Category Archives: Misc

Better-Late-Than-Never End-Of-Year 2017 Wrap-Up

I’m over a week late with this post, but here it is. 2017 was, to say the least, an interesting year. But let’s just stick with this blog and what I’ve been up to and leave the wider world to bigger blogs.

Once again, the most popular page on the blog was my Graham Crackers in the UK Update post. It baffles me why this post is so popular. After all, this is a writing/books type blog, not a food blog. Is no-one else covering this topic? I’d like to think that the many people who check out that page stick around and read some of the other posts (1,236 of them including this one). But that’s probably wishful thinking.

The biggest thing that happened on the blog in 2017 was the focus-shift to writing. I’m a writer, no two ways about it, whether it’s novels, short stories, flash fiction, articles, essays, wish lists–I write. Yes, I do other things (music, theology, watch copious amounts of Doctor Who), and I love doing those things. But writing has been that thing I’ve always done even before I learned to play an instrument. While those other things will still have a home here (Who Reviews, Sunday School Notes, Music Monday), I’m determined to give this blog more of a writer focus.

Speaking of writing, one of the biggest writing events for me in 2017 was my first ever short story sale. I still love telling people that you can read my story in the October 2017 issue of Empyreome Magazine. It’s a good one, too–even if I say so myself. 🙂

Looking ahead to 2018, I’m hoping to write more short stories, and maybe even get a few more published. I already have one story due to be published in the February 2018 issue of Riggwelter, so look out for that. Hopefully there will be more to follow. I’d also like to finish another novel, but mainly I want to keep writing, keep producing stories, and improve.

I need to do a better job of keeping this blog up to date with writing stuff. I’ve let my Facebook page go stale since Christmas, so I need to fix that. And I’m still planning to start a Patreon sometime in the very near future.

Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog thus far. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride in 2018, with, hopefully, lots of exciting things to share!


I am honored that Friday’s article, “When Bad People Do Good Things” was deemed worthy of an award. Namely, Silver Fox’s Thrust Home Award:

The award is “Given to the Author of a Single Outstanding Blog Post.” Check out his blog for further explanation. Thank you, Silver Fox. This was unexpected, and very much appreciated. 🙂

When Bad People Do Good Things

A few days ago, I posted the following in Twitter:

It was meant as a pithy commentary on what’s happening in our society at the moment. Last year, it seemed as if every time you pulled up the news, some major celebrity had died. This year, it’s major celebrities being outed as sexual predators, or guilty of sexual misconduct.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t lament the fact that women are finding the courage to stand up and tell their stories. Some have waited years for this moment, not out of opportunism, wanting to cash in on a trend, but because others have gone before and demonstrated that, at long last, they will be taken seriously, and not be punished for speaking up.

But this raises an important question: What of the work these shamed, and in many cases now jobless, celebrities leave behind? Should it be shunned along with them? Should we never watch another episode of the Cosby Show? Or House of Cards? Or watch another Dustin Hoffman movie? Can we separate the bad men from their good work? To what extent are they “dead to me”?

Before offering thoughts on this, let me make clear that I come to this from a Christian worldview. According to that worldview, no-one measures up to the only objective standard of goodness there is: God’s. We are all sinners, standing guilty before Him, and it’s only by God’s grace that we all don’t sink to the worst depths of depravity. This demands of me the utmost humility, recognizing that I have no grounds within myself to judge someone else’s moral failing. However, God has spoken to these issues, so it is to His judgment I appeal when I make any moral pronouncement with regard to anyone’s misconduct. And while there is forgiveness of sin available in Christ, which puts us in a right standing with God, this does not absolve us from the moral and legal consequences of our actions. And anyone who claims the name of Christian should be willing to own those consequences, knowing that God is glorified when we repent of, and take responsibility for, our sin.

There’s a lot of theology summed up in that last paragraph. If you have questions, or want chapter-and-verse, let me know in the comments.

With all that said, is it an endorsement of these people’s sin to enjoy the fruit of their talent? I think the answer is no, and I don’t think it inappropriate to enjoy a Charlie Rose interview, or a tale from Lake Woebegon. While Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor have been accused of sexual misconduct, this was not a part of their work. Claude Debussy was a moral reprobate, and if the #MeToo movement had been around in his lifetime, he would no doubt have a long line of accusers. And yet his is some of the most beautiful piano music on the planet. I would not commend Debussy as a person, but I cannot deny his musical genius.

It pains me to see Dustin Hoffman added to the list of those accused of sexual misconduct. I’m a fan, and still enjoy his movies. I might try to absolve him by saying the allegations are over things he did thirty years ago. But that means his victim has been suffering in silence for thirty years, and only now, in light of the changed atmosphere in Hollywood, does she feel comfortable coming forward. What he did was wrong, and he should be held to account. His protestations over the allegations only make things worse. His response should be unqualified repentance, and a desire to submit the consequences of his actions. But I’ll still watch “All the President’s Men” because it’s a great movie.

I do think that, while these abusers are still alive, out of respect to their victims, it’s good to have a public moratorium on their work, at least for a season. Let those who have been wronged seek justice. Let the accused be held to account for what they’ve done. Where there’s true repentance, let there be forgiveness, bearing in mind that true repentance accepts the temporal penalty for the crime (loss of job, jail time, etc.), and forgiveness does not nullify the need for that temporal penalty.

After that, though, I don’t think it in bad taste to return to those people’s work, and enjoy it for what it is, even while we grieve over those who created it. Just as we might enjoy Debussy’s music, or Anne Perry’s novels. After all, if we only ever enjoyed the art of the morally pure, there would be little left to enjoy.

What do you think? Feel free to disagree with me, but please disagree agreeably. 🙂

Total Eclipse of the Blog

Yesterday (Monday, August 21, 2017) was Eclipse Day here in the US, with a number of places across this fair land getting the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a solar eclipse. Of course, necessary precautions have to be taken to view an eclipse, like protective eyewear, special viewing devices, and excuses to be out of school or work. But nevertheless, it was quite a spectacle for an hour or so.

Contrary to my article title, we here in Eastern North Carolina didn’t get the total eclipse, but we got quite a partial. At the height of the event, there really wasn’t much sun hidden away. We didn’t go dark–which gives you an idea of how bright the sun is, that even a sliver of sunlight keeps the birds happy… not that you hadn’t figured that out already by having your retina burned from staring at the sun too long–but the light did dim a bit.

I didn’t have the equipment to capture the event as one might like (do I look like NASA?), but I gave it my former-British best. Swiping my boss’s cardboard Eclipse Glasses (the black market value of which competed with gold for about 20 mins prior), I held them up to the lens of my phone and took a picture:


Hmmm. Not very impressive. I mean, you can see the sun, but not much eclipse. Then I hit upon the idea that maybe the filter was too close to the lens. With the help of a co-worker who held the glasses, I took a picture through the filter at a distance of a few inches:

It won’t win a Pulitzer, but it’ll do. It looks dark because of the filter, not because it was actually dark. Trust me, it wasn’t.

The eclipse started around 1:25 pm Eastern Time, peaked at around 2:50 pm, and it was all over with a little after 4. For those who missed it, I believe there’ll be another in 2024. See you then! 🙂

Did you see the eclipse? Any stories to share? Or was it much ado about nothing for you?

“No, Mr. Smith, I Mean… Where Are You *REALLY* From?”

This is a question I’m never asked, despite the fact I am an immigrant. I came to this country 25 years ago, and became a naturalized citizen 13 years ago (which is why I now spell “naturalized” with a “z”… which I still call a zed. What can I say? A leopard can’t change his alphabet). However, I came here from England; I’m white, and I look Western European, and English is my first language (albeit the Mother form of the American hybrid). Which, I believe, is largely why I don’t get asked that question. My original English accent has faded somewhat, but from time to time an astute listener will pick up on my enunciated “t”s, and that unmistakable sound of authority and intelligence, and infer that I’m not American born-and-bred. At that point in the conversation, the person might ask, “Where are you from?” But they often preface the question with a reference to my accent, and they never use “really“. Sometimes they hazard a guess that ranges from Australia to Scotland, with the more adventurous going for South Africa, though most of the time they figure it’s “the UK” or “Britain” (probably hedging their bets, just in case I’m actually from one of those weird sub-genres of English called “Welsh,” “Scottish,” or “Irish”). I don’t mind being asked, and I will talk quite freely and happily about my English-Irish-Scots-Welsh origins.

But not everyone feels that way. Especially if the person asked happens to have a non-English sounding name, and has English as a second, third, or fourth language, and is not white. I have to confess, I used to glibly ask people who don’t look or sound like me where they’re from, and would get a little frustrated when they would reply with some US city. I’m fascinated with foreign cultures and languages, and all I want to do is learn more about them first-hand. What’s the harm in that? After all, I don’t mind being asked about my British background!

To my surprise, there’s a lot of harm in asking. And I’m surprised that I’m surprised. Let me put myself in the shoes of someone who is a first generation immigrant to the US from a non-English-speaking country–maybe even non-white. I don’t look like everyone else, I don’t sound like everyone else, and all I want is to settle down, work, raise my family, and be treated just like everyone else. Then someone asks me where I’m from, and all of a sudden I’m different, foreign, maybe even not welcome. This feeling only intensifies if I’m second or third generation from a non-white country. I can sound like the natives, but I don’t look like them, and my name isn’t like any of their names. Still I get the “where are you from?” question.

Here’s my dilemma (speaking now as the white British-American dude): I want immigrants and their children to feel welcome, loved, part of society… but I also want them to feel good about their cultural roots, and be able to talk freely about being (or their family being) from China, Iran, or wherever, without at the same time feeling un-American. Watch Disney Channel for any length of time, and you’ll see their celebrities and viewers talk about their ethnic heritage, and celebrate cultural diversity. So why does this only seem to happen on television? How can I ask you “where are you from?” without making you feel uncomfortable?

The simple answer: I can’t. At least not when I meet you for the first, second, third, or perhaps even fifth time. The consensus opinion I have heard is that the only context in which I can get away with such a question is one of friendship and trust. I have to befriend you, so you know I care about you for who you are, that you are more to me than just an ethnic identity. Then, and only then, can we talk cultures and languages without anyone feeling judged. And the reason I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about my British heritage is thanks to a thing we call white privilege. That term is a hot potato in American society, but like it or not, in this case, it applies. Let’s be frank: because I’m a white English-speaking person, when someone asks me where I’m from, I’m not afraid they want to deport me, and I’m not afraid they think I’m a terrorist. The UK is a friendly country, and everyone loves the Brits and their wacky sense of humo(u)r and their Queen and Doctor Who and Monty Python, so I’m not going to get asked whether I’m from the “good” Korea, or whether I’m a communist, or what it’s like to live in a free country at last. The red carpet awaits me as soon as I open my mouth. Like it or not, that’s white privilege. I’m not happy about it. Not at all. It makes me boil, in fact. It’s sinful. But it’s real.

But what about my curiosity? People fascinate me, especially people who aren’t like me, and come from places that are strange to me. I want to learn. I want to understand. What’s wrong with that? Here’s what’s wrong with it: it’s fundamentally selfish. Is my curiosity more important than someone else’s feeling of security? Is my desire to learn more important than someone else’s desire to feel welcome and accepted for who they are? Maybe the answer is to treat people as fellow human beings first. When we love and appreciate one another as fellow creatures created in the image of God, maybe then we can celebrate our rich ethnic and cultural diversity without the shadow of fear and suspicion.

Just a thought. 🙂

PS: As I was considering this post, I came across an article on by Tanzina Vega on the same subject. Here’s her take on “Where are you really from?”

Happy Resurrection Day!

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [1 Corinthians 15:3-20, ESV]

A History Moment: The Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee

This past Monday, February 6th, Queen Elizabeth II of England, my former monarch, celebrated 65 years on the throne. It’s a bittersweet celebration for the Queen since this also marks the 65th anniversary of the death of her father, King George VI. According to the people who determine these things, 65 years is a “sapphire” celebration. The Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977 (25 years, and I still remember our street party), her Golden Jubilee in 2002 (50 years), and her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (60 years). She is, however, the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee. Not even Queen Victoria managed that–she reigned a mere 63-and-some-months years. King George “I-want-my-colonies-back” III just missed his Diamond Jubilee, spending 59 years on the throne. King Henry III (1216-1272) and King Edward III (1327-1377) both achieved Golden Jubilees, which is quite remarkable for monarchs in the middle ages!

A point of interest. Some books cite Queen Elizabeth’s reign as starting in 1953. As I understand it, most monarchs are usually crowned shortly after the death of the previous monarch, so their coronation year usually matches the year the title passed to them (the year of ascension). In Elizabeth’s case, her father died on February 6th, 1952, but she wasn’t actually crowned queen until June 2, 1953. Part of the reason for the 14 month delay was to properly observe a period of national mourning for the dead King. But 14 months seems a long time. Other than allowing time for the extensive preparations (which included the first time a coronation would be televised live), I’m not sure why it took so long. But that’s why some books say she has been queen since 1953–they’re looking at the actual coronation date, not the ascension date. Most historians go with the ascension date, making this year her Sapphire Jubilee year.

Given the Queen is 90 years old, and her mother lived to 101, she might yet get to Platinum (70 years). We’ll see… 🙂

Our “street” (more like “cul-de-sac”) Silver Jubilee party in our
neighbor’s back yard. June, 1977. That’s me in the bottom left corner. 🙂

The Manhattan Trip, Day Three

Our last day, nay, last morning in Manhattan revolved around two major events: 1) Sarah’s audition for Carnegie Mellon, and 2) Getting our flight home on time.

Carnegie Mellon is actually in Pennsylvania, but they hold auditions in New York (and possibly other places), probably because places like New York are a good source of people aspiring to work in the theater. They had rented studio space on Eighth Avenue, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. Sarah needed to be there at 8 am. Her audition would be some time after that. Our flight for Charlotte departed at 12:59 pm. Janet’s sage advice, and our experience from Thursday, told us we needed to be leaving Carnegie Mellon no later than 10:30 am, sooner if possible. But what if Sarah’s audition didn’t get through in time?

I formed a back-up plan. There was a later flight from JFK to Raleigh-Durham, which is about 80 miles from our home. If we had to, we could take that flight, and my wife would come and get us. Clearly, it would be wonderful if we didn’t need this plan, especially since it depended upon the nice folks at American Airlines transferring our tickets, and it would put my wife out having to make a 3-hour round trip to pick us up. But more than anything, I didn’t want Sarah to be worrying about how we were getting home. I reminded her that the whole reason we were there was for her auditions. If she flunked the audition because she was concerned about getting home, then what was the point? “We’ll get home somehow,” I told her. “Just worry about giving a great audition.”

We checked out of the hotel and made our way to the audition, well ahead of schedule. Since we were leaving straight after, I went in with her and sat with her, along with the other candidates and parents, through the orientation. The people running the audition handed out forms for each applicant to complete, which they handed in at the table (see picture) along with a head-shot. When Sarah delivered hers, she told them she had a flight to catch at 12, so if at all possible, she’d like to audition early. They made a note and, sure enough, when they called the first group of five, she was among them.

Sarah’s audition was in two stages. The first concentrated on her acting. She prepared two monologues for Carnegie Mellon: one as Ophelia from Hamlet, and the other as Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. She would have done the latter for Juilliard, but they didn’t want to hear her do an accent. Carnegie Mellon were more receptive to this, however, much to Sarah’s delight (and I can vouch for her skill at sounding like a Brit). The second stage was the singing part. I don’t recall what song(s) she had prepared, but this was the part she was most nervous about. Strangely, she’s more comfortable singing a cappella than accompanied. This was fine for Juilliard, but here she had to sing with a pianist. I gave her some pointers (I’m a musician and her father, it was my duty!), but I’m sure she did fine despite my advice. 🙂

Those blessed and most generous Carnegie people put Sarah in the early group for singing, too, which meant we were out of there by 10! Woohoo!! Now we needed to get to the airport. Janet had warned us that they would be doing work on the E-line, so we needed to take the E-train on the F-line. (Yes, it does sound really confusing to a non-New Yorker–it’s not just you. Can you believe New Yorkers talk like this all the time? “Take the 1 to 6th at 34th and the F to the Q on 112th at 59th where you get the 2 at 10th at 45th…”?!!?!) There was a station on Sixth Avenue we could go to, which wasn’t far from us. However, our week-long, unlimited MetroCard was only good for one person (we had hoped to be able to share it), so I needed to buy a single-trip MetroCard for the train ride to the AirTrain. Not all subway stations have card dispensers, and I couldn’t remember if the station on Sixth Avenue had one, so we detoured to Penn Street Station. Penn Street is a large hub, where you can not only get a subway train, but you can get on Amtrak or get a bus. It took much longer than I had hoped to find a ticket dispenser.

On the way out, a man in one of the Amtrak lines collapsed with his hand gripping his side. Men in uniform rushed over, and someone called for medical assistance. It was like a scene from a movie. I don’t know what the man’s problem was. He didn’t grasp at his chest, so I don’t think it was a heart attack. It might have been a ruptured appendix from where his hand went, but he also had crutches, so maybe there was another issue. I felt bad hurrying away, but there was literally nothing we could do, and we were in a bit of a hurry. As we left Penn Street Station, we saw an emergency vehicle come screaming down the street, no doubt either coming for, or containing our poor friend.

We reached the station on Sixth Avenue, and then searched for the correct track. We found the F-line. Were we were headed downtown or uptown? Once we decided where JFK was, we then followed the arrows to the correct track, or at least what we hoped was the correct track, and waited for the E-train. While we waited, I recalled the map of the subway system, and how each line is separate, and began to wonder how you could have an E-train running on the F-line but going to all the correct E-train stops. How does that work? Are we really going to get there, or are we going to find ourselves at some F-stop without a clue how to get to our E-stop?!! But Janet said, take the E-train on the F-line. She knows New York better than you. Trust her. If she’s wrong, you can mock her mercilessly on your blog. And hers. Assuming you get home and are not stuck going around in circles on the New York subway for the rest of your life…

An F-train pulled into the station. We let it go. The next train came. Another F. I looked at Sarah. “If the next one’s an F, let’s just take it and see how far we get.” We let it go. The next train came. An E! We climbed aboard. On the side opposite us was a digital display showing what station we were at, the rest of the stations ahead of us, and how many stops away each of them are (very useful). I recognized the names of some of the stops from Thursday. Under the station name about 20 stops away, it said “JFK AirTrain.” Woohoo! It was close to 11 by now. I was glad to be on our way to the airport at last, but I was still a little nervous.

We needed to take the AirTrain to Gate 8. We were getting on at the stop before Gate 1! Checks the time… deep breaths… Thankfully, the  gates aren’t far apart, and a couple were not on the route (or didn’t exist at all–I’ll let your imagination decide which sounds better), so it only took about twenty minutes. We then crossed the terminal, up escalators, down escalators, and along corridors until we got to security. I expected long lines, given this is JFK. It was almost deserted. We sailed through security, and found our gate, just in time for boarding.

Except the flight had been delayed, and wouldn’t be leaving until 1:30.

Don’t anyone try to convince me the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor. 🙂

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. I was glad to be back. It was nice visiting New York, but I don’t think I could stay there for an extended period of time. Sarah can’t wait to go back. She would live there if she could.

To finish up, here are some lessons learned/tips for those planning a trip to New York:

  • Don’t pack more than you need. I took a duffel bag which contained clothes, my travel mug, a short story I needed to edit, a book to read, travel-sized toiletries in a clear bag, tea bags, and a pad and pencil. There was nothing more I needed, and I used all these items. Neither Sarah nor I needed to check any luggage, so we could leave our plane and head out immediately. Also, we didn’t have a lot of luggage to carry getting to the hotel, or returning to the airport.
  • If you are a tea drinker, check ahead of time to see if your room comes with a coffee machine, or some kind of hot water dispenser. If it doesn’t, either find another hotel, or make sure you locate the nearest Starbucks.
  • If you’re used to spending less than $10/person when you eat out, be prepared for a shock, or stick to fast food. You will need a good dining budget.
  • Make sure you have opportunities to charge your phone. Either take a portable charger, or find places you can charge up your phone (e.g., hotel, Starbucks, a literary agency…). Don’t wait until you’re at 5% and stranded somewhere on Tenth Avenue to think about this!
  • If you have a smart phone, Google Maps is your friend. Especially if your sense of direction is as bad as mine. Seriously, though, aside from letting you know where you are in relation to the rest of the city, it displays all the landmarks and places of interest. If you don’t have a smart phone, get maps of the city and the subway.
  • If you intend to walk places, wear good walking shoes.
  • Don’t linger on sidewalks. Walk with purpose. If you have to stop to get oriented, move to the inside edge of the sidewalk, or into a building.
  • Smile. Be friendly. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. I spent over an hour walking the streets and didn’t once feel threatened.

And finally, a word for my writer friends–especially those who frequent Janet Reid’s blog. Some of you might think I’m something special because I got to visit New Leaf and have an audience with Janet. Not so. I did nothing that any of the rest of you couldn’t do. Namely:

  • I frequent the comments enough that Janet knows who I am. This is not required, but if she’s seen your name in the comments, or you’ve won a contest, she’ll be less guarded than if you tell her “I’m a writer who reads your blog” but she’s never heard of you. It’s common sense, really. If you were in Janet’s shoes, wouldn’t you be a bit warmer toward someone you’ve had previous contact with as opposed to a total stranger? The more you know an agent, and the agent knows you well enough to know you’re not a jerk, the more open they will be to giving you some of their time. Again, common sense.
  • I emailed Janet to let her know I would be in town. Janet extended an invitation to me, but I could have just as easily asked to stop by. Whatever you do, don’t call Janet, and don’t just turn up. If Janet wants you to call her, she will tell you when she emails you. Don’t assume permission until it’s granted. By the way, this applies to all literary agents, not just Janet Reid.

If you do get a chance to visit Janet (or any agent for that matter) be respectful of her time. We visited around lunchtime, but when we got back, Janet had work to do and she pretty much left us alone. If she hadn’t invited us to use the conference room, we would have left.

Sorry I didn’t have a lot of pictures for this installment. We were too busy trying to get to the airport to stop and take photos. Once we arrived at JFK, however, I did take this one, just for my friends over at Janet’s blog. They’ll understand:

Thanks for reading! Feel free to use the comments for any questions you might have about my time in NYC, or just to comment!

P.S.: Here are two VERY different musical takes on the New York experience. The first is by ex-10cc members Godley and Creme, giving a somewhat cynical foreigner’s view of the city in 1979. The second is by Billy Joel, a native New Yorker, pining for his home town from California in 1976.

The Manhattan Trip, Day Two

As I mentioned yesterday, the main purpose of this New York trip was so my FirstBorn, Sarah, could audition at Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Day Two of our adventure, therefore, started early with a trip uptown on the subway (the 1-Line, to be precise) to Juilliard, which is near the Lincoln Center, and not far from Central Park. The journey by train only took about fifteen minutes, and then we had a short walk from the station to Juilliard. On the way, I spotted the Mormon Temple:

Why take a picture of it, especially since I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Well, first, I’m a theologian, so things like this interest me anyway. But also, if you Google “Mormon Temples”… go on. Google. I’ll wait. Do you see how everywhere else, Mormon Temples are big stand-alone buildings with tall spires? I’m not sure whether it’s because of city ordinances, or just lack of space, but the Manhattan Temple is not quite as impressive looking. Yet it still has the trademark golden Angel Moroni blowing his trumpet atop a… pole? Not quite a spire, but I guess it had to suffice.

We arrived at Juilliard, and I walked with Sarah into the lobby area where they were receiving applicants. I asked if she wanted me to stay, since they did offer a tour to parents and friends of auditioners, and maybe she wanted me to hang around for moral support. She said she was okay, and would text me when she was done. Juilliard hold their auditions in the morning, then ask their applicants not to leave town while they select those they want to see again. If you have been selected, you get an email from them between 2 and 4 that afternoon. Sarah was warned that if she got a call-back, she could expect to be at Juilliard as late as 11 that night! She probably didn’t think I would enjoy waiting around that long, so I wished her well and we parted ways.

Those who know me know that I’m a huge Beatles fan. Well… okay, I’m not that big, and I find enormous insects to be kind of gross, so let me re-phrase. I really like the Beatles, and have for over 30 years. Being from the UK, I have always known who the Beatles were. But it wasn’t until John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 that I really started paying them more attention. Since my Beatles fandom helped fan the flame of my interest in music, and my desire to learn to play instruments, that tragic event was quite a seminal one in my life.

After the Beatles split up in 1970, John moved to New York. His battle with the Nixon Administration to get a Green Card is the stuff of legend. It’s a battle he eventually won. John and his wife Yoko moved into the Dakota building, just across the road from Central Park, where they lived and raised their son Sean. And it was just outside the Dakota building on the night of December 8th, 1980, that John was shot. Those who were around at the time will remember the international outpouring of grief. Hundreds gathered in Central Park singing his songs, mourning together. Not long after, a section of Central Park was given over to Lennon’s memory. Called “Strawberry Fields,” after one of his most famous Beatles songs, its centerpiece is a large circular mosaic:

“Imagine” is probably John Lennon’s most famous non-Beatles song.

One sign says that “Strawberry Fields” is supposed to be a “Quiet Place.” Given that it’s right next to Central Park West, a major road, it is amazingly tranquil, with benches all around, as you can see in the picture above. Each bench carries a dedication. One in particular caught my attention:


After lingering a little, I made my way across the road to the Dakota building. It’s still the residence of the rich and famous today, which is why there’s a guard post and “Authorized Persons Only Beyond This Point” signs. I believe Yoko still lives there. Of course, I had to go and stand in that fateful spot, the place where one heart stopped, a million hearts were broken, and lives were forever changed. It gave me a chill.

I hadn’t had breakfast and seriously needed a cup of tea, so I started making my way in the vague direction of Seventh Avenue. I could have taken the 1-Line back to the hotel, but I decided I’d rather walk. According to Google Maps, it would take about 40 minutes to get to the Hotel Pennsylvania from Central Park. I had the time, and I really wanted to take in the city, so off I went!

I breakfasted on a bagel at a Starbucks on West 59th Street, not far from the Lincoln Center. The tea was okay (“English Breakfast”) and only cost a couple of dollars, so I was happy with that. Sarah texted me while I was there to say she had finished orientation, she would be auditioning soon, and I shouldn’t wait around for her. She had the MetroCard I bought yesterday that was good for a week’s worth of unlimited travel, so she was fine.

With the help of Google Maps (don’t get me started on my lousy sense of direction!), I oriented myself toward Seventh Avenue and started walking. Before long, I found myself on Ninth Avenue, and a district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’m not quite sure why Hell’s, but I understood the “Kitchen” part: restaurants! Lots and lots of restaurants. At least five flavors of Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, you name it! There’s even an Afghan Kebab House:

One restaurant (Chinese, I believe) had a sign on the door boasting “MSG-Free, Vegan, Gluten-Free…” and other ways it catered to every possible preference and allergy under the sun!

My family (and sometimes I) enjoy the show “Project Runway,” which is kind of like “American Idol” for fashion designers. Every week, the contestants go shopping for fabric at this amazing fabric store called Mood. It so happens, Mood is located on West 37th Street, between 8th and 7th Avenues. Since it was so close to the hotel, I made a point of swinging by just to see what it’s like in real life. Here’s what I found:

It doesn’t look much from the outside. The sign on the front says that the ground floor is for upholstery fabrics. If you want the fashion fabrics, you go through a door at the side and take the stairs to the third floor. I almost went in and shouted, “Hello, Mooood!!” but resisted. Thankfully.

While I was at Central Park, I got an email from my literary agent friend, Janet Reid (regular blog readers will know who Janet is). Before leaving for New York, I had emailed her saying I would be in town. She invited me to stop by the office, namely New Leaf Literary and Media. Her email that morning was to tell me I should call after 11 am to arrange the visit. It was after 11 by the time I got to the hotel room, so I called her, and she told me to come on over.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the 22nd floor of 110 West 40th. Janet met me at the door and invited me in…

Bear in mind, folks, I’m a writer who has been stalking following literary agents on social media for the past six years, hoping to find one who will be receptive to my work. Since most agents live and work around New York City, it’s not often I get to meet one in the flesh. Here, I was about to meet a whole office full of them!

Janet introduced me to Joanna Volpe, head honcho of New Leaf, and agent to Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, and numerous other best selling authors. I also met Jaida, JL, Mia, and I’m pretty sure I met Danielle and Sara (see the New Leaf website to put faces to these names)–everybody was busy working so I didn’t have much time to stop and chat. Janet then took me back to her office where we talked for a bit. Then Sarah texted to say she was done with her audition, and where was I? Janet invited her to the office. When she arrived, we all headed out to lunch at the eatery next door.

It’s always a wonderful thing when you can combine good food and good company. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but they had a falafel burger on the menu. I checked with the waitress and, indeed, it promised a burger-sized falafel on a bun. I love falafel, so I ordered that with eager anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed:

It came with coleslaw that really needed more vinegar, and potato chips that were clearly homemade, but lacked flavor. The burger was the star, and it more than made up for the rest of the plate.

Over lunch we talked about Sarah’s audition (it went well, but she won’t know anything until this afternoon), publishing, and Janet’s blog (on which I am a frequent–perhaps too frequent–commenter). Janet also took pleasure in tormenting me (“You’d like to meet [literary agent] Jessica Sinsheimer? Oh, I had dinner with Jessica the other evening. We talked about you!” My mouth drops. “Just kidding!” Grrr.)

Once our bellies were full, we headed back to New Leaf. Our phones needed to charge, and Sarah was waiting on an email from Juilliard, so Janet invited us to hang out in their conference room and recharge our phones while we waited. I have a theory that Janet is trying to keep the list of agents that I query very short–as in, only her name. At Bouchercon 2015, after telling Janet that literary agent Jessica Faust, with whom I had a pleasant fifteen minute chat, was on my query list, she replied, “You have a list??” When we got back to the 22nd floor, Joanna was using the conference room, but kindly vacated it so we could use it. I’m certain that if I should query Joanna Volpe, Joanna will say to Janet, “Colin Smith… do I know him?” And Janet will say, “Oh yes. He’s the guy that kicked you out of your conference room.” See what I mean?

Over the next couple of hours, Sarah went over her monologues for Carnegie Mellon, while I read some of the books in the conference room. One picture book I read that was quite entertaining was THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS by Shelley Moore Thomas and Fred Koehler. Throughout the book, a mouse insists there are no dragons in the story, while in the background we see clear evidence of dragon activity. I also started reading GHOST COUNTRY, the second in Patrick Lee’s series that started with THE BREACH (which I have read).

By the time four o’clock rolled around, Sarah had not heard from Juilliard, so she decided to head on over there just to be sure. We said our goodbyes to Janet, and I went back to the hotel while Sarah took the train back uptown. While Sarah was gone, I asked at the hotel cafe if they could fill my travel mug with hot water. Of course they could! Only $1.50 for a medium cup, and $2.00 for a large cup. I frowned and walked away. Sarah returned to say that Juilliard was a “no.” She wasn’t terribly disappointed since she knew it was a long-shot. It seems Juilliard gets about 3,000 applications every year, out of which they select 20 students. The experience was worthwhile, however.

To celebrate/commiserate, we ate supper at one of the Irish pubs nearby. The one we chose, The Blarney Rock Irish Pub, was relatively inexpensive, and served veggie burgers. A great combination! I drank Blue Moon (they had it on tap), and Sarah got a hard cider. Sarah tried their shepherd’s pie, which she said was actually very good. My veggie burger was also good, as were the fries (no, they were not chips–and as Irish as they might claim to be, I wouldn’t expect proper chips in the States):

We then walked back to Korea Town to visit Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery, where we picked up some food for breakfast tomorrow. Sarah suggested we try Starbucks for hot water. It seems she had been able to get a cup of hot water free of charge from them. So we found a Starbucks and, sure enough, they gave us two large cups of hot water, no charge. I have never felt so much love for Starbucks in my entire life. To complete my New York experience, we stopped at a street vendor and I got a large pretzel, which I took back to the hotel to munch on while I drank a cup of tea using our Starbucks hot water. (Yes, Sarah and I both brought tea bags from home, because that’s what we do.)

And that pretty much sums up our second day. Day three promised to be nerve wracking. Sarah’s Carnegie Mellon audition was at 8 am, but we didn’t know when she would be seen. Our flight out of JFK was scheduled to leave at 12:59 pm, so we needed to be leaving for the airport between 10 and 10:30 am. Did we make it out in time…? Find out tomorrow!



The Manhattan Trip, Day One

My FirstBorn, Sarah, is in the process of applying to various schools, pursuing her dream of a career on the stage. As one might expect, schools that specialize in the performing arts usually require applicants to audition. So Sarah has been saving up her hard earned pennies to travel around, giving monologues and singing songs in the hope of getting an offer of admission.

Last Friday and Saturday (January 27th and 28th), she auditioned for Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Both auditions were in New York City. I thought it might be fun, and helpful to her, if I tagged along. That way, we could split costs and both get to see some of the Big Apple. We set off on Thursday morning, flying down to Charlotte, NC, and from there to John F. Kennedy Airport.

The last time Sarah traveled by plane was eleven years ago, when she, SecondBorn, and I flew to England. She wasn’t even a teenager then, so for this trip, I let her take the window seat so she could enjoy watching the earth fall away from us, and the cars and houses shrink as we flew high over the trees and into the clouds. Flying gives you a whole new perspective on places you think you know. I always find it incredible how green North Carolina is, something I don’t always appreciate at ground level. And I never realized how many little islands there are off the shore line of New York. They sit on the water like broken fragments, some with a few roads and a building or two, some seemingly unpopulated. Do people travel to these islands? Is there anything worth visiting on them, or are they just cast-off bits of land, like strips of discarded cloth on the dressmaker’s floor?

Our New York adventure started with a twist. Just as we were making our approach to JFK, the captain came on the intercom to tell us that we had to circle and land on a different runway because the plane in front of us encountered some birds on touchdown. The aircraft was okay, but the runway had to be cleared of the… results, which meant we needed to land elsewhere. Sarah and I had no agenda for the day other than getting to our hotel, so we didn’t mind the slight delay. The plane eventually landed, and we got out at JFK…

We then spent the next two hours getting to the hotel. Yes. Two hours. First we had to take the AirTrain from the airport to the subway. If you’re not familiar with New York City, like other big cities (Washington DC, London, Paris, etc.), it has an underground railway system that enables people to get around relatively cheaply and quickly without having to deal with traffic and parking. New Yorkers make much use of the subway because New York is very big. Very very big. Our hotel was (and still is) on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, so we needed to get a train on the E-line. This meant we had to get off the AirTrain at its last stop, buy a MetroCard, and then take the next E-train to Seventh Avenue. From where we were, that was about 20 stops down the line. It would take about thirty to forty minutes normally, but our train had to stop part-way into the journey because the train ahead of us had slammed on its emergency brakes. I have no idea why–our driver didn’t go into detail. But we had to wait for that train to go, and then wait a few more minutes to allow for time between trains.

Macy’s of Times Square, the largest store in the world. I think it would make a nice library.

When we finally emerged onto Seventh Avenue, Sarah pulled out her phone and checked Google Maps. The hotel was on the other side of Times Square, about a twenty minute walk. So we headed down Seventh Avenue, surrounded by the bright lights, billboards, and sky-scraping buildings for which New York is renown. It’s hard to try to take everything in and not get run over by pedestrians. New Yorkers are people on a mission. Whenever we crossed a street, the hoards lined up on either side like warriors on the battlefield waiting for the light to change so they could engage. As soon as the signal turned to “Walk,” the two sides charged, and so help you if you got in the way of someone trying to make it to the other side. Thankfully, Sarah and I packed relatively light, so we didn’t have a lot of luggage to slow us down.

We were staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across the road from Madison Square Garden. The hotel looked nice, and from the lobby area you would think it quite plush. But our room was a bit primitive. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the fact that whenever I travel for work, we usually stay at nice hotels, so I’ve come to expect little details like a coffee maker that I can use to get hot water for my tea, and a shower that takes less than five minutes to produce hot water that comes out of the shower head at a fair clip. And this was supposed to be one of the newer rooms. At least we didn’t pay a lot for it, and Sarah and I agreed it was worth putting up with for a couple of nights for the sake of being in midtown Manhattan, close to where her auditions were being held.

For supper that evening, we visited Korea Town, which is a street in midtown Manhattan given over to the Korean community (kind of like Chinatown, which is elsewhere in NYC). There we found our choice of Korean restaurants, as well as Korean stores and bakeries. Both Sarah and her sister (SecondBorn) enjoy Korean food and music (K-Pop), so a visit to Korea Town was inevitable. We ate at a restaurant called Han Bat, and I ordered a dish called Bok Eum Bab. I don’t recall what Sarah got, sorry. Our meal came with side dishes:

As best I recall, from left to right we have potato squares cooked in some kind of pork broth, thin strands of radish (pickled?), kimchi (fermented vegetables–a traditional Korean dish), lettuce with a kimchi-style dressing (quite spicy), what looked like strips of cooked eggplant–it had that kind of texture, some kind of green vegetable, and crunchy seaweed.

My Bok Eum Bab was essentially fried rice with broccoli and tofu squares:

As you can see, they served a lot of food. It wasn’t bad, but it needed a splash of soy sauce to give the flavor a bit of a kick. It was expensive, however (at least compared to what I’m used to here in North Carolina). I don’t think any of the menu items were less than $15.

After dinner, we ventured back down Korea Way (yes, there’s actually a street called Korea Way, with the street name in Korean underneath the English), and checked out the Korean book and music store. I mentioned Sarah and SecondBorn both love K-Pop, so this was heaven on earth for Sarah. Shelves of K-Pop, as well as merchandise, and posters. I was taken with the rows of books, all in Korean. Down the center of the store they had a table with stacks of books that appeared to be Korean translations of popular novels (GAME OF THRONES, and REVIVAL by Stephen King to name a couple I remember).

After some hot beverages at the Besfren cafĂ© (I got a chai “Teappuccino”), we took a walk past the Empire State Building, and then back to the hotel.

That was Day One. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about Day Two, which includes Juilliard, the Lennon Memorial, Mood, Hell’s Kitchen, and a Shark at New Leaf…