A Novel Holiday, by Pamela Dae (Sneak Peek!)

novel holiday

   I promised to post the first two chapters of my novel in progress on Facebook when I reached 750 fans.  I hit that benchmark last Friday (and over the weekend lost a fan).  But the two chapters are posted and I’m hoping you will enjoy them as well.

This is a copyrighted work of fiction by Pamela Dae Perlman.  Resemblance to persons living or dead is completely coincidental and/or your imagination.  If you like this, please let me know!  Share the page too.

big ben copy

Chapter One

Two weeks, Isabel thought, and Big Ben will be our wake-up call. The Tower, the Thames, London Bridge. But so much to accomplish before they departed: the last fundraising push for the Literacy Institute, posting the semester grades for her classes, and most importantly, getting an o.k. from Mary Clair’s doctor. They could discuss the details tonight at book club and then — Isabel wanted to shout with joy — then her dream trip to Europe would be almost here. She heard the old-fashioned “oo-oo-ga” of a classic car horn and reached for her phone, but had no idea where she stowed it in the rush to leave work. She stopped on a linden-canopied block of Park Avenue in Richmond’s Fan District, halfway between the university and home, and plopped her bags on a brick wall. She shuffled through the vintage Fendi, the bag of groceries, a canvas tote crammed with students’ final submissions from her “Angels and Demons” seminar. Finally, she upended the purse, scattering the contents and locating the damn phone in a side pocket just as it went to voicemail.   Laura June White. She hit call back without listening to the message.

“Laura June, no need to bring anything tonight, just you and your copy of Cold Comfort Farm.”

“Izzy, oh honey, I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t come to book club tonight.” Isabel thought Laura June’s voice sounded slurred. “Hang on a minute.”

Isabel flattened her tote on top of the wall and hoisted herself backwards to sit on top of it, losing one of her heels in the process and hoping not to snag her skirt. Despite the risk, she felt it best to be sitting; Laura June drinking at five in the afternoon meant quite a story and she was not known for brevity anyway.

“OK, I’m back. Grange brought me a Co’Cola and another pillow.”

“Laura June, what is going on?”

“Thanks, Grange. So, Izzy, you know that ladies round robin at the Richmond Tennis Club every Tuesday?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Isabel waited several beats for Laura June to continue speaking. When she didn’t, she said, “And?”

Laura June burped. “And? Oh, sorry, I might have drifted off there. So Corie Crockett and I were playing a match this morning. Do you know Corie?”

“All too well.” Isabel kicked off her other heel and hoped the soft river breeze would soothe her; instead it blew a large hunk of auburn curls into her lip-gloss.

“Oh, that’s right. So Corie really slammed a serve in my direction. I thought I could get to it if I backed up enough, so I kept backing and backing and hit a bench. I do not know why they put those benches right there at the edge of the court. Do you?” Laura June began humming.

“I don’t play much tennis, Laura June.”

“It’s really fun; you should play. You’re always complaining about your weight.” Isabel pursed her lips and counted silently to five. “And then you hit a bench?”

“Uh huh. I fell bass-ackward and ended up in the ER with a broken femur.”

“What? Are you all right? What can I do?”

“Nothing, honey, thank you so much. I won’t make it to book club tonight though but I really did like all those old Starkadders. Specially the cows.” She giggled again and said in a softer voice, “Ada Doom kinda reminds me of Grange’s momma. So, I’m home and Grange taking care of me, and his momma took the kids for a couple days. They gave me some good meds at the hospital so I’m feeling very groovy. For now.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m so sorry about your leg.” Isabel bit her tongue to keep from blurting out a question about whether the trip would be cancelled.

“And honey, I have the best news. You do not have to worry about the trip at all.”

“Laura June, what a relief that you can go.” Isabel felt her heart rate return to normal. “You know how much this means to Mary Clair.”

“I know, honey.”

“And to the Literacy Institute. We told the donors it would be our book club tour of Europe and without you, it just wouldn’t be that.”

“Isabel.” Laura June’s voice held a tone of scandalized pride. “I could never ever do that to the Institute. We’ve raised almost ten thousand dollars with our — um, Grange? What do you call the book club thingamajig? That’s right, the Walking Litter-Thon.”

“Um hmmm,” Isabel said. “Literary Walk-A-Thon.”

“S’what I said.”

“But we leave in less than three weeks, are you sure you’ll be all right by then?”

“Izzy, first, ‘sall taken care of. But it’ll be suites at all of the BedStead hotels. And that boat trip from England to Amsterdam? Gonna be first class.”

“Really?”

“And, y’all are gonna be guests of BedStead at Joel Robuchon’s restaurant in Paris, right at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.”

“Hang on a second, Laura June. What do you mean ‘y’all will be guests of’?”

“Well honey, I can’t go.”

“Laura June, this is the Fan Fiction Book Club trip and we can’t go without you.”

Isabel inhaled deeply, trying to take her yoga teacher’s advice. “It’s our trip. Together. We all planned it but you made it happen.” Isabel picked up a leaf from the wall next to her and twisted the stem. “Or Grange did anyway, giving us free rooms. Maybe we can push the trip back for a few weeks?”

“I appreciate that, really, but even after I get out of this cast, I’ll have physical therapy and by then, you will have a whole new bunch of students to teach.”

“I suppose postponing is out,” Isabel said. She frowned at the seminar papers strewn across the ground, hoping against hope she did not find her students’ usual “cutting edge” references to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. “But, we can’t — or I can’t anyway — afford the trip without the BedStead rooms. And I thought you had to be with us for us to use the rooms. So without you, we will have to cancel.”

“No, Isabel. You remember Grange’s partner in the BedStead group is Daniel Crockett, don’t you?”

“Oh yes.”

“And, you know how Daniel is married to Corie?”

“How could I forget that?”

“So, Corie drove me to the hospital. And the doctor came out after my surgery and told her that I wasn’t going on any trip this summer and then Grange got there and I told him and I was crying and upset about y’all possibly having to cancel the trip and all. And I asked Grange to let you use the rooms but he said it was against company policy; that some family member had to be on the trip to use the rooms, just like you said. Grange said maybe we could do it next summer. And Corie felt real bad about it. She wanted to know who all was supposed to be going and where all we were supposed to go. And I told her England and France and Mexico — ”

“Spain, you mean Spain?”506px-Donquixote

“Oh yeah, Spain. And Corie knows Mary Clair and you . . .”

“Yes, she certainly does.”

” . . . And so she called Daniel and told him all of it and um, well — it all worked out the best! God works in the most mysterious ways doesn’t He, Isabel? Daniel just got on the phone or the internet or whatever and fixed up everything to be first class – cause you know Corie won’t go unless it’s all first class – and Corie is taking my place and you all get to go.”

Isabel dropped the telephone, picked it up and told Laura June she had to get ready for book club and would call her back later. She touched the phone and pressed the name “Mary Clair.”

Chapter Two

“Iz?” Mary Clair answered.

“Oh Mary Clair, I just got the worst possible news. You are not going to believe who is coming on our trip.”

“Isabel, what are you talking about? I know exactly who is going: you, me, Laura June and Kitty.” Mary Clair spoke with her usual balance of distracted attention devoting herself to the conversation, her family, and a patient problem simultaneously. She sat in her kitchen command center, her short hair neatly styled in a choppy bob, wearing lululemon, updating her iPad grocery list, answering her mother’s shouted game show questions and occasionally making a hand-written note in a PTSD patient’s chart.

“No, no, no. Mary Clair Lawson, I need your full attention now. I mean I hate to bother you with this, but really,” Isabel said, her vocal register growing higher and louder, “this is unbelievably awful. Laura June broke her leg this morning and . . .” Behind Isabel, the door of the house swung open and a red-faced octogenarian wielding a four-point walker asked pointedly if she needed assistance. She waved and with an apologetic smile began picking up the debris she scattered in her phone search.

“Isabel, what’s happening?”

“I’m sitting in someone’s front yard and I need to move.” Isabel hopped from the wall and slipped her feet back into her shoes; stuffed her students’ papers into the tote vowing silently to switch to online submissions next semester; retrieved her wallet, Eiffel Tower key chain with house, car and office keys, pocket calendar, journal, Will Shakes keychain with spare and other keys, Black Honey lipstick, paperback copy of Wolf Hall, hardbound copy of Daisy Miller and her father’s vintage Mont Blanc from the ground and crammed them all in her purse. “OK Mary Clair, are you there? I was about to be arrested by Grandpa Jones.”

“I’m here, will you tell me what in the world is going on?”

“I have two words. Corie. Crockett.” Isabel felt a good cry blooming. She trudged along the brick sidewalk toward home, failing to notice the beauty of the late spring Tidewater afternoon. Everything around her might as well have been dark gray.

“OK, I give. Laura June has a broken leg. You are trespassing on private property. And Corie Crockett what? You are going to have to connect the dots for me and soon if you want me to be at book club tonight because I have to finish dinner for Jonathan, Addy and Mom, and dictate notes from two patients this afternoon. Talk.”

Isabel inhaled deeply and then launched into the explanation. “Laura June and Corie were playing tennis this morning. Laura June broke her leg and can’t go on the trip. Corie volunteered to go in Laura June’s place and Laura June accepted on our behalf.”

After a very long pause, Mary Clair spoke. “Oh.”

“Exactly. I think I’m going to cry. Or get very, very intoxicated. Probably both. Actually, Laura June sounded like she was on some good pain meds, maybe she’ll share.”

Mary Clair laughed. “Iz, come on. You can do it. We have been planning this since … since forever. Kitty might literally go crazy if we don’t go.” Mary Clair lowered her voice. “And frankly, I need the distraction. The next CT-scan won’t be until August and I’d much rather spend a month of the wait in Europe than here, obsessing about it.”

Isabel swallowed hard. How could she be so selfish when Mary Clair was facing a mastectomy or worse? “I know, you’re right. We are going.” But the firmness in her voice broke with a deep gasp. “Corie Crockett.” If she had been three years old, she would have thrown herself to the ground and drummed her heels against the bricks.

“Corie is,” Mary Clair paused, searching for a diplomatic term but Isabel interrupted. “BlondeZilla. And I bet she purposely broke Laura June’s leg to spoil my trip.”

“Izzy. You’re right, she can be difficult but Laura June fell backwards over a bench. And it hasn’t spoiled your trip; you don’t really want to cancel.”

“No. Not really.”

“And I don’t think there’s any way we can do it without those hotel rooms.”

“And it’s not just Corie. We planned this as our book club thing.”

“We did.”

“MC, don’t be using your psychology tricks on me. I know what you are doing. Validating what I say so that I will turn around and agree with you.”

“I am not using any tricks on you. You’re right. We planned it together as a book club thing. But a long time before that, you and I planned it as a trip for us and I am definitely still going. I need to go. And you need to go more than I do.”

“Mary Clair, I can’t help it. She ruined my life and I hate her.”

It was a familiar refrain but Mary Clair had never had success in pointing out that a) Isabel didn’t really or shouldn’t hate anyone; and b) if she were going to blame anyone it should be Daniel, not Corie, his wife. Nevertheless, she made another attempt. “Iz, you need to get beyond this. It’s been nearly 15 years since you and Daniel broke up.”

“Since Corie stole him from me.”

“I love you Isabel Arlington Randolph and for that reason I am going to start speaking some truth. You are a beautiful, accomplished, intelligent woman. You have a PhD in Literature, for goodness’ sake and you are a professor at a wonderful school. You have friends who love you. I mean, look at the support you were able to build for the Literacy Center just by making this trip a fundraiser. If you allow Daniel and Corie to have this power over you, it will ruin not just this trip, but any chance you have for a future relationship. And I am not going to allow you to do it.”

Isabel opened her mouth to protest but MC continued speaking.

“Look at the past 15 years. You’ve dated — what — two men? And turned down countless other invitations. And you knew both of the two you did accept were going nowhere. You sabotage yourself.”

“Not true.”

“Is true.”

“Not.” Isabel ground her teeth. She stomped through the white picket fence and up the brick walk to her front porch. The scarlet Calliope geraniums lining her stairs needed some attention. She unlocked her red-varnished door; tripping the beep, beep of the alarm system. Isabel heard Regan thump down from her sleeping spot on an upstairs bed and bark a greeting.

“Isabel?” Mary Clair asked. “Remember when we were in the eighth grade and you promised one day you would help me go to England to meet George Michael?”

Isabel walked through the vestibule, down the hall past the sitting room and dining room. Her heels clacked on the hardwood floors until she slid her shoes off on the terracotta tile of into the kitchen floor and dumped everything she carried onto the wide plank table. She punched in the passcode to disarm the security system and then sat heavily in one of black Hitchcock chairs around the table. “Yeah,” she said.

“You have never broken a single promise to me.”

“Mary Clair, you know I would never.”

“Well, I’m still waiting to meet George.”

“Ha ha. News flash, he won’t have much interest in you.”

Mary Clair laughed with appreciation. “That’s the spirit.”

Regan scampered down the back stairs, snuffling with happiness, and Isabel dropped to kneel and bury her face in the dog’s thick ruff of soft, white hair. “Hey Mary Clair, do you remember when we were in college and I was about to marry Daniel Crockett, until he ditched me and announced he was engaged to some flight attendant slash professional cheerleader from Arkansas and proceeded to marry her?”

“Yeah,” Mary Clair said, her voice dropping low with compassion. “Oh Izzy, I feel so badly for you, but I just don’t know what else we can do.”

girl in paris

Movie Casting!

Isabel — Jennifer Garner/Rachel Weisz/Kate Winslett

Mary Clair — Courteney Cox

Kitty — Reese Witherspoon/Jenny McCarthy

Corey — Charlize Theron

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For the Love of Literature: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

tamerlane

   A.J. Fikry has decided to drink himself to death.  His beautiful wife has died, his bookstore on isolated Alice Island (think Nantucket) is languishing and he has only one friend, a rare and valuable edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane.  So begins The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin’s love letter to books, book sellers and the corner bookstore.

    It took me less than 48 hours to read this book and I enjoyed every moment of it.  I enjoyed the main plot, the subplots and even the introductory pages, written in A.J.’s own hand about the short stories he particularly enjoys.  These notes are meant for his adopted daughter, Maya, who arrives very shortly after the book opens by being left in the bookstore.  Her mother leaves a note.

This is Maya.  She is twenty-five months old.  She is VERY SMART, exceptionally verbal for her age, and a sweet, good girl.  I want her to grow up to be a reader.  I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those kinds of things.  I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her.  The father cannot be in her life, and I do not have a family that can help.  I am desperate.

books

     With Maya’s arrival, A.J.’s life and life view expand, as does his business.  Friends come to A.J., a new wife, opportunities and we these expansions and changes not only through the narrative but also through A.J.’s notes to his daughter.  He is a character we come to know by his thoughts on what he reads as much as by his own actions.  Gabrielle Zevin says that was an intentional component of her writing The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry:  

“I thought as a strategy it would be really interesting to describe people in terms of what they read and how they read,” she says. “I think you can do a lot, like describing people with their physical characteristics, things like that, but to me I’ve always found it to be a much more informative question to ask somebody what they read.”  http://www.npr.org/2014/03/28/294393870/in-storied-life-characters-come-with-a-reading-list

     In one of my favorite scenes, A.J.’s mother delivers a Christmas gift of three e-readers to the Fikry family.  Teenager Maya is secretly delighted, A.J.’s wife is neutral but A.J. himself is appalled.  He believes e-readers will spell the death of book stores such as his own and more than that, predicts dire consequences for the whole of literature.  “Everyone thinks they have good taste, but most people do not have good taste.  In fact, I’d argue that most people have terrible taste.  When left to their own devices — literally their own devices — they read crap and they don’t know the difference.”

    I, personally am in agreement with A.J.’s wife that there is room for both.  When I travel, I can take as many books as I want on an e-reader.  But at home, I much prefer a book.  Cover, paper, pages.  The smell and feel and experience of a book.  Thanks to my friends at the Morris Book Shop and many other book sellers, Sue Ann Allen, for one, I often find something I would never have found on my own.  Like Tana French.  Or Zadie Smith.

Morris Book

        In the end, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a story about stories and the people who read them.  “We read to know we’re not alone.  We read because we are alone.  We read and we are not alone.  We are not alone.”  And what could be better than that?

MENU

     I would replicate the meal Amelia serves to A.J. when he comes to visit:  lasagna and garlic bread with red wine.

Turkey Lasagna

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey breast, browned
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound whole wheat lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Heat the olive oil in a large (10 to 12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the turkey and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one 1/3 of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

MUSIC

Since we are in the right place and time, I would play Carole King and James Taylor.

MOVIE CASTING

A.J. — Adil Hussain (Life of Pi)

Amelia — Lisa Kudrow

Maya — ?

Police Chief Lambiase — Woody Harrelson

Ismay — Holly Hunter-ish, but not quite right

Suggestions?

Happy Reading!

The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton

steam-train-502120_640

    Victorian “gentleman” Edward Pierce is a sharp dresser, a ladies’ favorite and a criminal mastermind in Michael Crichton’s 1975 best-seller The Great Train Robbery.  He’s a compelling anti-hero who puts together a collection including a screwman (locksmith), a snakesman (burglar), a lady of the night, a bank employee, a train guard and a corpse.  Crichton loaded The Great Train Robbery chockfull of Victoriana, from fashion, to prisons, gentlemen’s clubs, politics, and of course, steam locomotives in telling the story of the real 1855 robbery of 200 pounds of gold, on its way to pay the British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War.

victorian_mens_fashion_17  Image found in the Gazette of Fashion and Cutting-Room Companion

     The novel is one of process rather than character.  In fact, Pierce, if that is his real name, remains mostly a brilliant mystery.  He collects the crew, creates the process, conquers all setbacks thrown into his path and ultimately pulls off what was considered the greatest crime of his century.  Pierce is a man who easily travels between the highs and the lows of Victorian society, from ratter contests and the tops of steam engines to wooing.  “This singular gentleman was Edward Pierce, and for a man destined to become so notorious that Queen Victoria herself expressed a desire to meet him – or, barring that, to attend his hanging – he remain an oddly mysterious figure.”  Is it any wonder that Sean Connery was cast to play Pierce in the 1979 movie based on the book?

Connery

     Michael Crichton’s notes from the film include the following anecdote, which is frankly, just how I always imagined (hoped!) Sean Connery would be:

Finally we are shooting along take where Sean comes running up the length of the train, jumping from car to car. Because we are shooting in all directions, the camera operator and I are hanging out on a side platform, and everyone else is inside the train. I am trying to watch the scene and also to remember to duck down at the right time so the camera lens can swing over my head.
Filming begins. Sean runs up the length of the train. I smell a harsh acrid odor. I feel a sharp pain on top of my scalp. I realize that my hair has been set on fire by the cinders from the locomotive. I am frantically brushing at my hair, trying to put the fire out, because I don’t want smoke coming from my head when the camera swings over me.
While I am doing that, Sean jumps to the nearest car, stumbles and falls. I think, Jeez, Sean, don’t overdo making it look dangerous. He is carrying a bundle of clothes, a story point. He drops the clothes as he falls and I realize Sean would never do that, that he must have really fallen. Meanwhile, I am still trying to put the fire out on my head. Sean scrambles to his feet, retrieves the clothes, and moves on, wincing in genuine pain. I get the cinders out of my head as the camera swings over. We make the shot.
Afterward we stop the train; everybody gets off. He has a bad cut on his shin that is being attended to.
“Are you all right, Sean?”
He looks at me. “Did you know,” he says, “that your hair was on fire? You ought to be more careful up there.”
And he laughs.

     I really enjoyed the book.  Pierce was a genius, and much like many of my own criminal clients, probably had the ability to earn a fortune in a legitimate way but chose to work outside the lines because he found it more fun, or challenging.  Some things never change.

MENU

   There wasn’t a whole lot of good food in the book, so I think my book club menu would include:

Steamers (soft shell clams):  Recipe from Epicurious.com

http://www.epicurious.com//recipes/food/views/Steamers-in-Beer-102041

Wild Rice

Steamed Sugar Snap Peas

Yellow Cake with buttercream icing — to represent the gold

MUSIC

Blues in the Night, Ella Fitzgerald

Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash

John Henry, Hugh Laurie’s version (because he’s British)

Chattanooga Choo Choo, Harry Connick, Jr.

Hobo Blues, John Lee Hooker

MOVIE CASTING

I can’t do any better than Sean Connery.  Unless it’s Benedict Cumberbatch.  And actually, I think a remake of this would be excellent.  Very exciting.