Friday, April 25, 2014

Fred & Lucy Update

                                                              Me with Lucy

I’m working on several books right now, but thanks to the popularity of my “Life with Fred and Lucy” episodes; I’m hoping to have these comical stories published by next year.

I’m sending out a big thank you and a hug to Joanne Costantino, a fellow member of The South Jersey Writers’ Group, for putting together a sample of what the book would look like if published. Seeing a sample of the finished product has put me on a quest to get the book published sooner than I had planned.


Life with Fred and Lucy is a collection of funny and true stories that tell about my siblings and me growing up in South Philly during the early 50’s and 60’s to dysfunctional parents. They were not the easiest parents to love and we four kids were not the easiest to manage. Sometimes, you can survive your childhood and your DNA with a large serving of humor.

Thursday, April 24, 2014



There is a new crime series on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on the FX channel. Fargo is based on the 1996 film created by Noah Hawley and written and directed by the fabulous Coen Brothers. The story line takes place during 2006 when a mysterious man, Lorne Malvo played wickedly by Billy Bob Thornton crashes on an icy road outside of Bemidji Minnesota after he swerves to avoid deer. In his car is a half-naked man. Malvo who is injured kills the hapless victim and then heads to the emergency room.
In town, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is a man who is bossed by his wife and has an old schoolyard bully still picking on him. In the latest encounter with said bully, Sam Hess, Lester is injured and goes to the emergency room where he meets Lorne Malvo. After some prying, Lester admits that he’s afraid of Sam Hess. Lorne offers to kill Sam, but Lester tells him no. Lorne finds and kills Sam in a crowded bar.

From here the story takes a trip through multiple layers of events and consequences which keep you on the edge of your seat. Lester kills his wife with a hammer during one of her rants on what a loser he is. Lester calls Malvo for help, but….Chief Thurman stops by to chat with Lester about the identity of the man he spoke to in the emergency room. When Malvo enters the home and finds the lawman there, he kills him.
How Lester fibs his way out of the double murder is the main storyline for episode 2. With Thurman dead, Deputy Bill Oswalt takes over the cases, but he’s dumb as shit and won’t listen to Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) who knows damn well that there is a link between the car crash/ dead naked man and the killing of Sam Hell and Chief Thurman.
In Duluth, Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) stops a speeding car driven by Malvo, But Malvo is so freaking scary, the officer lets him go. Smart move! Officer Grimly is raising a young daughter on his own.

On episode 2, two assassins come to town. Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) is deaf and dumb and Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) uses sign language to communicate with his partner. They are in town to find Hess’s killer. They abduct the wrong man, and then, drop him head first into an ice fishing hole. Malvo in the meantime is hired to find out who is blackmailing Stavos Milos, The Supermarket King.                                                                           

This is dark humor at its best. Fargo is a true crime series with a patchwork of characters and plots that stay with you long after the show ends. Billy Bob Thornton has earned my admiration in his portrayal of the sociopath, Lorne Malvo.

Thornton plays this killer with a touch of humor, and that’s what makes him so frightening. He never loses his temper or raises his voice, but when he smiles, we see the inner predator and we want to hide.

Allison Tolman plays a small town cop who must suffer the incompetence of her new superior. Deputy Molly Solverson is a cop’s cop. She looks at the facts and connects the dots and she has a natural talent for seeing through the lies. I love her soft spoken ways and how she holds her tongue while Deputy Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) screws up the case.
With the addition of the two assassins Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench into the plot, you realize that they, like Lorne Malvo, distract with their sign language while committing the vilest of crimes and their antics are no longer funny.
This is a great show. Take my advice and watch it, but remember it’s brutal. Murder usually is.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Upcoming Book Festival & Update On SJWG's Next Anthology


This Saturday, April 26, Super G and Super D will be at the Rosemont College Book Festival from 10 to 3 p.m. Dawn Byrne, Marie Gilbert and Ava Easterby of the South Jersey Writers' Group will be there to promote our group and our book “Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.” The Keynote Speaker at the Book Festival is John Searles, author of “Boy Still Missing,” “Strange but True” and “Help for the Haunted.” There will also be workshops. So come on out and visit us at our table. We’ll be happy to tell you about our new anthology and our group.

Speaking of anthologies, I had a chance to ask Editors Amy Hollinger and Jessica Walsh about the new book our group is working on. Here is what they had to say.

Marie Gilbert: Amy, I know that you and Jessica have been very busy working on the South Jersey Writers’ Group’s next anthology. Are there any tidbits you two ladies for like to share about this venture before the book’s release?

Amy Hollinger: I learned a lot about how to run a Kickstarter fundraising campaign! Next time, we'll start with the stories and then raise the money to finish the book! For Reading Glasses, the stories are a bit longer than most of the short stories we published in Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey. Editing longer stories has a different challenge in that action takes a bit longer to build, but the writing still needs to be tight and every action or event still needs to matter to the overall plot.

Amy (again): Also, the book publishing process is lengthy in itself, and rushing it--especially when it comes to editing--is going to result in a poorer quality book. Selecting stories for this collection was different in that we tried to align our choices on a theme.

Jessica Walsh: It's been a really great experience so far, although I think we may have underestimated the time it would take with the stories being longer and the editing requiring several rounds. The Kickstarter campaign was very exciting and it's been great being involved from the very beginning; fundraising, the call for submissions, story selection, and now editing. I am very excited for publication, and I think people are really going to enjoy the stories we've chosen for the Anthology.

Marie Gilbert: How many stories are included in this anthology?

Amy Hollinger: 12 stories, at the moment. Subject to change pending authors' final review of stories and contracts!

Marie Gilbert: What Types of stories can the reader expect to find in the book?

Jessica Walsh: The stories are all fiction; speculative fiction to be more specific, so the stories are more fantastical/sci-fi/stretched imagination. The stories take place in varying times (present/future/FAR in the future) and locations (the shore, a childhood home in the south, a spaceship). Although all quite different, the common theme is what makes them all work so well together as a collection. I can't wait to tackle putting them in order!

Marie Gilbert: How did you decide on a title, Reading Glasses: Stories Through an Unpredictable Lens

Jessica Walsh: It was really kind of a fortunate accident on one of the author's parts. He apparently had renamed his story "Ghostwriter" when submitting, but forgot to rename the title in his attachment, which was "Reading Glasses". Amy and I both loved the story and thought it worked very well as sort of a 'feature' story; a great representation of the collection and the spirit of writing. We actually thought the initial title, "Reading Glasses" worked better, so Amy contacted the author and asked him if he would consider changing the name back and if he would allow us the use of the title for the title of the Anthology. He was happy to oblige

Marie Gilbert: What was the process of picking the cover art? Did you have several ideas?

Amy Hollinger: I had an idea for something very simple, with just a pair of glasses on the cover. but our designer, Shelley Szajner, incorporated the glasses and took it way beyond my expectations! We had a little discussion on the cover, but one was a clear standout. A few tweaks and it was perfect! The art and the concept go perfectly with the dark feel of the story.

Marie Gilbert: Have you’ve come across a story, that one of you liked, but the other didn’t and how did you both decide if that submission stayed?

Amy Hollinger: We were unanimous on several of the stories. Let's just say, you can tell the difference between a polished story that has been through several revisions and had several test readers, and a story that has not gone through that process! But we did choose a few based on concept, and discussed how the story could be made better, whether through tightening the writing or restructuring the action.

Amy (again) We chose the sci-fi genre early on (based on a few standout submissions), although we accepted stories in literary fiction, YA, and memoir also. Towards the end, we received some excellent literary submissions as well, so we essentially created two book lineups, and debated the pros and cons of each. Speculative fiction won out, mostly because we had an early decision in the backs of our minds. Let that be a lesson to writers: Don't wait to submit; early consideration can make a difference!

Jessica Walsh: Amy's right, some stories just really stood out above the rest or just had a really good concept and we just hoped that the author would work with us. So far, they've all been very responsive to our feedback. There was one story that I threatened resignation over if Amy didn't approve, but fortunately, she really liked the story too haha. The challenge was when we loved a story that didn't fit the theme. We discussed ways that we could "maybe" make it fit, but in the end we had to ensure every story fit the genre we selected properly. We could always do another Anthology!

Marie Gilbert: When do we expect to see the book out?

Amy Hollinger: We are aiming for July publication; no final date just yet. Again pending final edits!


Thank you Amy and Jessica for the update and I’m sure all our readers are anxiously awaiting the South Jersey Writers’ Group’s next book. And for all you readers out there, keep your eyes open for the announcement of SJWG’s big book launch of “Reading Glasses: Stories Through an Unpredictable Lens.

Life with Fred & Lucy, Part 26: Grandmom's Exploding Chicken


     Aunt Anna,                                Grandmom Marie                                              Lucy
I loved my maternal grandmother. She was a loving, funny, generous woman who made each of her grandchildren feel special. My mother was not allowed to hit us if Grandmom was around, and when we were very young, Grandmom was at our house a lot.

My mom was not your Betty Crocker type of housewife and had no interest in cooking, so while my dad worked at as a conductor on the old Trolleys, Grandmom would come over and help my mother prepare the meals. Sometimes she would bring her dog, Blackie and sometimes she would bring her pet chickens. She traveled by taxi. She was afraid that Grandpop Chiusolo would kill the chickens and eat them while she was away. The chickens had Italian names, but I don’t remember what they were.                                                                            
I’ve always thought it strange how nice the taxi driver was with Grandmom, helping her out of the cab as she clutched both birds in her arms. She paid him from her black change purse. Do you remember those change purses? Every Italian grandmother had one.                                                
Once inside our house, Grandmom put the chickens in our yard and began helping mom with dinner while Jane and I played with the chickens. The chickens were not at all happy with Jane and me dressing them in doll’s clothes. 
These chicken visits went on for a while, until one of the chickens got hurt in Grandmom’s yard. It became Sunday dinner….well it would have been dinner if it wasn’t for the explosion. Grandmom had an old kitchen. Her stove looked just like the one on the Honeymooners.
 She had to light a match and ignite the oven, which she did after she put the roasting pan and chicken in the oven. Grandmom’s kitchen was small. All the houses on Ellsworth Street in South Philly were small. Grandmom had two windows in her kitchen. The one directly across from the oven faced her neighbor’s kitchen window. The distance between houses maybe six feet, so by now I think you know where this story is going, right?

Somehow, the flame went out in the oven while the chicken was cooking and Grandmom, for some strange reason, took too long striking the match to re-ignite the oven. There was a loud blast and the door of the oven flew open, knocking grandmother to the floor.  The roasting pan with chicken flew through the closed window and continued through the neighbor’s window to land on their table.
My mother got the call and packed Jane and I into the car and rushed over to help Grandmom. The Fire Department was there because of the gas explosion, as were all the neighbors. My poor Grandmom was a bit shaken and covered in soot, but otherwise, okay. The neighbors returned the roasting pot with a chicken that was burnt and covered in glass. Later that year, they build a concrete block wall. I wonder why?
After we helped Grandmom clean up the mess, my mom ordered cheese steaks from the famous Pat’s Steaks on 9th street and we ate in the yard because the kitchen still smelled like smoke. They had to get a new range.

Grandmom continued to visit with her dog or chicken even after we moved into the grocery store. I still remember the expressions on our customers’ faces whenever Grandmom walked into our store, clutching the chicken tightly in her arm.

Love you, Grandmom.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Game of Thrones: Breaker of Chains


One of my favorite GOT characters is in trouble. Poor Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is locked up in a cold damp dungeon waiting to be tried for murder; a murder he did not commit. When his loyal servant brings food and news, Tyrion is surprised to learn that Princess Sansa is missing. Where could she be?

Tyrion knows his father, Tywin could give two shits about him, but what about Jaime? Jaime and Tyrion were bonding. Is this brotherly love lost now that the little snot nose King Joffrey is deader than a doorknob? Tyrion doesn’t think Cersei responsible for the boy’s poisoning. I was surprised that he thought her innocent of such a deed. I don’t. If Joffrey’s marriage was consummated with Margaery, then power hungry Cersei would have been delegated to the broom closet and, she also had to marry that brother of Margaery; ouch! I’m sticking with Cersei as one of the suspects. Little Finger, who has arranged for Sansa’s rescue is another suspect, or he could have the hots for the young red head. The only people I feel sorry for in this episode is Margaery, Tyrion and of course the new boy king, Tommen. He looks like a gentle child, but he's in a nest of vipers.
Jaime, you dirty dog, what were you thinking when you forced yourself on Cersei, and with your dead son laying right there? Inbreeding doesn’t produce lovable offspring in your family.

You should be concentrating on helping your brother, especially with your father picking the jury. Wait! Maybe Jaime was interrogating Cersei…yeah that’s what he was doing. Whatever! I want him and the Ninja Warrior, Brienne to get together.                                                                      
Tyrion is a good soul, not perfect mind you, but a good soul and he knowingly sent Podrick away losing the only person willing to testify in his favor. He sent Shae away too, but only to protect her from his sister. Tyrion needs to make friends with someone who owns dragons.
Speaking of dragons and the perfect segway to another of my GOT characters, yep I’m talking the Dragon Goddess herself. I love Daenerys. She may surround herself with a powerful army and wise advisors, but it is she who calls the shots…and she does it with such class. I loved when her army began to fling crates of slave collars over the wall. Daenerys showed a sense of humor with her subtle message to the people of Mereen that it might be a great idea for them to surrender.

Things are not looking good for the Knights of Castle Black.  Jon Snow and the other knights are in big trouble. The Wildings and their new BFF’s the cannibalistic Thenn are marching closer to the wall. Samwell, thinking he was protecting his lady love, Gilly, and her baby, takes her to a nearby town where she’ll be safe. He has her stay at a brothel. Men can be so stupid sometimes.
The Hound and Arya make friends and then rob them, well technically, it was the Hound. A farmer and his daughter take in the ragamuffins, feed them and then give them a place to stay. The Hound, who has not learned how to play nice with friends or use a tissue, robs the kind farmer. Oh well! I had such high hopes for the Hound.

Stannis Baratheon has learned of Joffrey’s death and he wants to make his move before everyone forgets him. Is there a reason the little princess, Shireen, is kept locked away. She’s so much smarter than the adults around her.
That’s it folks! You have my review of the show, but if you want to know more, go on HBO’s demand. I’m wondering if King Joffrey’s funeral will go better than his wedding?  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter and Flying Snakes


Since last Friday, I haven’t been feeling that great, and thought that I was coming down with a little cold or maybe it was my allergies. HA! Instead of a simple head cold, I was hit with some zombie virus and not in a good way.
Bronchitis and ear infection, the double whammy that even with the early start of antibiotics, held me tightly in its claws. Funny thing was that the day I went to see my doctor, he was just as sick. He’s never sick.  Later that week, I went to our writers’ group meeting thinking that I was feeling a bit better, but by the end of the night, I felt like crap with a capital C. When I realized on Friday morning, that my condition had taken a turn for the worse, I called my doctor. Seems the antibiotics weren't working for him either. He prescribed me a stronger antibiotic with a list of warnings that made standing in the middle of a nuclear meltdown sound much safer than what I was taking.
Unfortunately for me, I was unable to attend a test screening of The Soulless. I did a two part interview with Director, Chris Eilenstein on this film; here and here, and I was really looking forward to going. Maybe it was best that I stayed home, I might have spread the zombie virus. The good news is I'm going to the premier of the movie.


Easter Sunday, the boys usually come over for my annual Christ is Risen Scavenger Hunt, where they have to read clues to find their gift, I’m not doing it this year; too sick. Okay, there is one bright side to all this sick stuff, you get to see a lot of television when you're stuck in bed.


I’m not sure, but I may have hallucinated some of the stuff I saw on television because one of shows had flying snakes the size of the Queen Mary. I turned to another channel only to find another bad movie featuring flying, truck sized, Piranhas. It must have been my  high fever that caused these visions. 


I’ve been mixing a concoction of herbs and spices to help with the sore throat and headache, with little success, but I may have discovered a cure for fingernails that chip easily.

So, I wanted to thank everyone for their well wishes. I do appreciate them and I want to wish all my family and friends a Happy Easter and A Happy Passover! Save some jelly beans for me and watch out for that big snake.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gilbert Interviews the Amazing Storyteller, Laura J. Kaighn


Laura J Kaighn is not only a fellow member of the South Jersey Writers’ Group, but a very talented author of children stories, and the woman behind the Lady Hawke Storytelling and Writer’s Services. She’s been appearing at multiple events across Philadelphia and New Jersey to educate and entertain young and old alike with delightful folktales.  I’m pleased to introduce my readers to Laura J. Kaighn aka Lady Hawke

Tell us a little bit about yourself and when did you start writing?

            I’m a curious, eclectic spirit. I love science, nature, mythology and books. I was fostered on such TV shows as Jacques Cousteau, Nova and Wild America. I devoured my magazine subscriptions to Ranger Rick, Reader’s Digest, Discover and Nature. Even as a child, I had my own library in my bedroom.

I’m also the oldest of five, Mom’s helper and babysitter. Through some creative entertaining I kept my siblings free from chaos. When I was alone, my imagination turned to the stories I wanted to live. Star Trek was my initiation into science fiction. My first written story was a 23 page-long Star Trek tale. I was hooked on writing at age ten!


What inspires your stories and what type of stories do you like writing the most?

            I write science-fiction, animal and por-quoi tales, anything that my interests inspire. I love to combine natural elements and social issues into my tales – ‘man versus nature’ and ‘man versus society’ stuff. In Earth Child: The E.D. Piper Chronicles, I combined my love of animals, science fiction and wilderness to create the adventures of a shape-shifter who believes she’s the only one. In the sequel, Earth Child II: The Awakening, Ehlora finds out she’s not unique! Differences can be catalysts for countless colorful exploits.


How intensive is your research in your stories that feature Native American myths and with other cultures?

            I’m always reading and watching programs about what interest me. I take notes too. When I tell Native American stories, I do share some of the cultural background with my audience. I also insert some nature facts. My storytelling is based on multiple versions from several sources. I’ve read about and researched American Indian cultures since I first learned I was part Cherokee on my mother’s side. I was six.

In Earth Child II, my newest protagonist is half Navajo. I’ve been reading up to authenticate the character’s culture, environment, setting and social mores. Since I mostly write fiction, particular facts can be fudged a little: names changed, cultures skewed to protect the sacred. But I do back up my writing with real, possible and speculative science concepts. In my Vesar Warrior saga, for instance, I make use of interstellar transport gates which use artificially-generated wormholes; and time travel is possible because of an ancient and extinct species of creature known as the Mytoki. I’d love to publish those books someday!


 You do a lot of public programs and I was interested in what is your favorite program, and also what is your most requested program?

            My favorite stories are those centered on nature. Every culture has nature and por-quoi tales to explain the world of ‘why’ before science came along. I’ll never run out of discoveries there!
Though my Native American program is a long-time staple, my most popular programs are those I tailor for each audience. Every summer I develop a program to coordinate with the local libraries’ summer reading theme. Coincidentally, this year it’s about science! We’re going to have a ‘Fizz, boom, blast’!

Tells us about your newest book, Rabbit’s Tale & Other Rites of Passage. How did you choose the stories in this book?

            Rabbit’s Tale was a labor of love, a chance to highlight my own nature tales and family stories, along with my favorites from Native American cultures. I’ve been sharing these stories in some capacity for years, some since 1995 – the beginning of my storytelling career. Their common threads are hope, cooperation, devotion and growth. I stitched the stories together to bridge the gaps between writing Earth Child and it’ sequel.

What book are you working on now?

            I’m looking to complete and publish Earth Child II: The Awakening by late this year. I’ve also started another anthology whose tentative title is Once Upon a Childhood: Tales of Whimsy and Wonder. It’s a collection of fantastic and sci-fi based short stories taken from my story and dream journals and some early works when I was a teen.

In your opinion, how early should parents start reading to their children and can you give some helpful advice for parents on selecting the right books for their children to read?

Studies prove that reading to our children is integral to their language and brain development. We’re storytelling animals; we organize information through narrative. As early as a baby can link sounds and names to objects and concepts, a parent needs to nurture those connection.
Books need to be in every household! To best select books, know your child’s interests. Curiosity is a powerful motivator for learning. Providing books which match a child’s interests gives him an open door to asking more questions and expanding his horizons. The child can then become a life-long learner. Who knows where he’ll go! 


How does story-telling complement your story-writing and vice versa?

            Whenever I’m storytelling, I’m molding and revising the tale according to my audience’s feedback – their facial expressions, reactions and body postures. I know when the tale’s being enjoyed, if I’m going too fast, or need to be more dramatic in spots. One story, told slightly differently, can entertain audiences of different ages and backgrounds.

When I’m writing, I can anticipate my reading audience and their needs better because I’ve shared stories orally for so many years. As a writer and teller, my words and expressions, voices and pacing are my brushes and paint. Storytelling is one of the most ancient art forms. That makes me an artist too!

Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog, Laura. It was a great pleasure learning about your writing and services. If anyone is interested in joining the South Jersey Writers' Group, you can learn about us here:

Laura’s books Amazon:  

 A Rabbit's Tale                   


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life with Fred & Lucy, Part 25: Uncle Ralph Meets King Kong


                                       Grandpop Enrico on left...Uncle Ralph on right

When I was around eleven, Uncle Ralph, who is my maternal grandmother’s brother traveled from Naples Italy to the States. Since Uncle Ralph was only able to visit for a month, my Aunt Ann, Uncle Mario and my mother planned all sorts of activities for him. Most of the time was spent visiting family, but once in a while my mother would hand over Uncle Ralph to her spawn. Leaving that poor elderly man with us wasn’t a good idea.

Uncle Ralph understood and spoke very little English, so right now I’m guessing you have some idea where this episode is going. My siblings and I understood some Italian, but not enough to help Uncle Ralph survive a trip to the neighborhood movie theatre for the weekly Saturday Double Creature Feature. Why my mother thought that sending Uncle Ralph to a kiddie matinĂ©e with four out of control kids would be a pleasant experience for him is something I’ve never understood.
Lunch bags packed with boloney sandwiches, TastyKake chocolate cupcakes and of course a bruised apple (read earlier blog # 21) we took hold of Uncle Ralph’s hand and walked to Broad and McKean. After we purchase our tickets, we tried to get Uncle Ralph to sit in the back of the theatre, but his eyesight wasn’t that good and he wanted to sit up front.

We tried to explain to Uncle Ralph that the seats he had picked were dangerous. We were sitting right under the balcony, but he was adamant about his choice and since he was the adult; we did as we were told. Uncle Ralph, unprepared for what was about to happen, opened his lunch bag and took out his sandwich. We four kids warily looked over our shoulders and up to the balcony. We knew from experience what would happen next.
As soon as the lights went down and the first cartoon came on, the food fight began. The balcony brigade began the battle with the tossing of buttered popcorn. The kids right under the balcony retaliated by pitching ‘Sugar Babies’ caramel candy and Jujubes candy back at the enemy. My Uncle Ralph, who was now covered in sticky popcorn, had dropped his lunch during this ruckus.
The movie ushers, accustomed to this weekly event, swiftly appeared on the scene with their flashlights, which they used to identify and intimidate the culprits. After the ushers gained some control of the theatre, the first movie began. It was the 1933 King Kong film. Uncle Ralph had never seen King Kong. I don’t know if Uncle Ralph had children of his own, I think he did, but I’m pretty sure they behaved better than we did.

Lucy sat on the right side of Uncle Ralph, so she had no choice but to behave. I can’t say the same for Jane, Mike or me. We were squirmy kids and didn’t sit still the entire time. When both features had ended, Uncle Ralph stood and brushed off the remains of the early bombardment of buttered popcorn. He didn't smile or speak to us the entire walk home.
 After we arrived home, he asked my mother for a shot glass of whiskey and then he went to bed. I don’t know if Uncle Ralph ever squealed on us to Fred and Lucy, but my mother never left him alone with us again.