Friday, September 18, 2009

What Happened To Civility?

Recent happenings have brought the lack of civility in our society to the attention of many via newspaper and television coverage.The good thing is we get to see the nitty gritty of this decadent behavior. The bad thing is we get to see the nitty gritty of this decadent behavior. Unfortunately, it wasn't a big shock to me because I've been watching it seep into our culture for far too long.

History tends to repeat itself. Some wise person once said that if we don't pay attention to the past (history) we will be doomed to repeat it. Not his or her actual words but the thought was there. Look back to some early civilizations -- the Romans or Greeks for instance. These cultures were exceptional for their times, filled with family values, education, government, art, music and the good things of life. There was an abundance of whatever they needed. And then, isn't there always an 'and then', they became overwhelmed with their self-importance, their successes, their power and their culture began to turn and failure followed.

When did our power and successes begin to eat away at our family values? When did we look the other way when rudeness seeped into our culture? After World War II we recovered with an unprecedented rush of success. Businesses boomed, education blossomed and while, at first, we relished these things, the need for more and more of everything slowly took over. Now kids aren't at the dinner table with Mom and Dad much anymore. Family conversations often become battles for power and sink to levels unimaginable. Everyone is too busy. Too busy to maintain family traditions and values? The gifts at Christmas and on other occasions are a competition to outdo the last gifts. Movies get louder and louder, more violent and the language is abhorrent. Popular music isn't words set to music that you can hum along to but shouted obscenities and information on how to kill a cop or some such other terrible base.

I'm not even going to mention the questionable dress codes most young people allow 'society' to induce them to follow. But, when did rudeness become the norm in family discussions, in our schools and even between youngsters? Listen to conversations at the mall and think, would you have said that to your siblings, your parents or even your friends? Words I think unprintable and certainly not for any type of conversation have crept into our movies, television, books and conversations. Where is this going? Schools have had their hands tied in most instances when occasions of misbehavior or disruption occurs in the classrooms.

Recently on two occasions I heard unheard of remarks being made by people who should have known better. Why did they use them? Because it's not frowned upon anymore. We have become accustomed to turning our heads and ignoring these things because to stand up for something is tantamount to welcoming censure yourself.

Young athletes are encouraged to be so tough that even their language should follow suit. A congressman felt no remorse in shouting out "You lie" to the President of the United States of America during one of his speeches to a joint session of congress. Why? Because there is no retribution of any kind. Oh, a fine to someone who makes millions is nothing. A reprimand is over and done with and life goes on. There are so many good examples of civil, honest examples of how to have a good life without lowering moral standards. I know you can make your own list.

I fear for the lack of civility in each and every walk of life, in families, businesses, government, sports and schools it is an unrecognized trait of deterioration of our civilization. And, who is going to do something about this? I think the basics of life lead back to the family and their responsibility of creating an atmosphere where future generations will know when they can't cross that line before even getting to it.

Civility? The very word is part of civilization. We should all be very careful and very watchful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tucker and Bunny - A tale of unlikely bedfellows

Pictures trap moments of time on shiny pieces of paper that forever after echo as memories in your heart. Each one holds a story.

“Please can I keep her,” my youngest daughter Jenni cried, holding a ragged stray kitten. She always longed for a pet, but I had to say, “No,” because of my allergies. Truthfully!
Jenni, however, made up for her pet loss by acquiring an overabundance of stuffed creatures. Walruses, seals, elephants, giraffes, dogs, cats, bunnies, several bears and an assortment of endangered animals adorned her bed and every available bit of shelf space in her room.

Each time we went to the Mall she gazed longingly into the local pet palace and browsed among the cages while I kept a happy distance from the furry creatures and their offensive fur, hair and dander.

But when Jenni was nine, as a super surprise for Christmas, I bought her a pretty, blue parakeet complete with cage and accessories. I had been assured that feathers wouldn’t affect my eyes, nose and breathing apparatus as hair and fur did.
Jenni was so excited. “I’ll clean the cage, Mom, and put water and seed in the dishes every day. I promise!”

Of course, we all know who kept the cage clean but Petey was a cute, smart, non-allergenic pet and our pleasant life continued, almost pet-less. He became a member of the family with his cage door open most of the time so that he could visit at will. One of his favorite foods was peas, plain, cooked, then cooled, green peas. He’d stick his beak into the center and eat the soft middle, neatly dropping the hulls on the floor of his cage.

Then Jenni grew up a bit and enter the boyfriend who, without seeking parental permission, presented his little ladylove with a black Lab puppy! Now it was my turn to say, “Jen, you know we can’t have a dog.” But she argued that she would care for Tucker and I wouldn’t be bothered with his hair or dander because he was never going to come into the house. “I’ll keep him downstairs and I’ll clean the playroom. Promise.”

Now could a loving mother turn that offer down? Of course not. So Tucker moved into the basement and Jenni took over the responsibility of not only a dog but the housekeeping of the almost-finished playroom. Kind of.

I, however, retained the bird maintenance—a small chore I had to admit I loved because Petey, at the advent of clean brown paper on the bottom of his cage and fresh water and seeds in the plastic cups, was sent into a frenzy of happiness.

I had to admit that Tucker was an ideal pet and even though I had to go through the playroom to the laundry, I did so without any adverse reactions to the presence of yon dog. Once again peace and harmony reigned in our household.

That might have been the end of the story but there is more. Not long after Tucker joined the family, lo and behold, young ardent boyfriend arrived with another pet for his ladylove. This time it was a rabbit, named Bunny. How original.

“Are you out of your mind?” I cried. “The dog will eat the rabbit.”

“Not so,” the young romancer said, “I’ve brought a cage for the rabbit and we will paper train her to go in the cage.”

Huh, I thought, an unlikely event. A dog and a rabbit that have free run of the room? And a paper-trained rabbit? But, wonder of wonders, the rabbit was cage trained and Bunny and Tucker became fast friends. On occasion I would descend to the lower level of the house and watch in amazement as the rabbit and dog shared a water bowl or playfully romped around the perimeter of the cage—carefully cleaned daily by grateful daughter. I watched Jenni feed some homegrown clover or a stalk of celery to Bunny while holding Tucker in her lap.
Tucker was a typical puppy—robust in energy, cuddly when the occasion presented itself and slipping off to sleep when there wasn’t anyone, or a certain rabbit nearby, to wheedle into action.

Bunny was a funny animal; funny in the way she behaved. While maintaining her rabbit-aloofness, she was very un-rabbit-like at times. When we returned home after an outing, not only did Tucker run to meet us, circling our feet in enthusiastic welcome—so did Bunny. Perhaps she thought she, too, was a dog. But there were limits to her sharing what she considered her domain. If Tucker intruded, she quickly retreated to her cage and smugly pronounced her independence from the foolish frolics that Tucker tried to entice her to join. She had her dignity to protect.

One day I slipped downstairs to see what was happening—it was much too quiet. Mothers of teenager daughters worry about quiet. To my surprise I found Jenni and her boyfriend sitting on the couch watching television. But even more surprising was finding Tucker and Bunny lounging in a chair—together—watching television with them. Talk about strange bedfellows. It was a picture begging to be taken.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Except from award-winning novel, Secrets

The air is crisp and more invigorating here in the mountains and Eve breathes deeply as she walks up the brick path to the wide double doors that are appropriately painted black.
The lingering scent of old flowers and dust greets her as she steps into the vestibule. Soft music comes from a hidden source and yet a hollow silence surrounds her. She hesitates, then looks to the left when a door opens quietly.

The thin, slightly stooped man who stands in the doorway is well into his eighties. His hair and face are almost the same shade of gray but alert, dark eyes peer out from beneath shaggy brows and his face crinkles to a pleasant greeting as he steps forward, “Good morning,” he says, recognizing a stranger. “I’m Edgar Krouder. Been here in Mountain Springs for seventy years. Mortician for forty-some years. My two sons help in the business. You must be Helen’s daughter.”

Again a chilling feeling of being completely out of control sweeps over Eve. How in the world…?
She mumbles agreement and watches him move silently toward her. His black suit, dulled with age is crisply neat. Nothing in the room or about him seems capable of making any noise.
He touches her hand with icy fingers. “We are so very sorry for your loss. We’ve been expecting you. Please, come into the office and we can talk. But first, do you want to see your mother? She’s in the last room,” he points down a dimly lit hallway. “It’s the biggest room we have because we expect a great many mourners. Your mother had so many friends.” His eyes crinkle with pleasure; as if the mere thought of all her mother’s friends gathered together will be a welcome occasion.

Eve is smothered with indecision. Did she want to see her mother so quickly? Maybe she needs a minute to gather herself. Maybe she’ll feel better if she knows what plans have already been made and who made them. “Thank you. I think I’d like to talk first.”

They move into the office, another quiet room with a small desk, a neat line of notebooks marshaled at one end. Eve sits in a comfortable chair facing the desk. Her eyes take in a tall bookshelf to her right that contains more notebooks and several ornate urns. Probably for ashes, she thinks trying to bring her thoughts into focus.

Mister Krouder eases himself into the leather chair behind the desk. His thin fingers straighten a few papers, then he looks at her. Forty-some years of controlled compassion cover his face and guide his words.

“Death is always a shock, even though we all know it is inevitable.” He smiles again, pulling himself effortlessly from solemn to friendly. “Your mother was a wonderful lady. Well loved in the community, active in church, involved in charity, but then you know all that.”

No, I don’t, Eve thinks. I don’t know anything about my mother. Well, not exactly ‘anything’ but not enough. She feels tears prick at the back of her eyes and she bites her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

Mister Krouder takes this sign of emotion as normal and pushes a box of tissues toward his visitor. “She was also very thoughtful and kind, as was her husband. About a year before Joe died, they came in here and made all the arrangements for their demise. Everything is taken care of. She eased the way for you.” His words drift off the ends of his sentences as if a listener can add whatever he wants.

“I’m surprised. She never suggested to me that this was what they had done. When I got news of her death…” Eve stumbles and then goes on, “I thought I’d have to make the arrangements. I don’t even know the man who called me in Washington…” This time Eve’s words ebb away, leaving room for conjecture on the part of her listener.

“Austin Campbell,” he supplies. “Yes, a nice man. Lives on some land he leased from Joe, oh, some years back. They were friends. Or, as close to being friends as you can get with Mister Campbell. Kind of a recluse, he is.”

Eve listens to the muted music and the ticking of a clock somewhere in the office. “I don’t recall Mother mentioning him.”

“Well, not surprising. He’s very quiet. Came right here about your mother though. He found her, called the doctor and waited until they examined her, then followed the ambulance in. Said he’d call you.”

How did Mister Campbell know my name and telephone number, Eve wonders silently?
She sighs. What a contradiction her mother’s life was. Irresponsibly disappearing for months or even years at a time, going off on crazy ventures, yet organized enough to plan for her own funeral.

“Maybe I should see Mother now.” Her words shock her. She hadn’t planned to say that so quickly. But then again, what is the sense of waiting? They rise and she feels his bony fingers take her elbow as they walk down the dim corridor.

“I’ll leave you alone. Take whatever time you need. I’ll wait for you in the front.” He melts away closing the door so softly Eve turns to see if he has really left.

The room is cold. Two small wreaths of flowers are attached to wire stands at each end of the open coffin. There is room for more flowers and she wonders if the racks will be full by the time of the funeral. She makes a mental note to order flowers. Her mind whirls with details. Who will conduct the funeral? What time is it on Friday?

Her mother’s head rests on a satin pillow, her hands folded across the waist of a pale blue dress Eve has never seen. The peaceful expression she wears brings a sudden stab to Eve’s heart. She remembers that peaceful look. Not much upset her mother. She always had a way of dealing with setbacks. Why did Eve remember this now as she looks at her mother’s lifeless body? Why hadn’t that thought crossed her mind last night when she was struggling to remember things about her mother?

The coffin lid is split and the bottom half of her mother’s body is out of sight. Eve wonders if she has shoes and stockings on and then shudders at the senselessness of that thought. She moves closer to the casket, her hands gripped tightly in front of her. Surely there is something she should say, something she should feel instead of the rampant confusion that courses through her. Her throat tightens and she swallows with difficulty. Soft music continues in the background as Eve lowers her eyes from her mother’s face, feeling hot tears trickle down her cheeks. A padded kneeler is next to the coffin. Should she kneel and whisper a prayer? She prays in church on the Sundays she occasionally attends. But they are prayers the minister’s sermon provokes, familiar, nonspecific prayers, nothing she has to originate. Nothing comes to her mind in this silent room where she and her mother are alone for the first time in how long? Too long. Shivering, she pulls a tissue from her purse and wipes her eyes and cheeks dry. She turns her back to the coffin and stands still for a moment, then quietly leaves, not looking back, not praying, not sure of what she has done or should have done.

In the front office again, Mister Krouder opens a file centered on his desk. “Let me review what’s scheduled and if there’s anything you wish to change, we can go over that.” He separates several sheets of paper, spreading them carefully, lining up the tops of the pages, as if that is necessary before reading them. “As I said, we’ve scheduled the funeral for Friday at two o’clock at First Baptist Church, Followers of the Apostles.” He looks up as if waiting for an acknowledgement. Receiving none, he continues, “We chose Friday because one of my associates called the people in Helen’s address book. Since many of them said they wanted to attend the funeral and were scattered around the country, requiring some travel time, we decided Friday was the earliest convenient time.”

It is a long speech and he seems out of breath. “Do you want to add to this list?”

Eve shakes her head. Who would I add?

He pauses and again looks at her, his eyes hooded with professional sympathy, “Interment will follow the services. Reverend Mueller has a wonderful service, both in the church and at graveside.”

Eve stares at him. It sounds as if she’s listening to a package deal for a trip to Barbados. She shifts in her chair, trying to focus on what he is saying.

“We’ve scheduled the viewing from six to eight on Thursday evening. We….”

“No! No viewing!” The words burst from her stiffened lips. He looks startled by her impassioned tone. “No viewing, I couldn’t…my husband, my son… No, I’m sorry but I can’t have a viewing.” She closes her eyes, still the vision of two coffins is so clear they might be just down the dim hallway. The sickly scent of too many flowers, strange lips fluttering across her cheeks, the mumbled words—no, it is too much. Tears seep from beneath her closed eyelids and she takes a deep, grief-shattered breath. “I’m sorry, it’s too painful.”

“But, Missus Marshall, people will expect…”

“No.” It was final.

He watches her for a moment, clearly confused by this sudden turn of events, then resumes his role. “Of course. I understand.” But he doesn’t and he fumbles with the papers again. “We could have a short viewing before the services… At the church. For those who feel it is necessary to spend a few respectful minutes with their beloved friend.”

“Fine.” She is resolved, but relieved. Do whatever you want, go through whatever rituals you have, but don’t include me, not again, not again. Her nails bite into the palms of her hands and she releases her grip, stretching her fingers.

Once again he shuffles through the papers, handing her a sheet with some typed names on it. “This is the list of mourners we’ve notified—taken from your mother’s records, and a list she’d provided to us previously. As you can see, a couple of them are in California.”

Eve doesn’t read it, just folds it in half and slips it in her purse. Before leaving, she gets directions to her mother’s home, noting Mister Krouder’s polite surprise that she needs them.
Want to know more? Autographed copies of this award-winning novel are available by clicking on the title on this blog

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Big and Little Things

Sometimes the big things in your life are really little things. Take for instance the arrival of my great-grandson Nathan. While he's almost nine-months old and I've never seen him, I did receive a photograph of him at the age of six-months. Better late than never and isn't he cute? My daughter, his aunt Jen, reports that he is the most pleasant baby she's ever seen and she has quite a history with babies.

Nevertheless, receiving this photo was overwhelming for me. We just don't get to visit family so we keep in touch with emails, telephone calls and once in a while, real photos that I can hold and touch and show off. All our kids and grandchildren are scattered over several states and since we are unable to travel and they are so busy just taking care of their own lives, this is such a blessing. We receive photos by email but even printed out, they just aren't pictures. So, the pride just took over and I had to share this event with all of you. Here's Nathan and his proud Daddy, Andrew.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Yesterday was the Fourth of July…our country's birthday. If anyone watched the celebration in our nation's capital you can't have missed the patriotic excitement on the face of Barry Manilow as he belted out those wonderful songs.

As the camera swept over the crowd this enthusiasm was echoed from face to face. If there were a million people on the National Mall there were two million flags. Big flags, little flags stuck behind visors, waving from the tops of hats and clutched in the hands of folks from senior to the tiniest child. It was a display that was so moving the fireworks almost seemed an anticlimax. In fact, I really felt that they were not only there for the music and the fireworks but because they truly wanted to be in Washington to celebrate this country for what it truly is. Forget the problems, they will be fixed. They were there to exhibit the patriotism that is inherent in every true citizen.

I guess my patriotic ardor comes directly from my parents. They were two of the most avid citizens this country has had. My mom and dad never missed a chance to impress upon my sister and me the value of our citizenship. You see, my parents came to this country in 1930, the height of the depression. They didn't come from poverty or bad government, they came from England. I guess it's the reason they came that makes the difference. They chose to come to America. They could have gone anywhere in the world, or stayed where they were and had a wonderful life. But the call of our freedom, our liberties, our basics were what made them travel across the pond to New York City. Daddy was well educated and perhaps that was what eased him into a job when many didn't have them. After he had established himself, he sent for Mother and they settled into what they truly believed was paradise. They couldn't get over the freedoms; everyone could come and go as they wished. The citizens were generally happy and helpful no matter what their situations. Daddy had established a bank account where his salary was deposited each week. I think the bank was Bank of America but it wasn't the huge conglomerate of today. Anyhow, one evening Daddy came home from work and told Mother their bank had failed. They turned out their pockets and purses and tossed the bills and change onto the bed. That was all they had. But that didn't daunt them, they just started over again. They couldn't wait to explore every nook and cranny of the city and surrounding country. They marveled at things like the Automat and the street vendors. I don't know how many times they visited the Statue of Liberty but I do know that my sister and I went half a dozen times, at least.

It was after my sister and I were born the real exploration of America began. We never missed a museum, a historic place, a battlefield, a post along the roadway that announced some little piece of American history. We were instilled with a deep regard and love for everything American and that feeling hasn't left me. I get goose-bumps when they play the National Anthem, or when a marching band goes by playing a patriotic march. I feel like crying when I see service men and women because it is for me that they have sacrificed so much.

My parents spent the next 53 years loving, learning about and exploring this wonderful country they chose. They passed this legacy on to me and I am forever grateful. You see the difference between them and us is that to us it's a given, to them it was a gift. I try never to forget that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Newspaper Article - June 10, 2009

Serafino driven to tell stories - by Christopher Tuffley -News Sun

Sunny Serafino always wanted to write. But a sick husband, widowhood, raising three children as a single parent and a 46-year career as a legal secretary never gave her the time. Then she remarried and retired. In the last 12 years she has published 10 books -- nine novels and a memoir of her parents.

Her most recent work, "Second Chances," has just been released. It is a sequel to "Echoes," an earlier book. In "Echoes" Serafino tells the story of a dying woman's last wish t0 bringing her far-flung family together again. So many readers wanted to know what happened to the family next, Serafino said, that she was forced to continue their story.

"Second Chances" deals with change and how people react. Main characters include the dying woman's husband, her best friend, and her youngest daughter. All three have to adjust to her loss, but Patty, the daughter, has perhaps the most problems. "This is a story about old friends, new loves, and a deep-seated trust that holds a family together," she said.

Serafino said she thinks her story through, before she sits at the keyboard, so she has an immediate idea of where she's going. That doesn't mean, she added that the characters don't take on a life of their own--she has frequently been surprised by unexpected twists in the tale.

She said she is not a disciplined kind of writer. She doesn't sit down the same time every day, or write a specific number of words each session. Instead, she writes in her spare time, after waiting until she has something to say. Then she types until she is done. That might mean working all day, several hours, or only 25 minutes. "I don't sit there with a blank face," she said, "If I have a blank face, I don't sit."

It typically takes her from six to nine months to get a book finished. Her drive is her passion to tell stories. While her plots are all different, they always involve courageous women.

Her books are all self-published, primarily because waiting to be discovered by an agent and traditional publisher can take a lifetime and requires as much luck as talent. She has discovered however, that self-publishing has a tremendous advantage--she has complete control of her work. She is very proud of the fact that three of her novels have won literary awards.

Serafino also teaches creative writing at South Florida Community College, and holds writing workshops throughout the state. She runs a writer's critique group that meets at the Avon Park Public Library on Friday for individuals with works in progress.

Her books are available on, or at her web site or

Monday, June 8, 2009

First Place - Wow!

Sometimes in life there are unexpected surprises and some of these surprises can be exciting. Nothing beats the surprise I received when I was notified that I had won first place in the 2008 Royal Palm Literary Awards for my novel, A Grandma for Christmas; an award sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. And today a lovely person from Florida Writers Association sent me a copy of my award so that I could post it here. Thanks, Karen. Another wonderful surprise.
When A Grandma for Christmas, took this honor, it wasn't the first literary award I've be honored to receive but a 'first place' has special connotations. To receive recognition from your peers to this degree is a rare and wonderful occasion. I'll never forget when the trophy was delivered. It came in a manila envelope and when my husband slid it out of the mailbox he asked me if I recognized the sender's label. I thought the name was familiar but the address wasn't. Tearing the parcel open the trophy fell into my hands. I was overwhelmed and tears filled my eyes. I kept saying, "First place, first place oh, my God, first place." My hands were shaking so much I had difficulty dialing my best friend to tell her about the award. I had to dial her very familiar phone number four times before I got through. I said, "Hello, Bette," and she said, "You won first place." How did she know? We hadn't been talking about this at all. She knew I entered months earlier but after that we just didn't talk about it. I knew I couldn't attend the conference when the awards are given out so it wasn't really on my mind. She says she heard it in my voice but I don't think so. We may be miles apart but our friendship transcends logic. She knew because she felt my excitement. Well that's my theory anyhow.
In my short writing career I've been blessed with friends and fellow-writers who have helped me in so many ways. Through my husband's encouragement and support I feel I've been able to achieve whatever successes I have. But behind it all is my sense that God ordains what happens in our lives. I've always said I didn't do any of this alone. I guess that's why I want to give back. I love coaching, teaching and mentoring budding authors. That's why this coming fall I'll be teaching another creative writing course at South Florida Community College and why I chair a writer's critique group every week. It's all part of my late-life career and I love it.

New Adventures

I guess you are never too old to look for new adventures and boy, did I find one this past weekend. Actually it wasn't something I was really looking for.

For months friends have been nagging me to go on Facebook. Well, I didn't because I felt so unsure of myself. After all, I'd be out there in cyberspace with all those folks that I didn't know. But when they ganged up on me, there they were in an early Saturday morning email; four people I knew urging me to just got off the stick and do it. So I signed up.

Actually, my weekend had been reserved for something else. I had planned to complete a couple of things that had the dreaded deadlines facing me. I had planned to finish a chapter in my newest manuscript, something I had been unable to do this past week. Good, I thought, Saturday and Sunday will be just the time to complete these things.

But no! Little did I expect the deluge of folks asking me to be their friend. Little did I know that I would be pecking away at the computer keyboard all weekend. Little did I know that I would find this fun and an experience far beyond anything I expected. Little did I know Facebook wasn't a scary place and that those people I didn't know weren't invited.

This venture into the world of internet networking is so new to me. Oh, I have a couple of blogs and I have a long snail-mailing list of people who are readers of my books and who, God bless them, are eagerly awaiting the next novel. My email list of contacts has grown to a length I never imagined.

What does all this mean? I think it means I have opted for an adventure never anticipated. I think it means I'll be on the compute more than planned. I think it might be just the networking tool I have been looking for. But, and there is always a but, I think I might just have to take this adventure a bit slowly. Get my feet wet and then wade in further. I'm sure I'll have encouragers along the way because they seem to be lining up already. I guess my writer/author friend on the east coast of Florida is smiling as she reads this. She's the adventurous soul in our friendship who has exposed me to high-tech stuff, some of which I've already thrown up my hands and surrendered to.

Still, there are aspects of every adventure that are scary. However, Columbus didn't give up in mid-Atlantic did he? Edison didn't give up with an empty light bulb in his hand. I guess I won't give up either. After all, and adventure is an adventure.

See you in cyberspace.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lessons Learned

Every once in a while you just have to reflect on what's happened before and why you are where you are and who you are. Most of us take a quick look back once in a while but I've decided it's a good thing to take a long, hard look at the past, not in expectation of finding blame or excuses. Just a look back, over a shoulder that is so grateful for the contributions to my very being made by my parents. I was blessed with a great father and mother and I think I owe them a thought once in a while. Not that I don't think of them every day. What is that saying, "You don't miss something until you no longer have it?" My parents died many years ago and I am not ashamed to say that even today I miss them very much. So, here's what I've been thinking about.

Death is strange. When you're young it is inconceivable and shrouded in mystery. As you grow older death becomes a reality—it happens and has to be dealt with. When my mother died (Daddy died fourteen years earlier) I felt like a very old orphan. From our circle of four we were now two, just me and my sister. I thought the broken circle couldn't be mended but then I realized that life isn't a circle but a chain of links, a series of little circles. Daddy and Mother were the first circle in this country, forging ahead on with a new adventure on a new continent; making a new beginning in their very new life together. My sister and I formed links for the future with our children, and their children are the next set of links, and so on.

Life doesn't end with death unless we let it happen. My parents aren't here anymore but so much of them remains. The only difference is I can't see them. I can hear them though. I smile when I recognize I've said something that sounds like Daddy because I can hear Mother saying, "You are so much like your father." She didn't say it with censure but with love.

Memories are priceless whether they are good ones or not-so-good-ones because they are the texture of your life. I'm the same little girl who sat on the cellar floor with sawdust in her hair, sorting nails and screws for Daddy. I was part of the fishing team that cast a line into the surf in Cape May, New Jersey and dragged smelly fish heads through the water luring crabs into the boat.

The anger I felt because of the many sudden changes of location and schools (because we moved constantly) is softened now because from here I can see advantages I didn't see then. The many moves and unusual lifestyle of my childhood prepared me to be versatile, to accept things as they are, or to do something about them.

When I lost my parents I found I had to overcome a tremendous sense of loss—a loss of something that belonged in my life and wasn't here any longer. It wasn't fair they were gone—it was too soon. I hadn't finished talking to them. Did I tell them enough times, in enough ways how much I loved them? How much I appreciated the world they exposed me to? How precious were the values they taught?

I dealing with my grief I found myself remembering and the more I remembered the better I felt. The feel of sawdust and sand sliding through my fingers, the sound of clippers chopping at a stubborn hedge, my father's laugh, the smell of kippers frying in a big black pan on a sandy beach in Miami are indelibly etched in my soul.

They weren't perfect parents—they could be stubborn and opinionated at times. I thought they were selfish because they were so involved in each other until I saw marriages that didn't have nearly the love or commitment their fifty-three year long marriage had.

Later in life I missed them and resented their absence when they took off on their nomadic wanderings and weren't around to help me with my children. Little did I realize then that before they left they had prepared me for whatever came along by their example. They were always there when I really needed them. Because they had a good life, I did too.

So my musing has brought back those principles, those special events and happenings that made our family unique in some ways and just like so many families in other ways. It doesn't hurt to look back now and then and see what went into the making of 'you' because no matter what, we are a product of our past. Once I didn't realize just how great my past was and now that I do I feel somehow uplifted by these backward glances. Try it. Even the painful parts (and there are painful parts in every life) are softened with time and the knowledge that they were just part of the tapestry of your life.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Throw-Away Nation

Well, I'm back on my soapbox. But, when something is this important I just can't be silent.

My English cousin once told me the Brits think of America as the throw-away nation. We don't recycle as we should. We don't reuse either. We spend carelessly and have become an instant gratification nation. Things have to be new, the latest, and no matter the cost we have to get them. Our youngsters are being taught terrible lessons that will one day cripple our economy.

Speaking about youngsters—A caption in the newspaper recently caught my attention. It was titled "Dumpster Diving" and I immediately thought it was about the homeless and needy in our country. I was wrong! These dumpster divers were teenagers from Freedom High School in Hillsborough County, Florida. They were part of an archaeology program called 'garbology' sponsored by the government to see what kind of waste existed in the schools. They were diving into the school's dumpsters and they weren't finding fossils. No, they were finding huge piles of unopened milk cartons, slices of pizza and trays of lunch food. Do any of the students discarding these items take a moment to think there are hungry people all over our country? I doubt it. I hope the parents and teachers of these school children took note of the waste and have programs scheduled to explain what terrible consequences this waste will have on their future and of those who follow them.

Recently I overheard a mother complain that her kids lose so much stuff she is constantly replacing articles of clothing that just disappear; school supplies that mysteriously jump out of back packs, cell phone that are no longer around anywhere and towels that make one-way trips to the gym. She said the kids just assume if those things disappear there will be others to replace them.

Now here's the gist of my concerns. We must learn how to be thrifty; thrifty in our spending, our attitude about taking care of this wonderful world we have and in using our assets wisely. Recycling is one of the ways to instill this lesson into our daily life and at the same time show our family and neighbors that it's something all of us can do. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort. Just put aside the newspapers and magazines. Keep all the aluminum, plastic bottles, glass bottles and foam containers. There are bins for those things. Most counties have a great many recycling locations. Here in Florida, Publix supermarkets have recycling containers in front of their stores. Did you know you can recycle egg cartons, those foam trays under your meat and chicken purchases, those pesky foam peanuts and the little boxes you bring home filled with your restaurant leftovers? They can all be rinsed out and kept until you get to the recycle bins.

I try to recycle everything possible from the largest plastic bottle to a Jell-O box and the tubes paper towels come on. Is it a pain? Not really. I've organized five containers in my shed and hold the things to be recycled until I get to the locations available. I've read some terrifying statistics about the life and condition of our landfills. Apparently a plastic water bottle or a two-liter soda bottle takes 700 years to decompose in a landfill. The space this country has for new landfills is almost non-existent. If we don't recycle what kind of a legacy are we leaving for the next generations?

Think of all the ways you could contribute to the cause. We have enough tough problems, this one is easy.

Don't be a throw-away nation.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dissecting a Novel — A Grandma for Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and Madison Millhouse is running from a failed love affair through a snow storm in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

A brief stop for a cup of coffee at a mountain-top diner pushes her into a role she never imagined. She is confronted by an abandoned four-year old little girl named Bitsy who is convinced Madison is her grandmother. With no phones and the storm closing the roads, there seems to be no alternative but to take her along on her flight. Snowbound together in a mountain cabin for several days, her world changes dramatically. No longer is she consumed by her own problems, which don't seem nearly as important as the welfare of the pretty little angel who has fallen into her life. Who is this child? Where are her parents, her family? How can anyone abandon a little girl the day before Christmas? And, why is Madison suddenly burdened with the care and welfare of a child who seems to have no background? She was seeking peace not added responsibilities.

Alone but comfortable Madison and Bitsy celebrate a lonely Christmas together. Cut off from the word because of the blizzard, Madison discovers her charge is witty, intelligent and woefully uninformed as to any news of family or background. They spend the time becoming friends in the strange cabin until they can return to Philadelphia, the city Bitsy also calls home. But, the roads have to be cleared before they can leave. A neighbor, Philip Hendershot, observing the cabin that was never used during the winter months has visitors, stops by to see who is staying there. Charming and helpful, Madison stands her distance. She's been charmed and deceived for too many years to welcome strange a man into her circle; a circle that seems to tighten protectively around her and her new found ward.

As they wait she wonders if her longing for a child of her own for years is being answered by this unexpected blessing. A quirky answer to a silent prayer? Still she knows she must make every effort to find Bitsy's parents or guardians.

Questioning Bitsy, the information she supplies is painfully inadequate. Her mother worked but she doesn't know where; they lived in Philadelphia but she can give no address, and there was no other family. Madison wonders at the secrecy this little girl has been raised in.

Returning to Philadelphia, Madison makes efforts to weave together the few hints Bitsy has supplied. Mention of a diner she and her mother visited sends Madison on an ill-advised, terrifying tour of a poor and unsavory neighborhood. But instead of answers she discovers a hint of criminal world activities leaving her even more concerned about the child's safety.

Madison confides her concern and confusion to her girlfriend, Jo, and to her sister, Lolly, in California. Both caution her that keeping an abandoned child might be misconstrued as kidnapping but Madison is adamant that she won't turn Bitsy over to the authorities to be put into foster care. After all, she rationalizes, she can supply the needs of a little girl much better than any civil system fraught with unpleasant history and filled with strangers who might become surrogate parents from time to time. Besides she is becoming more and more attached to the obviously intelligent and beautiful child.

Convinced that she would be the best choice to care for Bitsy, and desiring to put as many miles as she can between herself and her one-time-lover and Bitsy's bewildering past, Madison makes a decision to move to Florida. As an author, she can write anywhere and the more miles between them and the past the better, she muses.

Remembering a brief conversation with Philip when he revealed he was only in Pennsylvania to settle an aunt's estate and that he really lived in a condo in Florida and was anxious to return, Madison takes a wild chance and calls him to see if he would consider allowing her to sub-let his condo for two or three months. Surprisingly, arrangements are made and Madison and Bitsy leave for Florida, leaving behind a worried and apprehensive Jo and a much concerned sister in California.

But life in Florida is not the Utopia Madison hoped for and she is hounded with questions. How will she get Bitsy into school? Where will they live after their brief stay in Philip's condo? Will Philip stay in their lives? Madison hires a private detective to look for Bitsy's past. Where is her family? Are there dangerous people looking for Bitsy? Looking for her? Can Madison really take on the role of grandma when she's never even had a child of her own? What does the future really hold for both of them?

Want to know more? This award-winning book is available by clicking on the cover. You won't regret it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

An Anatomy of a Novel

Whenever I hold a book signing, or give a speech featuring some of my work, I'm asked the same questions. "Where do you get your ideas?" and "How do you get started?"

Writing is such an individual occupation. You really can't get help with either of those questions. The ideas have to come to you, either through something that triggers the thoughts, an over-heard conversation, or an incident that the author thinks can be fictionalized. Beginning the novel comes after the original thoughts are set. Some of my books are based on facts, either from things in my life or others that I have known. Of course, whatever starts the thought process is never factually transferred into my books. That's not fiction. The spark is true but the fire you build with it is pure fiction and that's the way it should be.

I honestly don't know where A Grandma for Christmas came from but it was pure pleasure to write that book…and…it took first place in the 2008 Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. The plot certainly wasn't from my life. I remember driving along one day and thinking about women who are in relationships with married men and what would happen if, after a long time, they just said, "No. I'm not going on with the broken promises, the sneaking about and the lonely holidays." (Where that came from I couldn't tell you) I thought if it had been a very long relationship it wouldn't be an easy choice to make. But the decision would show long-overdue courage and that's what I write about—courageous women. A Grandma for Christmas was born.

Now that I had the initial thought the next thing was to figure out what to do with it. I didn't want to get into the nitty-gritty of the failed affair. She's calling it quits and needs to get away. That, in itself, isn't much of a story. But, ah ha, what if she always wanted a child and now her biological clock is ticking down. There's a thought that I took and ran with. It was time for my 'What if' tactics. 'What if' is what I apply to many things in the course of writing a novel. "What if they do this; or don't do that." "What if I make the guy meaner and the gal gutsier." Trial and error play a big part in coming to decisions as you work. Sometimes as the work progresses I am amazed at the turn of events as they unfold.

Once the basic plot is set the whole book lays open before you—but there are lots of blank pages and my job as an author is to fill them with the rest of the story. I know from experience that other characters will appear as you write; plot changes will come with the addition of those characters and sometimes the original plot will take a turn that I didn't even contemplate.

The basics of a novel are plot, characters, conflict, solutions and action. There are no rules, in fact W. Somerset Maugham once was quoted as saying, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows that they are." Ah, Mr. Maugham, how wise you were. But if there are no rules there are basics and that is what I teach when I hold seminars, workshops and classes on creative writing. I do know that there must be a beginning, a middle and an end and there has to be conflict, otherwise the book is just too goody-two-shoes and ends up dull, dull, dull.

I love writing. I love teaching writing. And, I love mentoring those who genuinely want to improve their writing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Voices From the Past -- Voices You Never Want to Hush

Do you have memories of sitting around a picnic table on the Fourth of July? The little kids are throwing Frisbees and the bigger kids (write men in here) are tossing a football and challenging their brothers and cousins to impossible feats. It's hot and the women of the family are sitting in the shade. How often have you heard the phrase, "Remember when…" and the memories begin to flow as if the gates to the dam have been opened? These are voices from the past.

Do you remember holidays where a crowded, hot kitchen was filled with delicious scents? Women in aprons bantered across a flour covered table and laughter filled the air. The counters were covered with pies and Aunt Alice's special veggie casserole was just coming out of the oven.

How about running barefoot across the damp lawn as the sun slid below the horizon, chasing fireflies, carrying mason jars with holes punched in the lids. There are cousins everywhere and the older folks are relaxing in rocking chairs on porches that don't have screens.

Have you ever stood around a dining room table while thirty relatives sang Happy Birthday to you and there are not many dry eyes because another family milestone has been reached? Do you remember your first date with the man/woman you married? Is there one Christmas that is so special you can rerun it minute by minute?

This is the stuff of Memoirs. These are the stories that are the fabric of Family History. And, every day Family History is being lost because those memories are just that…they are hidden in the hearts and minds of a family and unless they are preserved they will disappear generation by generation.

I don't usually get up on a soapbox but there is one subject near and dear to my heart and it's Family History. I know many of you are doing the genealogy thing these days and that's great. But in the end it's just a list of names and dates. The true value of a family is not there. The true value are memories future generations won't know about; the stories that set the pace for the future, and they will disappear and that's a terrible shame.

Maybe what influenced me to become so engrossed in getting everyone to write a Memoir is my own family. I had great parents and a loving sister but that was all the family in America. No grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. My parents came to this country in 1930 and never looked back. They were the most gung-ho citizens I've ever run into. But, sitting down to dinner was the only family reunion we knew and after my parents died there was no one to ask about what happened 'way back then'. So, being an author, I thought it would be a good idea to write down whatever I could remember. Not just a list of things but a running story about our lives and it was fun. Once the first chapter (on my father teaching my mother to drive) was written the memories rushed back. I didn't really think of it as a 'book', just a record for the children. When I sent it to them their first comment was, "I never knew Grandma and Grandpa did any of that stuff," I did get it published (see Following Daddy in my list of published books).

But, what I preach and teach is not that everyone should write a book. It should be a written personal account of every good, bad, emotional, silly, interesting and memorable thing that you and your family did together. If you are fortunate enough to have relatives that remember 'back when' you have an asset I didn't have but the stories are there and they must be preserved.

Today my goal is to help anyone interested in writing a Memoir do so. It doesn't have to be a piece of literary excellence, just a collection of stories remembered.

Every day precious Family History is being lost. Your family now and in the future will thank you. It isn't difficult, after all you have the entire cast of characters and the plot lines right there in your heart and head.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Accolades from South Florida Community College

This week I was surprised with a letter of recommendation from South Florida Community College in Avon Park, Florida and I want to share it. Actually I'd like to shout it from the housetops but that wouldn't be half as effective as sharing it with all of you.

I don't think there's anything more gratifying than getting a good report card from those you have worked with. Getting a "job well done" mark is music to the ears. My efforts to continually open new doors by helping others is one thing I really value and helping aspiring writers tops the list of those endeavors.

Here's the letter:

"One of the goals that wise people often aspire to is that of continuous improvement—the process of always seeking to refine one's accomplishments, to stretch oneself and to reach new heights. Sunny Serafino is one of those achievers, a true "lifelong learner."

In the past five years she has been a presenter in the SFCC Lifetime Learners Institute several times, and each time the reviews get more enthusiastic. She has taught three Creative Writing classes for Community Education, sharing her skills, talents and dreams so that others can follow in her footsteps. Her students are proud of her accomplishments as a writer, and relate to her as a woman and teacher.

Sunny speaks from her heart and touches her audience.


Rebecca Rousch, Director
Community Education"

I'm still blushing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Clubs - Who Knew?

Who knew book clubs would make such an impact on the reading population? The advent of book clubs is nothing new—they've been around for many, many years. But, they really became popular about twenty years ago. I know of one book club right here in Florida that is celebrating over 60 years.

In the past ten years I have been an enthusiastic participant in several book clubs and the rewards have been eye-opening. Readers, true lovers of books, now have a real outlet to discuss what they like, love or hate. Thousands of readers meet every month, in living rooms, on porches, in libraries and clubhouses. They have found a way to not only enjoy books themselves but to share their feelings with other readers. Witnessing the lively discussions about the latest book is an experience. By choosing venues that might not have been selected by the individual members, book clubs open up doors to more genres than one would expect. I had my own comfort zone, a list of authors who wrote things I wanted to read. But, because of a book club association I've read books I would never have picked up. I've been introduced to new authors and, much to my surprise, I often add that author to my 'must read' list. Books that might never have been explored have become favorites.

If you love to read and you haven't joined a local book club, you should. If there aren't any local book clubs then start one, it isn't all that difficult. If you don't already know, find out who among your friends enjoys reading. Search outside your own group for other readers. Most book clubs are small, a dozen or less members who meet once a month. Usually the book chosen for that month is selected by mutual agreement after several suggestions are made. Some clubs assign one person each time to be the moderator, arranging a list of questions for the group to discuss after reading the selected book. Some review suggestions can be found on line. I know of a couple of book clubs who even rate the book on a scale of 2 to 5, 5 being excellent and the others…well you get the picture. Others just have each member give an opinion of the book; for instance how the author handled the plot, characters, whether they were enthralled by the book, was the message conveyed in a believable and interesting manner. The conversations are exciting, thought provoking and just plain fun.

As a child I was fascinated by books, first as my mother read to me, her voice changing from hushed with awe to feverish with excitement. She made the words on the pages become visual. I was transported to magical places, learned wonderful things and felt as if I had become part of the plot and kin to the characters. Even reading fiction you learn things that might not have been made clear any other way and visited places you might never in your lifetime get to see. I couldn't wait to read on my own and then as the years went by I knew that some day I wanted to be the one who put those magical words between the covers of a book. I think reading opens the windows of the world. Between the front and back covers you can find a world of excitement, humor, pathos, love and hate and life that is beyond your realm of reality.

Not a member of a book club? If you're a reader you're missing out on a great experience.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How to Become a Publishing Success

When I first decided that what I wanted to do most was to write a book and get it published, I had no idea of the procedures needed to accomplish that goal.

After a few trials and errors I completed the first part of that goal, my first novel. But, achieving the next part—getting it published—I found was like running full blast into a solid brick wall. I did all the research, poured through the Writer's Market and Literary Marketplace in the library. I studied other author's suggestions and delved into every possible nook and cranny of the publishing business. What I found was that you couldn't even approach a publisher except through an agent and that getting an agent was not easy. Still I tried the prescribed method, writing a creative query letter, preparing a scintillating synopsis scripted to exactly what the publisher's or agent's guidelines prescribed and, of course, always including the ever-important SASE.

As the rejections began to roll in, there went the daydream of writing, publishing and then sitting back and collecting royalties. It wasn't so much the fact that my efforts were being rejected that bothered me, but the methods agents used to let you know they weren't interested. I received form letters or post cards with no reason for the rejection and no hint at what that agent didn't like. One agent actually tore off the top of my letter, scribbled 'not for us' on it and sent it back in my SASE. No reason, no suggestion for improvement, just 'not for us'. I found that most traditional publishers would not even consider my work unless I was a well known author. Hello? That's like saying to the new graduate, "We'd love to hire you but you need experience first." How do you become a well known author if no one looks at your work?

After a year of no success with this method I began to explore another avenue. With the rapid growth of Internet and web-based publishing, the process of publishing a book has changed dramatically. The need for a "Manhattan publishing house" has all but disappeared. Now I can successfully use my computer to create my book. By using an online POD (Publish on Demand) an author has complete control over all aspects of the book. Of course, I didn't know that it would mean I would wear several hats—writer, editor, publisher, promotional/publicity manager and sales distribution manager. It's a one-woman show but I love it.

I have published ten books over the past twelve years, nine novels and one humorous memoir. During this time three of my novels have received literary awards. I've become an accomplished speaker, addressing women's groups, civic organizations, churches, schools and universities. Our local community college has invited me to give several classes on creative writing.

My use of the POD method of publishing has made it possible for my dreams to come true. What are you waiting for?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Welcome to My Blog

I'm so excited - entering the world of cyberspace is new for me but I'm loving it already. I hope you will enjoy reading what I write as much as I enjoy writing it.

I'm a very fortunate gal -- not only am I doing what I dreamed of most of my adult life, but I'm loving every minute of it. Twelve years ago I began to write - not just letters or dreary things that are necessary but BOOKS -- NOVELS. It was a dream come true and I didn't even envision just how wonderful it would be. During this time I've published nine novels and one humorous memoir. And, three of the novels have won literary awards!

My novels are all about courageous women because I happen to think that every woman is courageous at some time and in some way in her life. I've gone through some periods of time that definitely took courage. Each book is a separate story, Each main character faces a real-life experience -- like something you never expected and it's suddenly thrust in your face, knocking your knees out from under you but you have to go on.

In writing these books I hope to inspire other women to find the courage they might need; to support and understand that life often hands us more than just a bunch of lemons and it takes more than lemonade to get through them.

I look forward to interacting with other courageous ladies and in letting them know that they are never alone and there are others who love and support them.