Category Archives: Glass Halo

Pope Benedict XVI, palms, and Ash Wednesday

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Full Moon Over Los Angeles Palm

Photo by James Baca Photography

 
As a former communications officer for the Archdiocese of Denver, one of my duties included directing the production of an annual Catholic liturgical calendar. The calendar hinges on full moons, Spring Equinox, symbolic colors, and also plants—particularly palms.

Today, a collision of past occupations and current preoccupations occurs. My fresh post on my Examiner.com page, where I serve as Denver Flower and Garden Examiner, draws a circle encompassing a number of topics.

Why are palms so important in all of this?

This Mardis Gras, I recall the year I celebrated Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, which leads me to another article about a garden that a friend and I planted while doing Katrina relief work

 

The liturgical calendar serves as the framework for my first novel, “Glass Halo,” a Finalist for the Sante Fe Literary Prize.

Glass Halo by Friday Jones Publishing can  be found at these local retailers or  on Amazon.

 

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Will Write For Music

“I got the music in me.” The year before I was born, Buddy Holly died when his plane crashed in a field not far from my family’s home.

Born and raised in Mason City, Iowa—portrayed as River City in Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man”—I always took note of music. My great-grandfather was an amateur Irish fiddler who played at wakes and weddings, in parlors and barns.

My childhood household had an eclectic soundtrack: Peter, Paul & Mary; Simon & Garfunkel; Petula Clark; Gene Autry, the Chipmunks. We listened to records and the radio. We sang in the car, my mother on lead vocals for “This Old Man” and “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Kumbaya.”

I started buying records while in elementary school, but even earlier, I was a pop music fan. My family’s lore includes a tale about the time when a little older than a toddler, I asked to stay in the car so I could listen to the end of “Georgie Girl” on the radio. My mother agreed, but warned me not to touch anything. Evidently, I put the car into gear, and my mom’s car rolled down our steep driveway, toward the street. Fortunately, my big brother Danny had left his big metal truck out, and the toy truck stopped the car from crashing into the street.

Each summer, Band Festival Day celebrated my small town’s big connection to the Music Man with parades of marching bands. The Presentation Sisters at my grade school emphasized musical education, too. They allowed us to sing songs of the times from Jesus Christ Superstar or John Denver. They taught us a long list of songs celebrating our Irish heritage. I sang in school choir and a small choir that sang at funerals in our parish. But even then, I felt more comfortable in the audience than performing on stage or from a choir loft in our church.

I never had music lessons and learned only the basics of reading music. I was a fan, and something of a fanatic, but I was on the receiving end of the musical spectrum. As a teenager, I started attending concerts. One of my first concert venues was the Surf Ballroom, the Clear Lake, Iowa, venue Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played the night of their deadly plane crash.

I instinctively loved the music scene as well as the live music. I loved some musicians, too. I invested in the best stereo equipment I could afford, and played my music relentlessly. Just ask any of my college roommates.

My adulthood moved from vinyl records to 8-track tapes to cassettes to Walkmans to CDs to iPods to iTunes. I’ve kept music close along the way. Now a middle-aged adult, I find myself writing regularly about music. A longtime freelancer for newspapers and magazines, I’ve interviewed a number of musicians, published a number of features on musical festivals; in addition to several multiple choice musical quizzes.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band quiz

70s Rock quiz

The Eagles rock quiz

Sweet Strains of Outdoor Music Fests

Jackson Browne Red Rocks Date

As a member of The Denver Post’s heyreverb.com staff, I’ve covered dozens of concerts ranging from Jackson Browne to Maroon 5 to Denver Brass to Train to The Fray to Los Lobos to Trace Adkins to Sheryl Crow to Carrie Underwood.

• Here’s a link to my concert reviews on heyreverb.com

Reporting on rock and other genres is a sweet note. Some of the happiest times of my life have been at concerts where music transported me above and beyond the cares of my everyday life and into another realm of harmony and good vibrations, dancing or singing or just listening my cares away. I’ve always respected musicians as magicians, of sort, with instruments as their magical wands. Music continues to sustain me. As I’ve grown older, and as I’ve reported on music, I’ve learned a lot more about different genres: Classical, reggae, roots rock, Blues, and more. I still obsess about songs, playing tracks over and over until somehow I’ve absorbed every note, every lick, every lyric.

One of my goals in life was to learn to play the piano, but at this stage, I’m willing to admit it’s a goal I may never accomplish. I’ll settle, though, for playing out my musical interests on my computer keyboard: Will write for music.

Colleen Smith’s gift book “Laid-Back Skier” celebrates alpine skiing and life.

Colleen Smith’s first novel, “Glass Halo”— a finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize — is available in hardcover or e-book.

To learn more:

• FridayJonesPublishing.com

• GlassHaloNovel.com

• Become a friend on Facebook, or follow FridayPublisher on Twitter.

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Novelists now expected to write two books per year—and then some.

Publishers now expect novelists to churn out not one novel per year, but two. And in between, some digital short stories or other ditties to keep the audience’s appetites whetted.

Last Sunday, the cover of The New York Times quoted best-selling author Lisa Cottoline: “…today the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.” The article’s headline: “In E-Book Era, Rule for Writers is Type Faster!”

Faster is the coin of the digital realm, yet writers ought to be judged more for quality than quantity, at least in my book. Words should be weighed, not measured, I read somewhere along the line.

Yet every writer and journalist I know is doing more in the digital age. The Internet keeps us connected, wired, and frantic. We’re not only making deadline, we’re blogging, Tweeting, Pinning. We’re chatting live and Linked In. We’re Google Plus and then some.

The culture moves fast. Furiously. As the Times article pointed out, “Television shows are rushed online only hours after they are originally broadcast, and some movies are offered on demand at home before they have left theaters. In this environment, publishers say producing one book a year and nothing else, is just not enough.”

My old process clearly will not work. I labored over my first novel, “Glass Halo,” for about 27 years. I’m finishing my second novel, “Only Wild Plums,” after beginning it in 1983, or thereabouts.

Could I write two novels in a year? I like to think I could do it now that I’ve written two novels and a gift book: “Laid-Back Skier.” I give myself the benefit of the doubt, but only if I did not also have my magazine and newspaper articles, my Examiner.com page, my art direction jobs, my ghostwriting and copywriting and assorted other writer duties.

Two books per year every year? I’m an idea junkie, but that sounds like a lot of material, even for a gear head like myself.

And the novelists are not off the hook from other writing. Publishers expect them to do more than ever. “Everybody’s doing a little more. It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place,” said British thriller writer Lee Child, published by Delacorte Press, a branch of Random House.

“I almost feel sorry for authors these days with how much publishers are asking of them,” said Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher of St. Martin’s Press.

The Times article by Julie Bosman also mentioned one of my favorite writers: J.D. Salinger. I’ve long admired Salinger’s literary and personal style as an off-stage writer.  His sort won’t do in the digital age:  “Publishers also believe that Salinger-like reclusiveness, which once created an aura of intrigue around an author, is not a viable option in the age of interconnectivity,” Bosman reported.

The publisher of HarperCollins’ William Morrow, Avon, and Voyager imprints, Liate Stehrow said, “Now it seems to make more sense to have your author out in the media consciousness as much as you can.”

As for my part, I post regularly on Friday Jones Publishing’s Facebook page. I Tweet. I maintain a number of Pinterest boards. I blog, as evidenced here. I publish regularly on my Examiner.com page. And I do my best to keep all the other plates spinning, too, as a novelist, author, journalist, copywriter, and any other job that crosses my desk.

It’s never been easy eeking out a living as a freelance writer, but I think it’s now harder than ever.

Excuse, me, I’ve got to get back to work now.

Wag your tale. Doubletime.

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Reading Novels: “The Cat’s Table” and “The Paris Wife”

Reading novels, actual books in three dimensions, remains one of the great joys of my life. Thanks goodness for my book club, which holds me somewhat accountable for a book a month, and often picks fiction. I read lots and lots and lots and lots of nonfiction in my line of work as a writer and a journalist.

I’m a novelist, too—the author of Glass Halo, an acclaimed finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize—and so novels can feel like work, too.

But there’s something different about novels, something more magical, more true.

Recently, I finished “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain and the month before that “The Cat’s Table” by Michael Ondaatje. Both books enthralled me, and I found myself making time to turn pages again.

These two novels came back-to-back after a period during which I’d struggled with reading. Even fiction. Books seemed so dense to me, my mind wandering, distracted by Tweets and Pins and Likes and the like.

The simple pleasure of curling up with a book won me over again.  I read on the front porch and in the back yard. I carried the novels in my purse for stolen moments standing in lines here or there.

Literary fiction can sound intimidating, but the genre essentially favors characters over plot. I missed the characters once the books drew to the ends. Therein lies the magic of fiction: Characters who seem as real to us, as true to us, as those inhabiting our daily lives.

Curiously, both “The Paris Wife” and “The Cat’s Table” included elements of truth. “The Paris Wife” included historical figures: Ernest Hemingway and his first and second wives, Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Michael Ondaatje did indeed board a ship to make passage while a young boy, and ocean liners named Oransay were noted in actual shipping logs.

But in the end, in my mind, fiction rings more true than fact. And is, of course,  less strange.

Don’t be a stranger to books. The entertainment and educational value of reading—whether fiction or nonfiction, whether a book or an e-reader—is tough to beat.

If you’re looking for a steamy summer read, try Glass Halo, available through FridayJonesPublishing.com, bookstores everywhere, Amazon.com, or as an e-book. 


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Glass Halo: An Ideal Easter Novel

Glass Halo, my first novel, is an ideal book to read during Holy Week. In fact, Glass Halo culminates during Holy Week. The book’s final scene occurs on Good Friday. (Glass Halo includes an epilogue titled “Eastertide.”)

Glass Halo makes a fitting Holy Week read because the book ultimately is about personal Paschal Mysteries on a smaller scale: the many ways in which we die and are reborn. Metaphorically speaking, in this case, of course, characters must repair their broken lives by returning to their callings.

The novel’s main characters are Nora Kelley, a stained glass artisan, and Father Vincent DiMarco, a Catholic priest. The two meet when a tornado forces them to take shelter in the basement of the historic Denver cathedral where the priest serves as pastor and rector.

The love story builds upon the armature of the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church assigns various feasts, memorials of saints, and solemnities to practically every day of the year. The Catholic liturgical calendar begins not on January 1, but with the first Sunday of Advent, the weeks prior to Christmas.

Glass Halo begins in spring on the Eve of Epiphany, moves to Advent, through Lent, and culminates during the Triduum—the three days beginning with the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Good Friday death of Jesus Christ’s crucified, and Holy Saturday.

Glass Halo provides insights into Catholic rites and rituals, as well as the Gothic cathedral’s Munich Glass windows. The novel makes an ideal book for readers during Holy Week.

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Glass Halo: Tornadoes in the news, in the novel

With all the terrible tornadoes in the news, I can’t help but remember my own frightening experiences in tornadoes. I’ve survived several tornadoes both in my home state of Iowa, and also in my current Denver home.

Growing up in Iowa, we learned at an early age the warning signs or tornadoes. We learned to keep an eye on the sky. We knew to take cover in a basement, away from windows. We heeded the alarming sounds of tornado sirens.

The first tornado I remember hit my uncle’s farm when I was a child of elementary school age. My siblings and my cousins and I played at the farm while the adult men and a veterinarian helped a cow with a breech birth.

I remember the winds coming up, tossing dust and straw around the farm. Curious, I watched the poor mama cow struggling, heard her bawling. My dad and my uncle nervously watched over the shoulder of the vet. The vet had his arm inside the cow, blood soaking his shirt all the way to his armpit.

The humid day turned cool. Winds whipped harder. I remember a piece of tin flying by, nearly hitting my father.

“That could have decapitated you!” my uncle said.

I wasn’t sure what “decapitated” meant, but I learned from context.

I don’t remember the storm. I do remember all of us gathered around the television—probably black-and-white in those days. We listened to a special report about tornado touch-downs.

“Could that be J.L.’s farm?” I asked my grandmother.

“No,” she said, but she balled up her apron in her fists.

The next thing I remember, my aunt burst through the door in tears, shouting, “It’s all gone! It’s all gone!”

The storm devastated their home and barn, we saw the next day. I remember seeing oddities: my cousins’ toys strewn everywhere in the rubble. I remember hearing of livestock flying, breaking legs. My uncle’s Budweiser cans wound up at a neighboring farm.

Subsequent tornadoes were not as damaging, but I learned in my first tornado to respect storms.

Tornadoes in Denver left such an impact upon me that I decided to open my first novel with a tornado. In Glass Halo, the tornado destroys priceless stained glass windows in a historic Denver cathedral.

The storm also forces a meeting of the novel’s two main characters, driving Nora Kelly—a stained glass artist—and Father Vincent DiMarco—the cathedral’s rector and pastor–into the church basement for shelter.

The tornado kicks up a stormy love story with many twists, but the destruction in the novel’s beginning results in creation and rebuilding both of the cathedral and the characters.

Glass Halo is available as a limited edition hardcover novel, beautifully designed in the Arts & Crafts tradition. The book also is available with full graphics as an e-book on Amazon.

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