmm, am I in here? Am I one of those French girls?'”

“Don’t worry. You’re not in this one,” I smiled. “Would you like to be in the next one?”

By the end of the evening, two of my Kindle books had been sold. “I just bought it,” one woman announced. “Click!”

We also discovered another woman at the gathering was a wonderful painter. I mean superb. She produced an incredible canvas work that our friends have mounted over their fireplace.

The man with whom I’d first been chatting about my book noted to the table, “Rob writes novels. Jenny paints. What’s my talent? I don’t do anything!”

Sunday night, we visited with other Bristol friends I’ve mentioned before: the Maidments. Stu is author of a WWII, Nazi scientists, IRA killers, action/adventure/thriller that’s rather, err, different than my expats/travel/romance tale. At one point, as I related the party to him, we discussed how you don’t just go up to someone and announce, “Hey, I wrote a book!”

I recall reading that Humphrey Bogart (my favorite actor) had once said he hated telling people he was an actor; that it was such a silly thing to be. I don’t feel exactly the same about being a new novelist, yet there is still a sense of awkwardness in saying you write novels. So when others show such enthusiasm about what you do, it is a huge confidence booster. :-)

It’s A Murder, Not Some “Saga”

Please pardon an extremely serious post. A Twitter reference the other day to a novel entitled Abroad, which I had not heard of until then, caught my eye. It is based on the 2007 murder in Italy of English student, Meredith Kercher.

Her murder case is so over-argued on social media, I decided the best way to learn about the book was to seek out “mainstream” summations of it. This first is from Publishers Weekly:

A mystery based on the Amanda Knox saga unfolds…. Tabitha (“Taz”) Deacon, an Irish student studying abroad in Grifonia, Italy, finds herself caught up in the glamorous lives of a trio of beautiful, and close, fellow students while also nurturing a friendship with her quirky American flatmate, Claire….

The first sentence use of the word “saga” is a cautionary flag. So what we have here is the murder of Ms. Kercher reduced to the level of a Twilight installment? Not exactly an opener that indicates (to me anyway) an appreciation of the gravity of the real life subject being fictionalized.

….The similarities to the Amanda Knox story are myriad, and at times distracting, but [the author] explores an overshadowed element of that case: the victim, her thoughts and dreams and mistakes, as well as those she’ll never be able to have or make. “We were all alive, and we loved and hated and lived brilliant, messy existences,” Taz says.

“The [real] victim” has a name: it was Meredith Kercher. While we don’t learn that there, we do discover the tale’s told from the “fictionalized” victim’s perspective. We see noted that a phrase like “messy existences” is even put into her “fictionalized” mouth – as if this is a young adult variation on Desperate Housewives too?

It is worth recalling Ms. Kercher’s real existence was ended brutally. She had been stabbed and sliced no less than forty times. While attacked, she had also evidently been restrained and was unable to defend herself.

Thus that sentence masquerading as a profound observation on lives lived, is in fact a whopper of insensitivity. This seems creepy, disturbing stuff. And not in a “chilling fiction” way.

Next, from a novelist’s review at The SF Chronicle:

….Claire, Taz’s American flat mate, who speaks her mind, adores Taz and spends most of the novel trying to get her away from what she feels is the very bad influence of these girls. Claire’s clearly the moral center of the novel, and she and Taz develop a real and important friendship, until both fall for mysterious Colin, which leads to a stunning betrayal….

According to an Amazon poster, “The character who substitutes for Amanda Knox in this book is Claire.” If that person easily spots who that character is meant to be, certainly that Chronicle reviewer must have too. That any such mainstream reviewer could then label that character “the moral center” shows that to achieve that “substitution” the author must have written Claire quite sympathetically.

Allow me to inject this non-fiction. Having worked in a London university in the early 2000s, my initial reaction to Ms. Knox’s charged involvement in the murder was a shrug: she was unremarkable. Learning over time about her “studies” in Italy merely reinforced my opinion. I recalled how, in British universities, U.S. study abroad students are among administrators’ biggest foreign student headaches: some enroll and rarely or never appear, leaving the universities with no idea what they are up to.

An Admissions officer once told me, “You know who our biggest problems are, Robert? It’s [----------] and Americans.” That’s no shocker. Too many U.S. study abroads are a weird melding of childishness, self-absorption, arrogance and insouciance. They arrive in Europe imagining it’s a decadent playground, and, often away from parental oversight for the first time, they lose their minds.

I told incredulous European colleagues more than once, “Don’t look at me, I didn’t raise them.” Heavy drinking (age 18 in Europe is generally the drinking age), illegal drug use (yes, there are illegal drugs here), and casual sex (not the most intelligent of behaviors at any time, let alone when you’re also drunk, stoned, and in an environment in which you may be linguistically-challenged) are not uncommon among them.

And those who overindulge are often quite “proud” of those “achievements” in “finding themselves.” Much like Ms. Knox was. Pre-murder, apparently she had been having a great ol’ fun time “studying” abroad. (Europe’s just, like, so cool, isn’t it?)

Free Stock Photo: Italian flag in blue sky.

Free Stock Photo: Italian flag in blue sky.

So until the night of Ms. Kercher’s slaying, by all accounts (including the mouthy Ms. Knox’s own gaseous admissions) Ms. Knox’s study abroad “adventures” were hardly a source for a groundbreaking novel. They closely resembled those of so many others wearyingly like herself. Indeed, they were an embarrassment and a slap in the face to the many young Americans who study (and live) in Europe and do so responsibly and maturely.

All that makes this Ms. Knox really unique is that Italian authorities are convinced there is more than enough reasonable evidence proving she is one of three (and the sole American) involved in the butchering of Ms. Kercher. The only people who know the absolute truth of what occurred that night are “the victim” and her killers. Ms. Kercher’s murdered, so, absent honest confessions from those who did it, all that’s possible in these situations is to attempt to piece together what happened to her and who’s responsible.

In 2011, the future Abroad author ridiculed Italian law enforcement’s piecing job. That’s fine. Outright disbelief is certainly anyone’s right.

I had never heard of that author before seeing that tweet; but it appears she has decided mythologizing Ms. Knox is a better way forward than arguing this or that fact as it sometimes appears half the internet is doing.

She seems to have constructed her Ms. Knox as the inspiration for the fictionalized, “quirky American flatmate?” She, from among the thousands of doubtless far more interesting, but also of course largely unknown, young American women who’ve also studied recently in Italy? Again, that’s any author’s right.

However, one would have thought at least waiting for “the saga’s” legal conclusion to have played itself out pre-publication would have better sure-footed any fictional effort. Still, anyone may choose to nail their literary colors to whichever mast one wishes, and whenever one wants. But if the Italian Supreme Court later this year, or early in 2015, upholds Ms. Knox’s murder guilt, well, that will have demonstrated that having retreated into a fantasy novelistic alternative universe had been the only realistic recourse left anyway.

_____
NOTE: I’ve turned off the comments. I’m not debating evidence in the case, and won’t have others do so either in my comments. It belongs in the courts. If you feel Ms. Knox is a victim of a miscarriage of justice, please forward your suggested defense appeal tactics directly to her lawyers.

“Passports” At The Ready

Hello! Made it! Feeling really jet-lagged this morning UK time, we’re back in London.

Some posts just write themselves – and this is one.

If you enter the United Kingdom by air and hold a non-EU passport, you must complete a short landing card to give to passport control. Among the standard name, address in the UK, etc., info that it requires, it asks for your occupation.

The last few times I’ve filled one out, I’ve written “Author.” (The first time, it had been at my wife’s urging: “You are one now.”) None of the previous border officers had showed the slightest interest in asking me about it. They had also all been men.

Yesterday’s officer, a pleasant woman, did. Friendly and efficient (but you knew she was doing her job thoroughly), after the entrance formalities, including, “How do you two know each other?” (My wife: “We’re married.”) and comparing my old passport’s (which has my UK visa stamp) photo to my current one – “Look at you!” (I was a bit younger in the older passport photo, obviously) – the officer glanced down again at my form and asked me, “What do you write?”

I smiled and replied, “I’d guess you’d call them travel romances.” I added a moment later, “Would you like to buy one?”

final-cover-2-december-2013.jpg

She appeared genuinely interested. Taking hold of a piece of scrap paper, she noted with a grin, “I might. You write under this [your real] name or another?”

When I shared my “R. J. Nello” pen name, she laughed, checking the spelling as she scribbled, “Let me get that right.”

Finished, she wished us a “Welcome back.”

As we made our way around the corner towards baggage reclaim, I chuckled to my wife, “Us authors will talk about our books just about anywhere.”

At that, she joked, “Wait until Carol and Stu hear about this. You may soon have fans in the UK Border Agency.”

Why You Hate Mom Being On Facebook

I had an, uh, “interesting” phone chat with my mother in Pennsylvania last night. It went generally like this….

Mother: “Have a good trip back to England. Say ‘Hi’ to everyone for us.”

Me: “I will of course. Helen spoke to her mother. Everyone seems okay. She always misses Helen when she comes over here for a while.”

Mother: “Her mother adores her. Oh, you know, I noticed that your friend Carol’s husband, in England, that Helen wrote on Facebook that he’s written a book?”

Me: [Uh, oh. Gather thoughts, Rob.] “Yes, he did. He worked on it for over a year. In his spare time. I bought a Kindle copy….” [Darn! Why did you say you bought a copy!?]

Mother: “Well, that’s great to get something like that published the first time you do it.”

Me: [Still wary.] “He didn’t. He self-published on Amazon. That’s become a big thing now. There are lots of best sellers by people who do. He hopes it’ll attract some interest. He’s not expecting millions.”

Mother: “Getting published used to be about who you knew. My brother managed to know the right people. Now you can do it yourself. Have you….”

Me: [Trying to shift the discussion quickly away from my friend's book, which has that potentially explosive ***Acknowledgement*** to me issue (I don't want my mother buying it!), and what I suspected was about to be a question from her about my writing something myself someday.] “You know that Fifty Shades book. The one they’re making the movie….”

Mother: “….Of course I’ve heard of it. I bought it for your sister. And I was thinking, ‘What is this?’ She said, ‘It’s erotica.'”

Me: “I get the impression ‘erotic’s’ not a strong enough word. [Am I discussing that book with my mother?] Anyway, I’ve read she started out with a blog, writing fan fiction of Twilight, I think. When she developed her own characters and published it on Kindle, she sold like a gazillion copies. I read someone who also said it sold so many that way because women could read it on Kindle sitting next to their husbands and kids and no one could see what they were reading because the cover wasn’t visible!”

Mother: [After a laugh.] “How things have changed. Hey, you know those people living behind us? They moved….”

Whew. That was a close one. Book discussion concluded – by mother.

I think it was de Gaulle who once said a politician should never lie, but he must be careful about how he tells the truth. Well, whether politico or not, definitely don’t lie to your mother! Just avoid mentioning what she doesn’t directly ask. Or get her off the subject – quick! ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Yes, we’re flying back to London later today. I may be quiet for a day or two. See you on here next from “over there.” :-)

The Sequel’s Draft Cover

We’ve all heard the expression, “Never judge a book by its cover.” Yeh, well, as both readers and authors, we’re also aware that the cover is important. A novel could be wonderful, but if the cover is off-putting to readers? On the other hand, even the most spectacular cover cannot make up for a fundamentally weak book.

Drum roll, please….

Draft Cover. Front cover photo (r): Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking Dahouët harbor, Brittany. Rear cover: A visitor snapping a photograph, Manhattan. [Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello]

Draft Cover. Front cover photo (r): Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking Dahouët harbor, Brittany. Rear cover: A visitor snapping a photograph, Manhattan. [Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello]

That’s the sequel‘s draft cover. My own photos once more, this time with color enhancements and computer alterations. I’m still about 4-6 months from publication, so it may change again.

But I’m definitely liking this approach. After the perhaps blindingly “obvious” covers I thought were necessary for Passports as a series opener – national flags on the front cover, and shots of the Statue of Liberty/ World Trade Center/ Eiffel Tower on the back – there will be some “artsy” symbolism on this second one. As you see also, I reduced the Passports cover, and I’m thinking to slip it onto the sequel’s cover as well.

And, again, hopefully it’s a cover readers won’t be, uh, “embarrassed” to be seen with in public: ;-)

….When we sit on a train with a book open in front of us, how much has our choice of reading being influenced by our ideas of what a proper book should be like, and how a proper adult should appear in public?

A few other points. The title’s blanked out because I’d like to save sharing that with you until I’m nearer to publication. Also blocked out is a reference to how Passports concludes. (I don’t want an inadvertent “spoiler” here months before that sequel is available in “book world.”) That said, the back cover “blurb” you see is also, for now, otherwise mostly filler; although I really do like that Lena comment that appears in a chapter, so I may use it on here.

We all have to start somewhere. :-)

Hope you’re having a good day, wherever you’re reading this….