Friday, June 15, 2018

Theater of Desire Release Day, Beta Readers, and Series Secrets

Book Release Day! Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire is now available on Amazon. You can grab the ebook at…/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_ZzbjBbQKJYBPF
and the paperback at You can find out more about the series at my BRAND SPANKING NEW website at

Theater of Desire is the book where everything starts to change. You know as well as I do that any twelve-book series can't have everything go on without new conflicts and challenges and alliances. One person in the world has an idea of what happens in later books--my beta reader, Marguerite Butler. I've edited her since the late 2000s, first at Aurora Regency and then at Musa. She's beta read almost all my books, and she's the only person I discuss future plot points and character arcs with. She sent me some memorable hate mail when I killed one of her favorite characters off in Asphodel, and I still torture her about that.

AND she has a fantastic blog that I'm addicted to at Cowtown Crime is a true crime blog and I'm addicted to it because in the other series I'm working on, I deal with a lot of criminal stuff and the way she writes about legitimate true crimes really helps me to see how to present my fictional ones. The blog doesn't read like a boring recitation of stats and facts. The blog reads like fiction. You should check it out. It's addictive.

At any rate...

She's the only person on the planet who knows what my ultimate goals were for this series. I'm experimenting with a character arc that's extremely difficult to make work--you know...just to see if I can pull it off--and whenever Marguerite gets riled up about something I'm planning to do to a character/characters, I know I'm on the right track.

She's been riled up a lot about Harlequinade.

But this time, I've done something different with poor Marguerite. She read the first phase of Harlequinade, but not the second or the third. She has sort of an idea what happens, but nowhere even close to knowing how things end up. I didn't give her the later books to read. She has to wait, just like everyone else, so she's stayed riled up.

I love riling her up. Gives me purpose.

Here's the thing. A relationship with a good beta reader provides an author with the feedback they need to push the boundaries. If a writer spews out formulaic stories where everything that happens in book B happened in book and will happen in Book C, a beta reader isn't challenged. They're happy because they're reading what has already worked for them before. But if you don't write formula books...if you experiment with storylines that are dangerous (ie--read: DIFFERENT) then your beta readers are challenged. They have to shift their points of view about you as an author and they never know what to expect. A good beta reader wants to be challenged. They want to be riled up. When a beta says something like, "Oh, but this was so different from *insert name of last book*. It's not what I was expecting." then you probably need a new beta reader. If your beta reader's feedback is always some variant of, "Oh, this was so good! I love it just as much as *insert name of last book*. I knew she'd pick option A over option B." then you probably need to re-evaluate what you're writing.

Challenge your readers. Don't hand them a book where they know how it's going to end when they open the book for the first time. Because if you challenge your readers, you're challenging yourself as a writer and that's exactly what you need to be doing. And remember, always, that a beta who says nothing but "This was so good. I loved it!" to every book you write isn't helping you. Betas are supposed to give you an honest critique of your work, both good and bad, and if they don't give you valid criticism then they're not fulfilling their purpose. Marguerite can love everything about the story or the characters or whatever, but she's not going to let one of my manuscripts slide without pointing out my writing tics (pet phrases or words) or plot issues. She knows that what I really need is the criticism. Her eyes are the first ones on the manuscript, and I rely upon her to give me an honest, valid critique. Because when she gives me an honest critique and then gets riled up about a plot point but still loves the story, I know I've done my job.

And so has she.

At any rate, phase two of the Harlequinade begins today with Theater of Desire, so it's a good time to warn everybody that this is the book where everything begins to change. It's also a good time to give you some new insights about the series and how it came to be.

So let me tell you a few secrets about Harlequinade. 

First off, yes--it's a legitimate twelve books in twelve months series (although there's a prequel that will come out in 2019 at some point). All twelve books clock in around 100,000 words. All twelve books were professionally edited (not by me) and designed (also not by me). All twelve books involve real magic:the world of the theater, and real fantasy magic: time travel, empathy, and a set of immortals who would do anything for ultimate power but are restricted from open warfare by the very strict rules of their game. If an immortal violates those rules, he is instantly obliterated by the ruthless magic of some unknown agency. The deeper into the series you go, the more magic there is.

Second, the Harlequinade was written in stages, which is only to be expected with a million and a half words. The first phase of the series is comprised of the first four books: Theater of Seduction, Theater of Deception, Theater of Cruelty, and Theater of War. The second phase begins with Theater of Desire, followed by Theater of Vengeance and Theater of Time. Phase three consists of the last four books: Theater of Spontaneity, Theater of Birth, Theater of Redemption, and Theater of Oblivion. And then the prequel, Theater of Power, stands on its own. 

Third, this series was shopped by my former agent for several years to traditional publishing houses. Every rejection started to sound the same after a while. I'll just give you the Cliff's Notes version: "I love this, love the writing, love the characters, love how different this is--BUT we don't know where to shelve it, so we're going to have to regretfully pass." I'm used to those kinds of rejections at this point. And I don't foresee writing anything that's going to meekly fall into the categories everyone expects. I like to write things that are different and that challenge the reader. So I doubt that ever changes.

And finally, I leave you with a tagline for the remainder of the series. Have fun trying to puzzle it out.

When I was trapped in the ruins of Desire, Time extended his hand and set me free.

Y'all have a great weekend. GO GET MY BOOKS!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

EXCERPT: Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire

Nota bene: If you haven't read and completed Harlequinade 4: Theater of War you REALLY DO NOT WANT to read this excerpt. This excerpt will spoil the crap out of the previous book. If you either HAVE finished book 4 or just don't give a darn about learning spoilers, then proceed and enjoy! 

Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire to be released June 15, 2018~! You can learn more about the Harlequinade at my brand-spanking new website,!

Nothing could be more exciting for Catherine Brighton than having the company’s shows booked on London’s West End. Bringing the Carnival trilogy to England allows her to fulfill an ambition beyond any other. After defeating the Harlequin and destroying most of the window of Time, the strange world of magic has receded from her world.
But it doesn’t take long for her and her husband, Dominic, to discover new dangers. Her panic attacks are getting worse, and now the company has come to the notice of other immortals—many of whom want her for themselves. As the magic of the Carnival trilogy winds around them all, old enemies become allies. The Harlequin is no longer trying to take Catherine but seems to be working to protect her instead.
Can she overcome her distrust and learn to work with the Warden of Time? Or will another immortal break through his guard? In the Theater of Desire, everything is starting to change.



I resisted the urge to squeal like a teenage girl. The Royale Theater Troupe was going to play the West End. The day after we arrived in London, I stood across the street from the Dumas-Oxford Theatre and watched as our sets, costumes, and props were loaded in. Chris, our designer, had flown to the UK several months ago and supervised the construction of our new sets. I hadn’t even seen them yet. 

It’s funny, really. No one looking at the huge crates and packing boxes would ever guess the magic contained inside them. Right now, they looked like huge plywood boxes. In a few days, however, they would comprise the immense, fanciful sets for the Carnival trilogy, the story of when two young girls met and fell in love with two extraordinary young men. 

Our history, believe it or not. 

After we’d signed a contract with James Harrison, the undisputed magnate of the West End, we’d invested much of our liquid capital into the four shows we were performing in London. First, we’d do the trilogy in true repertory. The audience would buy three tickets for three consecutive nights to see the story in its entirety. Then, we’d bring Harlequin to the London stage. 

I was nervous about performing the trilogy again, and I’d made no bones about it. The trilogy was really a retribution our erstwhile enemy Phillip Lewis had created to punish Dominic and Alistair. After all, what could be crueler than forcing your captives to relive their heartbreak every night for two hundred and forty-one years? For two hundred and thirty-nine years, they’d only done the first show, Carnival. Three years ago, the trilogy had been born and performed in full for the first time. Once Phillip found me, he added the two sequel plays. 

After all, I was the culmination of the story. 

Everything that happened in Asylum and Sacrifice had set the stage for my entrance into the tragedy. I, Catherine Brighton, who my husband thought was the reincarnation of the original Odette de Chevigny in the court of Louis XV….Odette, his first wife. I didn’t like to remember Odette, and I didn’t want to channel her onstage anymore either. 

Unfortunately, it was starting to look as if I couldn’t channel her anyway. Although everyone else had been right back in the swing of things within a few days once we started reworking the trilogy, I’d hovered on the cusp of the power and never just dived right into it like I always had before. Those insidious shows changed us. They made Dominic more autocratic and Alistair more alluring. They made me anxious, even though now they shouldn’t. Phillip was gone; I’d obliterated his mind myself. Mary Houghton had been destroyed also. 

The dark council of mages in Medmenham had been obliterated by the Harlequin, my erstwhile enemy who had tormented me in some bizarre game and lost. He was probably sitting in his tacky throne-like chair, trying to figure out a way to repair the damage I’d done to his ceiling where every pane of glass was a moment of decision in time. 

I had a rather large shard of that glass, actually— the shard where Dominic’s soul had hovered on the brink of life and death. The shard I’d broken just a split-second before he was lost to me forever. But with that shard had come uncertainty, too. The panic attacks I’d thought were a thing of the past had returned with a vengeance and were far more potent than they’d once been. 

So now I was broken too, just like that shard of glass. 

Broken. Just like the Harlequin’s little dolls. 

I hadn’t mentioned that to Dominic yet. I watched as the stagehands wrestled a huge crate of flats out of the truck, sliding it carefully onto the loading dock. They had no idea that what they were handling was actual history. No one did, save the cast, and it wasn’t something we talked about. Not even among ourselves. 

“Getting nervous?” 

I looked up. Dominic was standing a few feet away, watching me with a small smile curving his lips. 

“I keep seeing zeroes and dollar signs on the wrong side of the decimal point,” I said lightly. “That and all the articles scoffing about an upstart amateur American troupe being stupid enough to try a true repertory series on the West End. Between the two, I’m petrified.” 

“The show will sell out for the entire run. Zeroes should be a positive thing.” 

“I know.” I looked up at him from under my lashes. “Just…concerned. I’ll be all right.” 

“Well, there’s nothing for you to do here, really,” he pointed out. “Shall we go? I have a call to make.” 

“A call?” I laughed. “Do people even talk that way anymore?” 

“I do. I’m meeting an antiquarian who has a set of Goethe I’m interested in.” 

“You want to go to a bookstore? On our first day in London? For Goethe?” 

“Of course not.” Dominic raised his hand and hailed a cab. “We’re going to his house. It won’t take long.” 

 “We need to go house hunting.” 

I sighed as he opened the door for me and slid into the waiting car. Dominic had point-blank refused to take a house or apartment without seeing it first. We’d had a fairly serious disagreement about that, but in the end he’d won with one word. 


“Look at this article,” he’d said, coming into my office with a magazine. “Apparently the entire theater district is infested with rats. How do you expect anyone in the company to move into a place sight unseen? It could be dripping with rats and then we’d be stuck in some rat trap for a year.” 

After that conversation, I’d insisted that no matter where we moved the cats were coming with us. 

Once we'd gotten pet passports, plus all their shots and microchips, we’d sedated Spawn and Demon and they’d flown with us to England. Even now, they were in their comfy crate, totally pissed off at me, at the hotel. And Dominic had won the living arrangements argument, insisting that when we got to London I would take charge of the business of the theater as usual while leaving the housing situation to him. 

That’s why we were all currently lodged in a sterile hotel chain. 

“Do you realize how impossible it will be to find lodgings for the entire cast and crew in metropolitan London?” I asked, warming to my theme. 

“Not impossible,” my husband replied as the cab pulled into traffic. 

“I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know enough about London to even begin the search.” 

“As I told you already, I’ll take care of everything. You have enough to worry about.” Dominic didn’t seem that concerned. But I handled the accounting for the company myself. If he knew how our capital had been deprived by this move to the UK, he might not have been so flippant. 

“Wherever we end up, it’s going to cost us a fortune.” I caught myself gnawing on my thumbnail, so I dropped my hand into my lap. “London is horrifically expensive. We should have stayed on Broadway a couple more years and built up the bank account first.” 

“Oh, it won’t cost that much. If you’re worried about the company’s finances, I’m more than willing to foot it a loan.” He smiled lazily. “The interest will be a pleasure to collect.” 


“Guilty as charged.” 

The taxi pulled up in front of a block of houses. We were in Mayfair, which seemed only appropriate considering why we were here. Only a wealthy person, like an antiquarian, was able to afford a house like these. The entire block was made up of a series of tall Georgian townhouses, their facades broken only by a few flower boxes and front doors with small stoops and Palladian columns. Dominic paid the driver then took my elbow as we went up the four steps of the stoop. 

To my surprise, Dominic opened the door and walked right in. Confused, I followed. 

“Seriously? Shouldn’t you have at least knocked?” 

The entrance hall was a long, narrow room with a gorgeous staircase winding both up and down. The whole room was open and light, and the terrace was clearly visible through the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Whoever this antiquarian was, he certainly had hired a fantastic interior designer. The walls were painted a cool gray above creamy wainscoting that seemed original to the house. The floors were polished to such a shine that the furniture was reflected in it, and while the furnishings were modern they didn’t clash with the feel of the centuries’ old building. 

“He said he’d be on the first floor and just to come up,” Dominic said. 

“We are on the first floor.” 

“Not in Britain. Here, this is the ground floor.” 

“That doesn’t make sense.” 

“Apparently it does to them. Shall we go upstairs?” 

Together, we climbed the staircase—which made me extremely jealous, I might add—and emerged into an immense drawing room. The door in the back wall alerted me there was another room behind this one, but this room took my breath away. I glanced at the comfortable but still elegant furniture, the tasteful art on the walls, that plush rug covering the wooden floor, the recessed fireplace, the two cats dozing on the sectional… 

I didn’t have to ask if this was our house. Spawn and Demon were curled up together in a multi-colored heap. 

“Dominic, how did you pull this off?” 

“I bought the property right after we signed with James,” he confessed. “Then I hired an interior designer, who oversaw the renovations. I am not as content as you are in apartments or lofts, and I wanted to make certain that you had your own home while we were here. The furnishings are a bit sparse, but I thought you’d enjoy shopping for your own. In the meantime, we’re moved in and that’s one less stress you have to worry about.” 

I ran my hand along the velvet plush settee facing the sectional, and a twist of guilt made me take a step back. “But what about the company? How can we put ourselves in a gorgeous house and leave them in hotels?” 

“Love, I don’t think you understand. I said I bought the property, not the house.” 

I wasn’t quite catching what he was trying to say. 

“We own all the houses except one on this side of the block,” he explained patiently. “They’ve all been renovated into apartments and furnished. In fact there actually are four apartments more than our American crew needs, so we have an option for additional income should it become necessary. That’s even with me setting aside an apartment for David and Christopher when they come, or family like Eleanor’s parents or Janet’s children or your father. This is my gift not just to you, but to them. If they ever decide to retire or to leave the company they each own their own flat in Mayfair. It’s a nest egg for all of them. As for you, I—” 

I stopped him with a kiss. He tightened his arms around me, sliding his fingers into my hair. I broke away, laughing, and he was laughing too. 

“Are you going to thank me properly?” 

“Of course I am, but that will have to be later.” 


He sounded so horrified that I laughed again. But his eyes were sparkling and his body relaxed. This was something I had yet to become accustomed to. Since I’d shattered the Harlequin’s glass ceiling that allowed him to travel through time, Dominic had slowly…gradually learned how to relax. If I woke up in the middle of the night, he was sleeping next to me and not sitting in a chair mounting a psychic guard so I could rest. The cares and burdens of over two centuries had fallen from his psyche, and he was healing as a result. 

That alone made everything we’d endured worth it. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Dumbass, Volume 1

So yeah... dumbass  me decided to take a week off social media. 

Funny how we always underestimate our addictions, isn't it? 

Here's why. Bear with me, this explanation goes in a million different directions.

First off, professionally. 

Lately, I've been catching myself paying more attention to my BREAKS from work (i.e. Twitter) than my actual work. You folks know I have a ridiculous, stupid, self-inflicted publication schedule this year and that's just under my own name. Not counting the pen names. Sixteen books just under my real name. 

That's Dumbass, Volume 0. 

Obviously, in order to get that many books out you've got to have discipline. Usually discipline's not an issue for me. I don't watch a lot of TV, I have no social life, and I'm far more entertained finishing off stories on my head/on paper than I am anything else. But now that I'm four books into my publication year, I'm starting to drag. Last night, I finished Book Eleven of Harlequinade and started Book Twelve which means I finally worked through the transition snag that was stalling me before the grand denouement. 

Also means I'm two books behind on my ridiculous, stupid, self-inflicted writing schedule. 

Discipline means not sitting around and waiting for a Muse to float into the room in a chariot pulled by rainbow glitter-barfing winged unicorns and bringing a writer inspiration. (Sorry, granddaughter #2--I just can't bring myself to like your favorite decorating staple.) To be a professional writer who turns out a lot of volume, you must have discipline. That's why I don't write while the TV is on, why I don't have my desk facing my butthead neighbors' yard, why I don't listen to modern music and use playlists of classical, preferably without lyrics to set the moods I need to write certain scenes. 

Now if you had just one perfect book in you--like Margaret Mitchell--and don't have to deal with being found on Amazon, then sure. Wait for the Muse. I'd rather see one outstanding work of fiction than yet another porn-disguised-as-romance series from Dougie Ze Tool. But if you're building a platform, like I am under my real name, you need volume. And if you're fundamentally incapable of writing a first draft under 120,000 words, like I am, in order to get that volume you have to have discipline. 

And discipline doesn't mix with Twitter. So a week off from social media will get me back on track. Some of you are thinking, "A week? You won't get much done in a week."

And quite a few of you are thinking, "Oh, she's going to whip out that first draft in seven days again just to piss me off."

We'll check in throughout the week to see who's right.

Second off, I'm allergic to stupid.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. I hear some voices on the other end of the phone when I answer it and literally break out in hives. Used to be that only happened if it was my mom, but over the past couple of years my stupid allergy has cruised way past anything an antihistamine can solve.

And there's so much stupidity online right now.

I avoid politics online for that reason. I've worked as a speechwriter, platform writer, and editor in politics for way too long to tolerate idiocy lightly. Probably ought to mention here that a background in collegiate debate means that I can come up with pros and cons for just about any candidate, any social issue, any platform. I *never* restricted myself to one party's candidates or one ideology. The same old, same old involved in party politics has never interested me at all. I'm only interested in what's different or unusual about each candidate, and I've managed to find that difference in every client whose work I've taken on--something to focus the voters on other than pachyderms and equine half-breeds.

But, the past few years politics has taken on a vitriolic sameness that nauseates me. There are no longer political ideologues who can absorb the best of both parties. Instead, there are only extremists, and their social media seems to be all about supporting "their" candidate or office-holder and running down the other guy.

Let's be honest: over the past decade, we haven't been blessed with outstanding elected government. More often than not, political discourse has devolved into opposing biases without any efforts made to understand the other point-of-view. That, in turn, has led to rampant racism, homophobia, misogyny, sizeism, ageism disguised as politics--and all that serves is a negative purpose. Far-right and far-left are about are far apart on the political spectrum as socialism and fascism--although one's considered left and the other right when you take a look at them they're basically the same damn thing.

I'm been called a snowflake for not supporting Donald Trump, a racist for not supporting Barack Obama, a sexist for not supporting Hillary Clinton. I had the last election blamed on me (and people like me who think for themselves) because in the United States anyone who doesn't vote for your candidate that loses the election "gave" the election to the enemy.

No, I didn't. Clinton and Trump both sucked. And as a result of that one campaign, look where we are now. Not all conservatives are racists...but racists are almost always conservative. The media has a liberal bias--because obviously any criticism of the president has to do with all the libtards who work for CNN. Freedom of speech means you can say anything you want without any consequences whatsoever, even though your racist tweets on Twitter are not a protected form of speech, Roseanne.

People don't understand the Constitution they quote chapter and verse, like the Bible.

Oh, and my personal favorite--new gun control laws mean I'm trying to take your second amendment right to own guns away.

Uh...nope. The second amendment was in specific response to British measures designed to suppress the colonists' rights. "Well-armed militia" refers to exactly that--militia. And seeing as those rights were guaranteed for Brown Besses and single-shot rifles, people can own as many of those as they want. That's fine. But if you're not capable of separating gun safety from gun ownership, then all you're doing is regurgitating the platform points designed by a special interest group. Don't come crying to me when your kid is the one who's shot in school...or does the shooting with your own legally obtained firearms that you weren't smart enough to store safely.

Let's be for real--the Third Amendment of the Constitution means that the government can't force you to house soldiers in your house and pay their expenses while they're there.

Doesn't mean I'm trying to take your guests away.

As with any almost three-century old law of the land, some of the measures are dated and no longer have any real impact upon our day to day lives. Applying laws designed for the technology of the eighteenth century to the technology of the twenty-first is ridiculous. But if it's not, I'll let the government know. How many soldiers can you afford to house/cook/clean for again? We can close all the military bases and balance the budget in a matter of weeks. Good job.


Third, and finally, social media is mental torture for someone who's in the midst of editing. Every typo makes my eyes bleed, every homonym error makes my ears bleed. I'm nowhere close to being OCD--as the state of my living room currently attests--but damn, people. do your friendly neighborhood editor a favor and learn to spell single-syllable words correctly at least. The first time I see you mess up they're/their/there, I assume it's a typo and overlook it.

The fifteenth time, I start to question the legitimacy of your education.

And no--I'm not talking about people who finished high school and went into careers that didn't involve higher education. I know truck drivers who spell perfectly in every Tweet, and high-priced executives, public servants, and educators who look like a passel of ridge-runnin' morons. The FOIA document dump at the University of Tennessee is a great example of that. There were members of the Board of Trustees--people who were making all the policy decisions for a major university--who wouldn't pass a second-grade spelling test despite their multiple degrees.

Are. You. Kidding. Me...

And lest anyone bring this up thinking I'm going to gloss over it, that goes doubly for writers and triply for editors. Everyone makes typos. I do thousand words or so. Might be a higher number if I didn't automatically proof everything I say online. I'll delete a typo off Twitter so fast I get nosebleeds.

But I see authors with book advertisements on Twitters with spelling errors. A couple of months ago, I ran into a book with a spelling error in the title. Sure, everyone makes mistakes but good God almighty, people, you're trying to convince people to read YOUR words but you're so careless or arrogant that you don't check your advertising for mistakes?

I had a typographical error in a quote for one of my book covers a few months ago. Teensy print, but what the heck--was my fault for not catching it. Unfortunately, my cover artist was out of town. Took MUCH longer than it should have to get an apostrophe moved to the right place. Not her fault.

Mine. For not double checking it.

So what do you think I did? Damn skippy--I set all my promotions back by two weeks, took down every post with that book cover on it, stopped mentioning the book altogether until she came home to fix one itty bitty piece of punctuation. I had nightmares over that apostrophe. Even now, I find a typo or glitch in one of my books and I cringe until I'm about to throw up.

My fault. I didn't pay attention to the proof, and I paid for it. Cost me significant money in the end, but I'd rather live with the expense than a typo on my book cover.

So just imagine the horror I feel on Twitter and Facebook every day. It's torture.

At any rate, Dumbass, Volume 1 is underway and we'll see how my social media-free week works. If nothing else, it'll get me back to blogging. But blog-time for the day is over.

Time to get back to work.

Monday, May 21, 2018

PBS Should Be Ashamed For Trying To "Improve" Classic Literature

I never thought I'd be in the position of criticizing PBS. 

I love PBS. I love Masterpiece Theater, and the way PBS keeps modern interest in the classics alive. The production values of PBS shows is amazing, and everything is done to the best of the production teams' abilities. To be honest, I don't think I've ever criticized any PBS show. 


Until today. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is one of my lifelong favorite books. As a matter of fact, I own early first editions of both Little Women and Good Wives, back when the story was divided into two separate books. So when I learned the PBS was going to do a production of the book, I was thrilled. I knew that what would result would be a glorious, beautiful film version of a story I know so well I can recite large sections of it. 

And then I watched it tonight.

For some ungodly reason, PBS decided to "improve" Little Women

Are you kidding me? You can't improve Little Women. There's nothing to improve. This is one of the great American classics, a story that has endured in public affection and interest for almost a century and a half. what in the hell is there to improve in the first place? 

What? Is the story of four sisters growing into adulthood during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath somehow not enough? Does the story suck somehow? If it does, then that suckitude was so subtle that neither me nor millions of readers who love this book and its characters never noticed? No one needs to make everything different when Mr. March falls ill in Washington and the girls are left on their own. 

There's no way that Meg would have left her sisters alone and gone to the Moffats and get drunk on champagne at a ball while her father is lying dangerously ill in a hospital in DC. 

There's no way that Amy would have been able to get the money for pickled limes while her mother's away nursing her father. 

There's no way that Jo would make the unilateral decision to remove Amy from her school while both her parents are occupied with Mr. March's illness. 

There's no way that Jo and Laurie would be kissing in the attic while Beth lies at death's door on the floor underneath. 

What in the hell are you people thinking? 

Let's be honest--we've all seen this. We've all wondered why Hollywood feels the need to "improve" the storylines of classic literature but the fact of the matter is simple for anyone outside a film production company to see. 

There's a reason why classic literature is regarded as classic and that's because there's nothing TO improve in those beloved stories. Nothing. They're classic because they're beloved just as they are. They don't need new creative over a century after they were written! What possible value does a modern screenwriter bring to a story that's part of the Americana that makes up the literature and mythology nurtured in a fledgling country desperately seeking to find its own identity in the words and stories of the people who lived during that era? 


So--shame on you, PBS. Shame! You've managed to ruin one of the best American classics ever written and for what? Pissing off people like me, who find a way to squeeze money out of their tight monthly budgets to keep you afloat. I've never been as disappointed in any PBS production as I am right now. Absolutely revolted. 

This PBS version of Little Women? Don't bother, folks. If you see this adored story butchered the way it's been in this production, you will also find yourself wanting to throw things at the TV. 

For shame.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Speak Out Against HB 2115, a Consolidated Power Grab for Control of UT System

Okay Vol Nation. If you want to help stop the controversial HB 2115 and prevent Governor Bill Haslam from reconstituting the UT Board of Trustees I'm going to make it easy for you. I'm going to set this up so you can email EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of the Tennessee House of Representatives at the same time. All right? 

First off, copy and paste the following into your TO block (your recipients) at the top of your email:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

It looks ridiculous and if you're like me, you probably thought, "Nah. No way you can send to that many people at the same time."

But, yes you can. I sent my email without a bit of trouble with this many subjects.

After you've set your email addresses for the representatives, on the subject line of your email put: Say No to HB 2115 

Then, write your email. Mine was a little long, but that's because I write epic fantasy. Yours can be as short or as long as you like. What important and you must state clearly is that these representatives answer to YOU. They were elected to represent the best interests of every citizen of the great state of Tennessee.

Or, if you want something quick and easy to copy/paste, I'll give you a few options.

Dear Representatives of Tennessee,
I am writing to encourage you to either vote against HB 2115 or to table discussion on the bill until the next legislative session. I strongly disapprove of any measure which allows Governor Haslam to wield more influence over the University of Tennessee than he and his family already do. This bill looks like a way for to consolidate power right before the hiring process begins to replace UT President Joe DiPietro. If this bill was drawn up by the Governor without any thought of personal gain, he could have no objection to putting this bill on the shelf until after this last year of his administration. 


Dear Representatives of Tennessee,
I wish to express my strong disapproval of HB 2115 and am writing to ask you to vote no against the bill or to propose the bill be delayed until the next legislative session. I feel there is no need to rush these changes through, and that the possible ramifications of this legislation need to be researched and analyzed thoroughly. That can't happen before July 1, 2018 as is now required by the amended bill. The way this bill has been introduced by Governor Bill Haslam concerns me as well. Considering the public feeling against the influence that the Haslam family already has over university affairs, this bill appears to me to be an attempt to once again solidify Haslam control over UT and that is unacceptable. I ask you in this election year to pay attention to the wishes of your constituency and say no to HB 2115


Dear Representatives of Tennessee,
Thursday, the House is set to vote on HB 2115, a bill which will reconstitute the UT Board of Trustees. I am opposed to this legislation and urge you to oppose it as well. I disagree that there's an immediate need to revamp the BoT and especially in the precipitous manner the legislation establishes. Last November, many of you stood with the citizens of Tennessee and the alumni and students of UT against a coaching hire we felt was unacceptable. We urge you to stand with us, your constituents, once more. In an election year, we feel it is important that you represent our wishes and not those of the Haslam administration. Vote against HB 2115 or vote that the legislation be tabled until after the end of Haslam's term. 


The matter is simple. You are an elected official, and 2018 is an election year. If you vote YES on HB 2115, citizens of Tennessee will vote NO to your campaign for re-election in NOvember. Only a NO vote or a vote to shelve HB2115 until the next legislative session is acceptable to me as a citizen of Tennessee.

After you write your email or choose one of these options, sign your name, your address, your telephone number, and your email address. Then hit send.

And you're done!

The only way to hopefully defeat this measure is for citizens of Tennessee to speak out. So take the two or three minutes it'll require to send this email so that it reaches every single representative in the State of Tennessee legislature. Make your voices heard.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rocky Top ReVOLution Excerpt #1

Author's note: I'm doing something really different with this book. Obviously, there will be a lot of books released in the coming years by sports media guys who'll do an outstanding job of breaking down the sequence of events that resulted in the Rocky Top ReVOLution from a journalist's point of view. But to me, the big names of decision-makers or influencers aren't the real story embedded within the six day revolt that saw the UT fanbase came together with loal media, former players, alumni, boosters, students, and state officials to stop the hire of Greg Schiano as the new head football coach and the day that Coach Phillip Fulmer was hired as the athletic director. The real story is the fans' story, and that's what this book is about. So have a look at the foreword and the first chapter. Drop me a comment either here or on social media and let me know what you think. I'll be announcing the release date next week.Big shout out to Spencer Barnett for the cover design!  

Rocky Top Revolution


Where were you on November 26, 2017?

That’s a question people who love the University of Tennessee will probably be able to answer for the rest of their lives. Not because they were all in the same place physically, but because they were all in the same place mentally and emotionally.

November 26, 2017 was the day a fan base revolted against the hiring of a football coach. Six days later, the athletic director who’d tried to sneak that hire past everyone—fans, boosters, players, and alumni alike—was fired and left UT in an absolute shambles after the worst-conducted head football coach hiring search in the history of the NCAA.

On the same day, former Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer was named as the athletic director for the foreseeable future. Six days later, he hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, one of the top assistants in the country, to the head coach position after a calm, methodical, and thorough evaluation process.

On the face of it, this is exactly what happened. The Cliff notes version.

But there’s so much more to the story than that.

The events of that day were\unprecedented in the world of big-name universities and big-money athletics. The people who loved Tennessee united in a remarkably short time—students, alumni, former players, local media, boosters, and just regular fans—and with their unity forced the university to change the ways decisions were made and influenced in the athletic department. The astonishing uproar, the Rocky Top ReVOLution, was thoroughly lambasted by national sports media. The protesters were called “trailer park Bubbas from Pidgeon (sp) Forge”, a “lynch mob” that was “completely ignorant” of what football was all about. That media narrative portrayed UT fans as ignorant, uneducated, and stupid as those famous sports personalities tried to force Ohio State Defensive Coordinator and former head coach of Rutgers University and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Greg Schiano down their throats as a great hire for UT.

But these events weren’t about a coaching hire. Not really. Hidden behind the rhetoric was a slew of sobering facts. A football coach whose association with a national scandal had painted him, fairly or unfairly, with the same brush. An athletic director, who was telling boosters one thing while working to bring Schiano through the back door. A mega booster, who was controlling the whole show and determined to foist Schiano upon Tennessee regardless of what anyone thought. A civil war was instigated among the top tier of millionaire donors to a university whose prestige in college football had declined since the glory days just two decades ago when Tennessee won the first BCS National Championship game.

The characters on the main stage are fascinating. A desperate athletic director who went AWOL in an attempt to save his job. A former Tennessee head coach, ousted unfairly and in humiliating fashion nine years before, returning to right the Volunteer ship. A vampire in the shadows, determined to suck more power over the university and their hiring practices in the athletic department. A suddenly vivid and blatant divide within the sports media, which demonstrated which journalist’s foot was in which camp.

And out front, vocal and angry and exasperated, were tens of thousands of UT fans who exploded in a spontaneous protest that shocked the sports world…and against the odds, won.

That’s where the real story is. The ones who were the real impetus behind an incredibly visible and public drive to take control away from the power brokers in the shadows and give it to the countless people who are the backbone of UT athletics aren’t mega boosters. They don’t have buildings named after them on campus, or spend tens of thousands of dollars annually for sky boxes in Neyland Stadium. Some are season ticket holders, some only get to a few games a year. Some don’t get to any. Few are wealthy, but they’re all rich with a shared passion for the University of Tennessee.

The fans.

I was part of that protest. This is the only place for an “I” in this story, which is so patently about so many different people. I was at home on that Sunday morning when everyone got blindsided by the news that Greg Schiano had been offered and accepted the Tennessee head football job. I bore witness to the exponential swelling of that “lynch  mob”. As a sports op ed contributor to the Orange and White Report, which covers UT athletics, I joined in the local media’s drive to get news of the protested hiring out. I was part of the “deplorable” social media mob that refused to accept the hire. I listened to live streams of local radio and TV broadcasts as people showed up on campus and gathered in front of the athletic department, chanting “Hell no Schiano!” with signs and bullhorns.
So I am a part of this story. A very small part that had to get a new phone the following week since I'd texted and retweeted the poor thing to death. 

But then, all Tennessee fans are a part of this story. Anyone who knows every word to Rocky Top can pick up this book, read the story, and immediately recognize the fact that it’s basically part of their biography. Their memoirs. Because every Tennessee fan knows that they, too, were part of the Rocky Top ReVOLution and so they, too, share in the victory.

Don’t let anyone fool you. There was no one person who began this protest, no shock jock leading the charge for truth and justice on a white horse. No one was more important than anyone else. What’s remarkable about the Rocky Top ReVOLution is that everyone was instantly unified, to the point where Tennessee government officials joined the “uneducated idiots” on Twitter to voice their displeasure with the Schiano hire. Even White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke out against the hire.

So the media narrative that the folks from the trailer park were mad because Schiano wasn’t a good football coach isn’t even remotely accurate. Those claims were part of an agenda that national sports media has maintained regarding the University of Tennessee and its fans for years. But what also happened as a result of that day was that people started to come to me with their stories of what was happening behind the scenes. As a result, I began to piece together a tale that didn’t match up at all with what the major sports networks and websites were saying.

I promised at the end of that tumultuous week that I would write the real story of what happened around the University of Tennessee. You may think this is a story about ten days, but it’s not.

This is the story of two decades in Knoxville, and the people who remained loyal to the Tennessee Volunteers no matter what was going on.

This is the story of an unprecedented event in sports, where the fans took back their program from the fat cats who were systemically destroying it from within.

This is the story of the Rocky Top ReVOLution and the people who made it happen…a blueprint for fan bases everywhere that face similar problems with their beloved school. A blueprint that every major university’s athletic department now dreads and fears because none of them want to see a fan movement take over their campus, their public relations, and their until-now unaffected hiring processes where the opinions of the little people hold no sway.

This is a story of humiliation and revenge, exile and vindication, fury and triumph. But ultimately, it is a story of the passion people have for the University of Tennessee.

This is the story of Volunteer Nation, and the way they put an end to the most tumultuous and humiliating era in the University of Tennessee's proud history, and no matter what anyone else may tell you this is the real story. This story shouldn't be told in just one voice, but in the voices of the real heroes of this modern-day revolution.

This is the story of the fans and their shared passion for the University of Tennessee.

Chapter One--Vol Nation

Being a Tennessee fan has never been easy. 

For the fans who grew up, like I did, learning about college football when Johnny Majors or Phillip Fulmer was the head coach, the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s were a constant roller coaster ride. Although UT was growing into a powerhouse program, the fan base was isolated...condescended to by the national sports media and all those people who knew everything about the game. 

Let's be honest: the national media never had much respect for the Vols. Only the Lady Vols under beloved and iconic basketball coach Pat Summitt was acknowledged by the media as a powerhouse team. What they failed to realize was that over in the football section on Rocky Top, things were starting to change. 

But for the fans? Not so much. 

Back in the days before social media, the fans' opinions didn't matter. There wasn't an avenue that a sprawling group of people could utilize to make those opinions known aside from talk radio on the local level. ESPN was a growing monster, and UT fans quickly learned to tune them out. 

Make no mistake: ESPN has never liked the University of Tennessee.

That all changed drastically when personal computers created a platform everyone could use. Suddenly, fans from all over the world and all walks of life could take about what they loved online. They could respond instantly to games...or the latest snide remark from some sports analyst who thought it was funny to broadcast the generalization of UT fans as uneducated, stupid, and incapable of understanding big money sports.During the last four or five years, the UT fan base has taken over social media, and hundreds of thousands of people came together under on unifying brand. When Lyle "Butch" Jones was hired to replace the woeful Derek Dooley as the head football coach, the Vol Nation platform was firmly entrenched in Tennessee culture. Jones had to learn to deal with this new aspect of his job and how best to utilize the immediacy of online interaction with the fans.

But coinciding with the beginning of the Butch Jones era as head coach for the football program at UT, a major power player arrived on the field.

Vol Twitter--Still Undefeated

Anyone who’s waded into the shark pool known as Vol Twitter quickly learns the value of social media in today’s society.

Social media is a dog eat dog world anyway, but when you add in the volatile emotions of college sports it can get downright scary. Vol Twitter is the most outrageous, aggressive, keen-edged fan base on social media. 


Vol Twitter quickly became very powerful. It drove public opinion about everything UT. Watching a game while on Vol Twitter was almost ridiculous because they miss nothing.


Every call is analyzed and argued. Every misstep is under the immediate glare of the fan base’s spotlight. Every snafu is dissected. Vol Twitter is so practiced at breaking down game film that some members can do it in real time. They immediately interact with local media, and the younger journalists who cover the UT beat became expert at working with and within Vol Twitter. This extraordinary relationship changed the way that Tennessee sports were reported, and turned journalists into friends. Or enemies, depending on the journalist. 

Vol Twitter was also very in tune with what’s going on with every sport on Rocky Top. And while UT fans congregated on other mediums, like Facebook, Vol Twitter became the online face of the fan base. Vol Twitter and Vol Facebook groups, like the immense Vol For Life group, also exemplified a major divide within Tennessee fans. The Facebook-connected fans were more forgiving of Jones's missteps initially; Vol Twitter, on the other hand, savaged the coach for them. 

As with any large group of people, there were spats and cliques within Vol Twitter that made for some very interesting off-season nights. But since the beginning of the 2016-2017 football season, Vol Twitter was fairly united on one thing they thoroughly disliked about Tennessee football.

Butch Jones

Before the 2017-18 football season, there was a strong sense that it was the last gasp chance for head football coach Butch Jones. In 2016, Tennessee fans had watched in horror as the most talented team to run through the T in twenty years had crashed and burned. Instead of the college football playoffs or a major bowl game, the Volunteers had gone 9-4 and subsequently played Nebraska in the Music City Bowl on December 30 while much of its roster watched from the sidelines or from home. For the second season in a row, a baffling rash of injuries had deep-sixed the season with more than twenty-five players out of commission by the end of October.

Now the Vols were facing a new football season, and the matriculation of talent had created a great deal of uncertainty about what the season ahead had in store. The Vols were picked to finish third in the East division at SEC Media Days, with most prognosticators predicting a seven or eight win season as the pinnacle of what UT could hope to accomplish.

The 2017-18 season was the fifth year of the Butch Jones era. Every player on the roster was one he’d recruited and coached exclusively while at UT. And while everyone was aware this was a rebuilding year, the success of the team would decide once and for all if Jones really was the coach Vols fans had been waiting for.

Butch Jones needed a legendary season.

He got one.

The first eight-loss season in school history, leaving Ohio State University as the only D1 program never to lose eight games in the same year. The first winless season in SEC play, going 0-8 with humiliating losses to Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida along the way. A 41-0 pounding by Georgia, the worst loss in Neyland Stadium history.

No doubt about it. The season was legendary, but for all the wrong reasons. 

After that embarrassing Georgia loss on September 30, everyone knew that Jones would be gone. I, for one, expected him to be fired almost immediately. After all, Athletic Director John Currie obviously didn’t have a problem with firing coaches mid-season, considering that he was implicated up to his eyebrows in orchestrating the Fulmer dismissal nine years earlier. But what emerged from the UT athletic department was…nothing. 

For a month and a half, through a woeful October and half of a disastrous November, John Currie took no action, made no comment, and didn't seem to care that the Tennessee football program, the pride of the university for decades, was being utterly destroyed. For a month and a half, Currie smirked his way through a Volunteer nightmare, while Vol Nation boiled online, local sports media crucified Currie and UT for its inaction, and the rest of the college sports world turned UT into a laughing stock. 

Not until November 16, when Missouri massacred a woefully undermanned UT roster—with only fifty-five players available…a loss of thirty players from the team—50-17 while dropping 659 yards of total offense on the Vols, did John Currie finally take the step everyone knew was coming. During that month and a half of inaction, the Vol Twitter beast was seething, fans were blacking out their avatars--which made their timelines look like targets at a shooting range. And at last, frustration and rage brought all the scattered elements of the Tennessee fan base together. The groups on Twitter and Facebook, the people who called in to local and national radio shows, the local media, the alumni and students, and the former players were all in agreement that the status quo of Tennessee athletics was no longer acceptable.

And while all these elements were stewing together, a recipe for a fiasco was created. At the end of the day, the debacle of a John Currie-run coaching hire was inevitable. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell that concoction wouldn’t boil over.

The Rocky Top ReVOLution had begun. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

More Harlequinade! Release Day #2

It's book release day! 

The great thing about writing the Harlequinade is that the story is told in so many theatrical ways. First you have to introduce the plot:

For me, writing about the theater was just a matter of time. I spent my misspent youth as an actor, director, and designer in professional theater and there's something about being involved in a production that's addictive. Then, too, theater stories have a good track record. *coughPhantomcough* It's easy for the lines between the reality of the play and the real world to get blurred. Theater is as close as we get to real magic in our mundane world, so for a fantasy writer this was fertile ground.

But once the reviews started coming in, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. People were responding to the story the way every writer hopes they will. And when you start getting reviews like these:

"I never expected something this good. This is a unique storyline to me. So many surprises. I was almost part of the sudience. I definitely felt, but I also remembered. I will not give up the story. This is a book that has to be experienced. I loved the characters, they drew me in quickly and never let go. I felt it all..."

"Theater of Seduction grabs your attention from page one, draws you into its intricate web of delicious characters and spins a story full of everything you never knew you wanted in a book. I am hooked and can’t wait for what’s next. Based off of this piece of work, I will gladly read anything Celina Summers cares to write. She is just that good..." know you did something right. Getting reviews like that are extremely gratifying. Means that I did my job correctly--I told a story that resonated with readers. They got it--which means they get me. The world of the Harlequinade has been set. (Grab Harlequinade 1:Theater of Seduction here)

So after setting up the plot, you have to introduce your protagonist. And today is the day you get to really meet Cat Brighton in book two of the Harlequinade--Theater of Deception.

Cat Brighton may be my favorite character I've ever written. She's a badass with serious vulnerabilities (panic attacks are no fun). She's compassionate by nature and ruthless by design. (You kind of have to be in theater). She's sexy, sarcastic, smartass, sassy--a lot of alliterative s-words. But what makes her so much fun to write is that she's always thinking ahead, always trying to decipher the puzzle before she's even convinced there is a puzzle. So when she finds herself in situations that should be impossible, she keeps her equilibrium and finds a way to push through it.

After you've set up your protagonist, then you move on to other characters--the hero and the villain. Or, in Cat's case (because she never makes anything easy) multiple heroes and multiple villains and none of them stay in their lane.

Thing of it is, I can't tell you too much about them or the whole story's ruined. Suffice it to say--things are not always what they seem.

(Yes, that's a new cover. My Harlequin's looking pretty awesome, don't you think?)

This much I will say. This series is a urban fantasy/time travel/historical fantasy/paranormal romance that stretches over a ten-book story arc. Whatever a character may be in book one, he's almost certain not to be in book five. There are multiple male characters to follow--Dominic is Cat's leading man in Theater of Seduction, while Alistair is her...heck, I don't even know what Alistair is. Quicksilver, really--he's a very changeable kind of guy.

As for the Harlequin...

Do you know how hard it is to write a Harlequin? To make the character serious although he's wearing the medieval origins of a clown costume? To make the character sinister without going full-blown Stephen King "It"?

The one character who stays in his lane throughout is Phillip, the director of the Theater of Seduction. But even then, that lane takes a lot of unexpected turns.

At the heart of all, though, is a story that is unique. It's fun, it's dangerous, and it's hopefully thought-provoking.

I spent a lot of time thinking my way through this story. I mean ten books! That's more epic than my epic fantasy! But I set myself a challenge with this world. I wanted to see how far I could push a storyline, how vast a character arc I could create--if I could take the fantasy and magic of the theatrical world and add real fantasy and magic to it.

Let's find out if it worked.

Theater of Deception--available today! 

There is no illusion greater than fear.

Six months after Catherine Brighton’s theatrical troupe finishes its Broadway run of the Carnival trilogy, the company mounts a new play: Harlequin. The character fits perfectly into the theater of seduction—a magical power that compels an audience’s emotional responses. However, rehearsals are tense. Her husband, Dominic, distrusts the actor playing the lead role. Cat and Alistair, Dominic’s brother, struggle to keep the peace.

Soon something inimical is dancing around the company, spinning strands of danger that entangle Cat in a shockingly familiar web. She fears that Phillip has somehow returned from the dead—not that Dominic believes her. Whoever her unknown enemy is, he’s masquerading as the title character from Harlequin—a character both sinister and seductive—which terrifies her. But when she unexpectedly finds herself trapped two centuries in the past, Cat learns that there are far worse things to fear. Like Time.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Nostalgia on Christmas Eve

It's hard for my grandkids and even my kids to understand the Christmases before technology grew so insidious. But back home in Tennessee, Christmas almost always went down the same way for my younger brother and me. Seems only fitting to share those Tennessee traditions with those who've never had to experience them. 

Christmas Eve was an important day in our house. For one thing, my parents owned a farm store and that store was always open on Christmas Eve. Hand in hand with that, though, came the party. The Christmas party began when my mother, who was born in France and chock full of those traditions, decided to have some food as a thank you to our customers. Her father, a chef, had owned a restaurant before the Nazis killed him on their way out of occupied Paris, and he'd always celebrated Christmas Eve the same way in predominantly Catholic France. He put on an all-day party in his cafe, displaying his skills as a chef in gratitude for the people who patronized his business. During the years of occupation, he used that party--and the Nazis who attended it--as a way to smuggle both food and information to the French Underground, feeding hundreds of people who were desperately fighting against the Germans or fleeing them. 

In Tennessee, of course, we weren't fighting anyone. But starting in the late 1970s, the farming communities in the northwestern part of central Tennessee and southern Kentucky were struggling to survive under worsening economic conditions. So my mom came up with the idea of having some food available on the half-day we worked on Christmas Eve. She and I spent the night before baking and cooking. The spread we put out was unexpected--pate' and French salads, slow roasted prime rib and hams for sandwiches, crusty French breads, eclairs and croissants and creme du caramel and a sheet cake for those less adventurous in their dessert choices. And after that first year, the party blew up beyond our expectations. The spread got bigger every year. So did the crowd. Instead of taking one night to get everything ready, my mom and I would work for a week. Some of the farmers from the near-by Mennonite community would bring ducks or geese in the days before the party, and hundreds of people would show up every year. They'd talk about the party all year long too. There's a large number of farming families around Clarksville for whom chicken liver pate' is now an annual homemade tradition, because my mom was generous with the recipe. And even now, after my parents were divorced and ten years after my mom passed away, today in Clarksville, my dad threw his fortieth Christmas Eve party for his customers--a tradition for our family as well as theirs. 

But unlike every other day of the year, Christmas Eve we closed the store early. It'd be three o'clock by the time we got home after cleaning away the remains of the feast. Night would already have fallen as we drove from our house in St. Bethlehem to my grandmother's house in Oakwood. Highway 79 was two lanes from the bridge over the Red River all the way to Land Between the Lakes. Oakwood was the last bump in the road before you could leave Montgomery County for Stewart County. 

My grandparents lived in a modest ranch house on the family farm, a mile away from the small convenience store my grandfather had owned. My dad had eight brothers and sisters, six of whom lived in the area. On Christmas Eve, my grandparents' house was stuffed to the gills with Harrisons. All my aunts and uncles, all my cousins, and as I grew older all my cousins' spouses and kids crowded into the house. There were so many of us that we only got token gifts. But we weren't there to get presents. We were there to give presents to our grandparents, who'd slaved as small tobacco farmers during the Depression, who'd moved to the steel mills in Gary, Indiana during the war years, who'd come back and started over on the tobacco farm after that. In my dad's words, they were "poor as snakes" when he was growing up--no money to educate their kids beyond their high school graduations. But all of my aunts and uncles grew into successful, affluent adults and they loved to give back to their parents. 

As a little kid, of course, this felt like a punishment. Watching old people open presents on Christmas Eve? Man, give me Santa Claus instead! But as I grew older, those two hours in my grandparents' house every Christmas Eve gave me the deepest sense of family, of roots and ties and obligations to the grand old family whose name I bore. Even after I got married, I continued the Christmas Eve trip to Grandma's house and took my own kids who were the hit of the evening from their first Christmas on. 

But then, we'd drive back home. 

The world is still dark in that part of Tennessee at night. The rural area of western Montgomery County wasn't broken up by anything other than Christmas lights and the headlights of oncoming cars. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, watching each new decorated house come up and pass by. The radio was always on the same local station that played the same pre-recorded Christmas special every year for decades. I could recite the stories they told and knew which song was next. And while the frosty night made the December lawns glistened like sugar and there was rarely any snow, the quiet winter's peace of Christmas Eve would enter my soul. When we got home, only Midnight Mass was left to do, when my mother and I would go to the tiny old cathedral and worship in the oldest Catholic chapel west of the Appalachians. The candlelit service made the old church even more beautiful than it already was, and Father Bob's Irish-accented Massachusetts voice which always sounded so incongruous in Tennessee became an integral part of my Christmas experience, enough so that even now I don't feel like the priest is doing Mass right if he doesn't have that peculiar blend of heritages infusing the beauty of the loveliest service of the year with that resonant tone. 

In my family, Christmas Eve was the real holiday. Christmas Day, once my brother was old enough to have outgrown Santa, was a day to sleep late, a day where eating leftover sheet cake for breakfast was an acceptable meal (none of the French dishes ever had leftovers), a day where my parents actually got to rest from the rigors of running a business six days a week, a day where a girl who was more interested in books than clothes got to stay in her room and dream. 

Now my family is scattered, my mom is gone and my dad is still plugging along, running his store at 81 much the same way he did at 41. My brother and I both are grandparents, and our kids live apart from us and juggle the traditions of their spouses' families with their own. My husband and I this year are spending Christmas with his parents, which we're devoutly grateful to do after the scare we had with my mother-in-law's health just a few weeks ago.  But as I sit here on this Christmas Eve, I remember the quiet beauty of those long-ago nights where I sat with my face against the car window in the back seat watching as the glow of decorated houses first grew then slipped away out of sight. I can see the clarity with which the stars sparkled overhead, and while listening to "What Child is This?" or Bing and Bowie's "Little Drummer Boy" on the radio, wondering which star was THE star. 

I'm not a nostalgic person for the most part. But some part of me will always be nostalgic for the Christmas Eves of my youths, when my mother shared her French heritage with a group of men who looked forward to her annual gift to them every year, and my father changed from the gruff disciplinarian of the rest of the year into a man both proud and fond of his kids as we all moved through the unspoken schedule of our holiday that reaffirmed our heritage as part of an old, large Tennessee family. All the hurts and anger drains away, and for this one night I think of my family and what makes them such an overwhelming influence over who I am today. Both French and Tennesseean, country-bred and city savvy, dreaming away a Christmas Eve while reality clustered cold and dark and yet somehow gilded on the other side of a frosty window.

Merry Christmas...and Joyeux Noel.