Author: Staci Troilo (page 4 of 26)

About Staci Troilo

Writer. Editor. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Dog owner. Award-winning author and recipe creator. Conservative Catholic with an avid interest in the supernatural. Think all that doesn’t go together? Then you have to get to know me better.

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

Here’s a short story starring Franki and Gianni. This takes place after the end of Bleeding Heart. (Part way through Mind Controlactually, although this won’t be found in that book.) I hope you enjoy it.


Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

villa lanteFranki stood on the travertine-tiled patio and rubbed her arms against the night chill. Weather in Florence, Italy reminded her of weather at home in Pennsylvania—nearly ninety degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and low sixties at night, but for some reason, that evening’s breeze blew exceptionally brisk. Unprepared for the cool wind, she’d stepped outside in a tank and shorts. And regretted it immediately.

But the view captivated her, so she stayed and braced herself against the cool air.

The Brotherhood’s home in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Their compound in New York was gorgeous. But their complex in Florence? It simply stole her breath. And she and her sisters knew quality properties. They’d been raised in the construction and design industries, and since the death of her father, were the owners of one of the most prestigious building and design firms in Pittsburgh.

It didn’t take her construction knowledge to know she stood on private property overlooking one of Italy’s most beautiful—and non-touristy—creations. The house behind her rivaled any palace or basilica she’d toured in her first visit to the country. The grounds, however, captured her interest at the moment. The hedge mazes and topiary created shadow-play on the paths as marble statuary gleamed a luminescent hue of white and water in the grottos sparkled from moonlight, star shine, and discrete lighting fixtures. The burbling fountains composed an organic melody, harmonizing with the chirping crickets.

Gianni walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth she felt from his arms over hers and his torso against her back spread through her body.

And caused her to shiver all over again.

“Cold?” he asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”

She smiled and leaned back against him, not revealing what caused her latest shiver. “The wind just gave me a chill. It is a beautiful night, though.”

“The glow flies are out. June’s nearly over.”

She tipped her head up and looked at him. “Glow flies?”

nighttime gardensHe nodded toward the hedge maze. “Glow flies. Those little floating blinking lights in the garden. You have them in the States.”

A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, we do. But we call them fireflies. Or lightning bugs.”

He kissed her neck and said, “Hmm.” The vibrations from his lips on her skin gave her another shiver. “I don’t like the sound of lightning bugs.” He nuzzled her neck. “Fireflies is kind of nice, though.”

“I think I like glow flies. And I love it when our cultures merge.”

He kissed her neck again. “Mmm. Me, too. I love it when we merge even more.”

Franki giggled. “I love it here. But I wish we were home for the festivities next week.”

His lips grazed against her shoulder. “Festivities?”

She sighed. “The Fourth of July.”

Gianni didn’t answer. He continued pressing his lips on her arms, her shoulder blades. The nape of her neck.

She shuddered again. “Independence Day?”

“I know what it is,” he murmured. “I just didn’t realize it was next week.”

“The food, the fireworks, the festival… music and dancing and seeing the whole town come out to celebrate.” She sighed. “I love that. I’m going to miss it.”

“Let me see if I can take your mind off it, then.”

He led her inside, and she saw fireworks that night.

*    *    *

They continued their work for the next week, and Franki tried not to fixate on missing yet another hometown comfort. She was pleasantly surprised when, on July 4, Gianni and Donni threw together a picnic that would rival any festival back home.

fried doughPlatters of pasta salads, grilled vegetables, and antipastos sat on the table between pulled pork, sausages, burgers, and dogs… all with fresh-baked rolls to put them in. Trays of grilled chicken and barbecued ribs nearly overflowed. Two huge bowls held fresh cut fruit, and sugar-dusted mounds of fried dough sat ready to be topped with gelato, fruit compotes, chopped nuts, homemade hot fudge and salted-caramel sauces, and vanilla-flavored whipped cream.

Why those two idiots loved to work in the kitchen, Franki would never understand. And she’d never complain. Everything was delicious.

After dinner, everyone took drinks out to the patio and settled down to digest their food. Franki sipped on coffee laced with Frangelico. The twins had glasses of Galliano. Jo and Vinnie had beer. The other guys had wine. She’d be content to taste everyone’s drinks, and after feeling comfortably fuzzy from the liquor, slip off to bed.

She sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Gianni asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Franki, you’re a lousy liar. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful.”

He waited, staring at her. The others had broken into pairs and talked quietly to each other. She turned toward Gianni, took his hand, and squeezed it. “You worked so hard today. Everything was wonderful. Delicious. I couldn’t ask for more.”

“But you want more?” he said.

“I just miss the fireworks. Despite the perfect picnic, it just doesn’t feel like the Fourth without fireworks.”

“I see.” He fumbled with something in his pocket.

“When I was little, I used to call them ‘a glittery extravaganza in the sky.’”

“Big words.” He sent a text and then looked at her. “How little?”

“I don’t know. Papa teased me about it for years, though.”

“It’s cute.”

“I guess he thought so, anyway.” She looked away from him, out over the gardens. Talking about her recently-deceased father still made her sad.

“Would fireworks tonight make you happy?”

Why dwell on something she couldn’t have. “I’m happy now, Gianni. Really.”

“So, I should cancel tonight’s festivities?”

She so loved his ‘festivities.’ She’d never say no to that. He’d provide her with her own personal fireworks, and that would be an excellent cap to the evening.

“Do you want to go upstairs now?” she asked.

He laughed and shook his head. “You and your one-track mind.”

She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. They didn’t have a language barrier, but every now and then, he confused her. “What are you talking about?”

Gianni sent a final text, then he nodded toward the gardens. “Watch.”

Italy_fireworksShe heard a faint whistle, then the sky exploded into sparkling embers of violet and gold. A loud boom echoed over the gardens, so loud she felt the air shake with the strength of it.

Fireworks.

Spinning toward Gianni, she flung her arms around him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.

He laughed and pulled away. “Turn around, cara. I don’t want you to miss the show.”

She leaned against his chest and watched as the sky sparkled with explosion after explosion of colorful mortars. The finale rivaled any she’d ever seen before.

Franki turned and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he didn’t turn her away. “You did all this for me?”

“Well, I am a joint citizen…”

She kissed him.

“I just want to make you happy, Franki. Always.”

She held him tight, head pressed against his chest. She felt the heat of his body, heard his heartbeat through the thick silence the end of the show left behind.

She pulled away and looked at him. “How about one more show?”

He frowned. “I think they set everything off, cara. I could call and—”

Franki put her finger over his lips, stopping him from continuing. She shook her head and smiled. “I mean the kind of festivities I thought you meant earlier. A private show.”

He stood, pulled her to her feet, and addressed everyone sitting outside. “Donni and I cooked. The rest of you are on dishes. Goodnight.”

They didn’t wait for an answer. He swept Franki off her feet and carried her upstairs for the second finale of the night.

Do You Take Time to Rest and Recharge?

Things aren't this bad. Yet.

Chores. Ugh. At least things aren’t this bad. Yet.

I spend a lot of time working. A LOT. Much more than my family would like. I work more than 40 hours a week, and then I still find time to turn around and work on my fiction. And then there’s social media… I love talking with all of you. My family doesn’t always appreciate that, though. And my household chore list is woefully long because of my hours. But I digress…

After all that computer time, the eyes get tired, the body gets sore, and the mind gets muddled. At least, that’s what happens to me. And after several months of that? I’m pretty useless to anyone.

At work or at home.

Surf and sun... all to ourselves. Gorgeous!

Surf and sun… all to ourselves. Gorgeous!

That’s why I jumped at the chance to vacation at a private beach. Two weeks, surf and sand and silence. Lovely!

I didn’t expect to have no Internet or cell service, though. I admit, that gave me anxiety for a while. But then I embraced the concept. It was like my childhood again. I wasn’t attached to any tech. It was liberating.

Yeah, my kids didn’t necessarily agree, but I needed the downtime. The sunny days, the lull of the waves… how could anyone not love that? (tweet the thought if you agree)

Then Tropical Storm Bill hit. We lost power. We lost beach days. But we still had fun. Card games, jigsaw puzzles, old stories… It was wonderful. And yes, I think even the kids enjoyed it.

And then I came home, where I found over 4,000 emails had backed up, my company had reorganized, and my work had piled up. And the anxiety came right back.

But I was able to better deal with it. Because I had rested, recharged, refocused.

I’d go back to my private paradise in a heartbeat. But I’m glad to be home. Back in the familiar. Back with my characters. Back with you.

medici protectorateMy novel Bleeding Heart will be coming out soon. And now I’m around to actually talk about it, so that’s exciting. Visit often; I’d love to talk about it with you.

What about you? What do you do to recharge? Do you have a favorite activity? Or a favorite place to visit? Tell me about it.

In the meantime, if you can’t get to the beach, maybe you’ll enjoy a few pictures from my trip.

Casey loved to jump the waves.

Casey loved to jump the waves.

Sammi reenacting a photo from her infant-days.

Seth and his dad posing for a picture like Corey had taken with his dad years ago.

Max had a blast... until he swam out too far and got frightened. But he rebounded soon and got back in.

Max had a blast… until he swam out too far and got frightened. But he rebounded soon and got back in.

After the storm passed, this was my view.

After the storm passed, this was our view.

Overcoming Obstacles

Where has Staci been?

Superman_3D-Logo-WallpaperI know that’s what you’ve been asking. It’s been a while. Despite my children believing I can be all things to all people, move mountains, and be in three places at once—all while holding down a job and maintaining a structured writing schedule—I am not Superwoman. My kryptonite is technology. My computer keeps getting infected with malware—and yes, I do have anti-virus software installed—my modem and router recently broke, and I’m firmly convinced that I have some kind of magnetic field that makes all technology fritz when I touch it. Hey, that’s a real thing. (I think.) Sigh. Obstacles.

Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been around. That, and a few family issues that needed tending.

But I’m back now. Ish. The tech still isn’t perfect, but I’m trying to work around it.

That said, I have a few announcements.

  1. Posts may be infrequent for a while. Please bear with me.
  2. Bleeding Heart was supposed to come out in May, but with my computer down, edits didn’t happen on schedule. The release date has been pushed to June. I’ll keep you apprised.
  3. Ernest_Hemingway_1950_crop (1)Today is supposed to be #FFFF (First Friday Fiction Feature). As you might have guessed by now, I’m way behind schedule. (I don’t even want to tell you how many unread emails I have right now.) That said, instead of a free short story, I’m going to post a piece smaller than flash fiction. Smaller than micro fiction. Maybe I’ll coin a phrase for it and call it nano fiction. Oh, wait. That sounds like NaNoWriMo-type writing. Eh, I’ll work on a name. In the meantime, I’ll draw my inspiration from Hemingway’s challenge and write a story similar to his shortest work, although, let’s be real. I’m no Hemingway, and I write l-o-n-g. (FYI, it might interest you to note that there is no substantiated evidence that Hemingway actually wrote this, nor is there proof that he wrote short-short fiction at all.) Anyway, here is the famous “Hemingway” story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

So today, my #FFFF will be uber-short. (Maybe that’s a good name?) Anyway, without further ado, my uber-short First Friday Fiction Feature:

The headline read, “Aliens Invade.” No one lived to read the article.

Yep, mine was twice as long. But it’s still probably the shortest thing I ever wrote.

Hope you enjoyed this “story.” Why don’t you try your hand at it? See if you can beat my word count. Or Hemingway’s. Leave your uber-short in the comments below.

What Defines Success?

The Red Vineyard---Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Red Vineyard—Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Legend suggests Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime—The Red Vineyard. Investigation into the matter shows that it’s likely he sold two paintings, as well as some sketches.

Regardless of which story you believe, one thing is certain. Van Gogh killed himself at age 37, believing himself a failure.

Today he’s known as one of the most prolific artists of all time.

By van Gogh’s standards, I know plenty of artists who achieved more “success” than him in their lifetimes who will never be famous. I know bands that play at local establishments and sell CDs of their work. Artists who have sold work and been commissioned to do more. Authors who have sold more than one copy of their books, who have multi-book deals. Heck, I fall into that category.

I don’t know if any of us will ever be famous. And, while I can’t speak for everyone else, I don’t feel like a failure. I don’t measure my success by number of sales. Sure, I’d love that number to be in the millions, but that’s not why I write.

I write because I have stories to tell, themes to explore, concepts to share. I write because I want not to only entertain people, but to get them thinking about their lives and their roles in the world. I write not for notoriety, but for legacy. This is my skill set, and this is what I can leave to the world. Hopefully I’ll leave it a better place than I found it.

For me, success is completing the tasks I set for myself. I wanted to share my words with the world, and I have. That, to me, is success. (click to tweet)

However, if you want to encourage thousands of people to buy my work, well… that’s just icing on the cake. 🙂

medici protectorateI have a new novel, Bleeding Heart, releasing this month. Tuesday, May 19, to be exact. When it is published, I’ll be sharing a story that’s important to me, because it is inspired by a story of my grandfather’s heritage. Through this story, I have immortalized his legacy. And I can’t think of anything more successful than that.

John Notaro—A Prequel to Bleeding Heart

This scene is a prequel to Bleeding Heart, releasing later this month. It gives a bit of backstory concerning the heroine’s father, John Notaro.


John Notaro

Bleeding Heart 7:00 pm. Foundry. Come alone. Don’t be late.

The message hardly surprised him. John had been receiving texts from an untraceable number for a while. Would have considered them pranks, but the sender knew too much. Saw too much. The pictures of his girls would have been enough to make him take the texts seriously. The threatening captions—We can get to them anywhere. Anytime.—sealed the deal for him.

He knew the cops would be useless, so he turned to Sal Trunzo. His handler. His protector. Sal did everything he could to trace the texts, but so far had no luck. He and Sal spent days in private meetings going over every contact John had, every person—no matter how innocuous their connection—John might be in contact with. It all proved futile. They had no idea who was contacting him. John knew his time was running out.

Then the last text came.

John trusted Sal and his partners with his life. He had to, and so far he hadn’t been disappointed. But something told him all that was about to change. He forwarded the text to Sal, the reply coming within seconds. I’ll handle it. We’ll be in place, just like we discussed. Don’t be early. Give us time to scout, get in place.

He sent his daughters home. Wiped his cell history. Left his wallet and wedding ring at his office. If the meeting didn’t go well, and he didn’t expect it would, he didn’t want to leave any trace of what was going on. And he really wanted to be certain his family got his belongings.

John took a look around his office. A last look? Pride and accomplishment puffed his chest out before crippling sadness deflated him. Everywhere he looked wasn’t just success. He saw family. Donni had decorated their headquarters top to bottom, from the lobby to the conference rooms to the individual cubicles and offices. Toni added all the hardscape and softscape outside, every plant, bench, and sculpture lovingly selected. Jo spearheaded the construction of this building just a year earlier, working off Franki’s creative designs.

His first building had been a place to get work done. This building was an extension of his family. Leaving it would break his heart.

Leaving his family would devastate him.

Not that he’d be around to deal with it.

John turned out the lights, ran his fingers through the cascading waterfall in the lobby, and stepped outside. When he heard the click as he locked the door, it seemed to echo through the empty parking lot.

It sounded so final.

Even in the snow, the Pittsburgh skyline stole his breath. The city was lit in the early February darkness, thousands of pinpoints of light glowing through the winter storm. He drove the icy roads from his Mt. Washington office, through the city, down the parkway and across the highways, all the way to his hometown of Vandergrift… and with hardly a slip on the snow-covered surface. Even in the blizzard, he had no trouble following the route he’d taken most of his adult life. If it weren’t for other cars on the road, he could probably drive it blindfolded. He knew the route by every twist, every turn. Every bump and tilt.

Bleeding HeartA tear rolled down his cheek when he passed the sign welcoming him to Vandergrift.

John fought the urge to drive past his house. He wanted a last look at it, but he didn’t think he’d be strong enough to avoid going in. And once he entered, his family would never let him leave again. That would put the danger on them. And he determined they’d never be affected. Never learn the truth.

Instead, he drove straight to his destination. The drive went too fast. He was early. But he trusted Sal and his group to be ready and in position. The buildings were dark, the parking lot empty. Even the foundry had apparently closed for inclement weather. Just as well. He didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Hopefully Sal could put an end to this tonight.

Who was he kidding? It would never truly be over. If Sal saved him tonight, there would always be another threat, another location, another night.

He climbed out of the car, held his coat together against the bracing wind. His phone beeped, and he took it out of his pocket. Maybe it was Sal.

Last chance. Will you work with us?

John sighed. Not Sal.

If only it were that simple. It wasn’t just working with an enemy, it was signing his soul over to the devil. God help him, fear washed over him and he considered it. But in the end, he knew it was wrong.

With trembling fingers, he typed his response. Never.

The response was instantaneous. And exactly what he dreaded. Wrong answer.

The shadows started moving. First, he made out one figure. Then another. And a third. He saw weapons in their hands, realized his worst fears had come to fruition, prayed Sal would intervene in time.

When the first figure stepped into the light, panic clawed at his heart.

It was so much worse than he’d imagined.


I hope you enjoyed this little bit of backstory to Bleeding Heart. If you’re interested in reading more, visit the Bleeding Heart page on this site (purchase links are available there), my Bleeding Heart Pinterest board, or a sample chapter from the sidebar.

Setting the Scene

Pittsburgh_skyline7Most people think Western Pennsylvania and immediately think Pittsburgh. And it’s a good thing that comes to mind. Pittsburgh is one of the country’s Most Livable Cities, and with good reason. It has so much to offer.

Casinos offer not just gaming, but entertainment and great food, as well. Or grab a bite at any of the fabulous eateries from sandwich shops to gourmet restaurants.

The Three Rivers boasts the most bridges in the US, and the city appeals to all water recreationists, from boaters and Jet Skiers to those who prefer fine dining and dancing on the Gateway Clipper Fleet.

There are three different professional sports teams, so there’s something to do and someone to cheer for all year long. If the arts are more your thing, attend one of the performances by symphonies, ballet troupes, or play actors. Looking for something more casual? The ’Burgh offers amusement parks and zoos, museums and science centers, conservatories and observatories. Education to recreation, playing hard or taking it easy… Pittsburgh offers something for everyone.

My new novel, Bleeding Heart, takes place in Pittsburgh, as well as in my hometown of Vandergrift. While Pittsburgh’s claim to fame is all it has to offer, Vandergrift offers all the quiet and camaraderie of small town living.

vandergriftVandergrift is the first worker-owned, industrially-planned town in the US. Planned by famed designer Frederick Law Olmsted, it has curved tree-lined streets, ball parks and tennis courts, a swimming pool and downtown thoroughfare. I can’t think of a better place to have grown up—it had all the charm and friendliness of an intimate neighborhood with easy access to the busy city.

I hope you have a chance to visit Western Pennsylvania and see everything it has to offer. Or you can visit my Pinterest page to see many more Pittsburgh and Vandergrift photos. And I hope you pick up a copy of Bleeding Heart, and check out a new piece of fiction set in a gorgeous part of the country.

What’s your hometown? Or where do you live now? What makes it so special? Let’s talk about it.

#CoverReveal—Bleeding Heart, #PNR #Romance #Novel

medici protectorateAt long last, several years in the making, the first book in the paranormal romance series that’s so near and dear to my heart is about to be published.

May 12, Lagan Press will release Book 1 of the Medici Protectorate Series, Bleeding Heart. The idea for the series began with my grandfather and the stories he told about our heritage. This is clearly a work of fiction, but because it came to be from stories of my Italian ancestry, it’s a project I’m really excited about.

Today, I’m pleased to share with you the first look at the cover.

Bleeding Heart takes place in my home state (parts even in my hometown of Vandergrift), and the cover prominently features what I think is the most beautiful skyline in the world—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Here’s the back cover description:

In the heart of Pittsburgh awaits a secret nearly half a millennium in the making…

After her father’s brutal murder, Franki discovers she and her three sisters are the sole-surviving secret legacy of the Medici. The same people who brutally murdered her father now target her and her family for assassination. Unprepared to battle an unknown enemy, she finds her safety depends on the Medici Protectorate, the warriors who guarded her bloodline for centuries. The same warriors who failed to protect her father.

Gianni, Franki’s protector, blows his first meeting with her but knows he must garner the trust of not only Franki, but also her sisters. Without that, he fails, too, and that is unacceptable—not only to him but also to the Protectorate. His troubles only grow more difficult, for as he assumes his new role, he also undergoes inexplicable, explosive physical changes… transformations he can’t control. One of those is his uncontainable desire for Franki.

Their worlds collide in passion and violence, and Franki struggles to trust Gianni. When her life is on the line, he will have to conquer both her fears and his own personal demons to rescue her in time.

Here’s a brief glimpse inside:

He leaned toward her, and her breath caught. Finally, he was going to kiss her again, and put her out of her misery. Public be damned. She didn’t care if he had his way with her on the hood of her car.

They stood so close she felt his body heat through her clothes, his breath on her face. She looked up at him, and her lips parted.

And he reached behind her and opened her car door.

“Get in the car, Franki,” he said, and pushed on the top of her head.

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak into the first installment of the Medici Protectorate Series. More is soon to follow, so stay tuned! (And if you can’t wait, go ahead and post comments below. I’ll be more than happy to talk with you about it.)

Catherine Medici and the Occult Mirror

divination mirror

Thanks to my sister, Michele, for sending me a photo of a family heirloom… not quite as old as the Medici mirror, though.

In the time of the Renaissance, the discipline known as alchemy saw its practitioners combine philosophy, science, occultism, and theology in their pursuits to understand and improve the world[1]. Many of these men were themselves in the religious life, where others hid their studies and experiments in fear of retribution from the church.

Whether hiding or practicing in plain sight, one thing remains clear: alchemy was the stepping stone to sciences we know today.

So why did the mystical element come into play? Alchemists were searching not only to make sense of our universe, but to extend life (in some cases indefinitely) and create wealth[2]. More than science and prayer would be needed to achieve these goals, and magicians, whether well-regarded or in disfavor, had been around for centuries. Many experiments were conducted combining “magical” properties and scientific ones.

Mirrors held a special place in the worlds of occult and alchemy, because they were used for catoptromancy[3] (the use of reflective surfaces to see past, present, or future events). Some say they were first used by the witches of Thessaly, who wrote their visions on them in human blood. Others believe the Persians, specifically the Magi, first used them for divination[4].

These “mirrors” could really be any reflective surface: a bottle of water, a pool, a slab of obsidian, or an actual looking glass. Mirrors with flowers on them (or even the word “flower”) were thought to be satanic tools, as St. Cyprian said the devil sometimes appeared in the shape of a flower[5].

Medici

Catherine de Medici—By Piero d’Houin dit Inocybe [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Catherine de Medici was said to have one of these magic mirrors, and she supposedly used it extensively to help her predict her future, and the future of France itself[6].

And this is where my story comes into play.

Lagan Press will be releasing the first of my Medici Protectorate Series in May. Bleeding Heart follows Francesca (Franki) and her sisters as they learn they are actually the only living descendants of the Medici family. Warriors from the Medici Protectorate are assigned to keep them safe. Franki has inherited a mirror—likely Catherine de Medici’s mirror—and she has a vision depicting a dangerous situation. Her personal guardian, Gianni, was there. But was he there to save her, or was he the cause of the danger? (You can read more about Bleeding Heart here and about the Medici Protectorate Series here.)

I hope you’re enjoying these snippets of research I used as I wrote my novel. I found so much of this history fascinating, and there is way too much to include in the story, so I’m sharing some of it here with you.

Do you have an interest in the history of alchemy? Do you know anything about it? Do you believe people can see things when they meditate? I’d love to discuss this. Leave a comment below.


[1] https://explorable.com/renaissance-alchemy
[2] https://explorable.com/renaissance-alchemy
[3] http://www.psychic-revelation.com/reference/a_d/catoptromancy/
[4] http://www.djmcadam.com/mirrors.htm
[5] http://www.djmcadam.com/mirrors.htm
[6] http://www.occultopedia.com/m/mirror.htm

#FFFF—April Showers Short Story

happy birthdayI’m sorry for my absence last week. I was dealing with the loss of a dear family member and couldn’t get to the post. My apologies if you were looking for me and I wasn’t here. But I’m here now!

April 3 has historically been a weird day for me. My mom’s birthday was yesterday and mine is tomorrow. When I was a kid, this seemed like the longest day of the year. Now that I’m an adult, it’s one of the shortest. My husband and kids ask me how old I am all day, because the next day the number will have increased by one, and I’ll never get to have that smaller number again. I know it’s silly, but it’s tradition.

While I don’t hate my birthday (let’s be honest; having one sure beats the alternative), I’m not crazy about being the center of attention (weird for a writer and marketer, right?), and I hate that life’s pace is accelerating rather than slowing down. This time of year, I reflect on my kids and how old they’ve grown. On my marriage and how long Corey and I have (happily) been together. On my family… those I’ve lost and those I’m still blessed to have.

So, in honor of all the birthdays I’ll be celebrating this month (and the list of family is long, let alone adding in friends), this month’s First Friday Fiction Feature is birthday-themed. (You can find my other free short stories here, and if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive a deleted chapter [available only when you sign up and nowhere else] from Type and Cross.)

Without further ado, this month’s #FFFF.


What April Showers Bring

Italian families… big, boisterous, loud. Mine is the very definition. For example, most people have cake and ice cream for their birthdays with close family, maybe a few friends. Chat for an hour or two and then everyone goes their separate ways.

Not my family.

My family gathers four generations deep for a full multi-course spread. Antipasto platters and dips. Breads and pizzas. Soups and salads. Fruit and veggies. Pasta, potato, and rice dishes. Sausages, meatballs, and roasts. Cookies and pastries. And multiple several-layer birthday cakes. Nothing is store bought. No activity is rushed through. A birthday is an all day affair. Birthdays in my family rival most people’s wedding receptions. (But let’s not bring up weddings right now.)

Our family has grown so large that we’ve stopped celebrating individual birthdays. Once a month we gather on a weekend at someone’s house or a public park (sometimes even a local rec hall) to celebrate any birthdays occurring that month. Which sounds economical and practical, but in reality, it’s crazy. Some months there are only a few birthdays, so it’s not so bad. But April? We have ten birthdays and my cousin Maria—that’s Uncle Dom’s daughter, not Aunt Arlene’s daughter-in-law—is ready to give birth any day now. So we have a lot to celebrate in April. And when you figure each of the ten people gets his or her favorite meal?

Let’s just say we could feed a third world country on the amount of food made for that particular bash.

Every family celebration is the same. Babies and toddlers with food on their faces and sticky little hands are passed between aunts and uncles. They’re either wailing about something or laughing so hard they might throw up. (One of them always does. Often on me.) Kids play games in the yard, dodge the relatives who pinch cheeks, and tell any adult who will listen about silly things they’ve seen on television or heard from their friends. At least three of these little cherubs will invariably tell a story that embarrasses their parents. The teenagers and the twenty-somethings spend all their time teasing each other, keeping the uncles entertained. And all the older women run around getting food on the table and swatting any hands reaching for an early sample of the meal.

It takes these hundred-plus people more than an hour to get through the food line, find a seat by someone who won’t torment them in one way or another, and scarf down their meal. The aunts coyly question people at the table about whose bread was better, whose pasta was dry.

It’s around the end of the secret ‘Who’s The Best Cook’ competition that someone realizes no one has harassed me about getting married. And then it begins.

“Are you seeing anyone special?”

“Or anyone at all?”

“You aren’t getting any younger, you know.”

“Don’t you want babies?”

“Don’t you want a husband?”

“Are you even interested in men? Or are you maybe…?”

Sigh.

This can go on for hours. By the time I’ve answered all the questions at least three times, my brothers and cousins have abandoned teasing each other to focus all their attention on me.

That’s when I decide to clear the table—correction, tables—of food so we can move on to dessert. I know by the time I’ve packed all the food away and done all the dishes, the birthday honorees should be through the cake cutting and at least partially through gift opening. Usually my sister helps so the task isn’t overwhelming. At least there’s that. Then I’ll try to sneak home before anyone notices I haven’t opened my gifts yet. Sometimes I make it. Usually I don’t.

I had dreaded this particular year. I wouldn’t be a twenty-something anymore. I was leaving my youth—and if you listen to anyone in my family, my desirability—behind for my thirties. Yep, I was turning thirty. Trenta. The big three-oh.

I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could sit through a whole day of “My goodness! Thirty and not married? When I was your age, I had already fallen in love, gotten married, and had…” Insert number of children there.

I’d rather run naked through the throng of my relatives than go through that. And that included listening to the inevitable teasing that would go with my fast-and-furious birthday-suit dash. The humiliation would never end. But then, neither does the analysis of my life. It would be a welcome change.

I called my mother.

“Look, I know you’re planning something big for my birthday this year.”

“What? Me? I forgot your birthday was even coming up.” The mock innocence in her voice could be heard by my hearing-impaired grandfather. Who refused to wear his hearing aid, so essentially… my deaf grandfather.

“Mom. Seriously.”

“Is there something special Dad and I can buy you?”

“Buy me, no. But there is something special I want.”

“Anything, honey.”

“I want to go to the cabin instead of the party this year.” My parents owned a lovely two-bedroom cabin at the river. We never had parties there because the house was too small, but I’d have plenty of room to celebrate in any way I wanted. Which meant me, the television, and several bottles of wine.

“Not that, honey. Everyone would miss you. How about a three month trial membership to Catholic Date?”

Lord have mercy. Pleeeease tell me she didn’t get me a membership to a dating site.

“Mom. You want to get me something special, not something that will make me homicidal.”

“Gina—”

“No. I don’t want a profile on a dating site. I just want to be left alone.”

“But you’re turning thirty.”

“Exactly. Thirty. I’m an adult. Long past, actually. I should be able to make my own decisions. Which includes not joining a dating site and not going to the family birthday bash.”

“But what will I tell everyone?”

“That I want my privacy.”

“Honey.” The disappointment in her tone was as evident as her earlier fake innocence. “That’ll hurt their feelings.”

“Then say I’m traveling for work.”

“You want me to lie?”

Seriously. It’s not like she’d be under oath and testifying in a murder trial.

“I’ll bring work to the river with me. Then it won’t be a lie.”

She was silent so long, I thought maybe we’d been disconnected. Finally, I heard that long-suffering sigh. The one that said I was taking years off her life and putting grey in her hair. “Fine. I’ll have the key ready for you.”

I didn’t bother telling her I’d made a copy of the key when I was in high school. She didn’t need any more bad news. I’d just suffer through one more lecture when I picked up her key, and then I’d be on my way.

When birthday-weekend-Friday rolled around, I took the day off and headed to camp. After a quick lunch, I took the canoe out for the first row of spring. The area was deserted. I couldn’t see any of our neighbors from our property, but even rowing up and down the river, no one seemed to be around. I was well and truly alone at the river. Which was fine by me.

It was unseasonably warm for April. The whole weekend was going to be around eighty degrees and sunny. I grabbed a blanket from the deck box, a cooler of beer, my Kindle, and my iPhone and got comfortable in the grass. Might as well celebrate thirty with a suntan.

I played some smooth jazz on Pandora and set my Kindle aside, content to just lie in the sun and listen to music. It was hot. Hotter than I expected. I looked around. There truly was no one in sight, and I was far enough from the river that if someone happened to float or row by, they couldn’t really see me well, anyway.

I bit my lip, looked around, and grinned. I might be thirty, but I was still adventurous. I stripped down and lay in the sun. It was my birthday weekend. Time to be in my birthday suit.

No way would I go home with tan lines.

You’d think the novelty of being naked outside would have worn off after… I don’t know, ten minutes? But it didn’t. I stayed out there all day. Not a soul came past. I felt free, wonderful.

And not at all bad about turning thirty.

In hindsight, the beer might have had something to do with all that. But at the time? I was having a blast.

I went inside around seven and, too lazy to cook dinner, munched my way through a bag of chips. Still naked. I watched classic movies until midnight—still naked—and then I toasted my birthday with a glass of wine. And another. And another.

So I killed the bottle. Well, two bottles. Naked. Who cares?

I don’t remember going to bed, but when I woke up—about half past eleven—I had the volume on my phone cranked up and classic rock blared from the speaker. Generally the speaker isn’t that loud, but with a hangover, it was ridiculous. The boom, boom, boom of the bass echoed through my head and made my teeth hurt. The electric guitar riffs sliced through my skull to that tiny part of my brain that controlled my gag reflex.

So I turned the volume down, changed the station to a zen channel, and headed for the bathroom. After a thorough vomiting, I popped two aspirin in my mouth, drank copious amounts of water, and took a shower.

I felt a lot better after half an hour under a spray of hot water. God bless my parents for spending extra on an instantaneous water heater. I could have spent the rest of the day in there and never run the water to cold.

I got out and dried off, my headache down to a dull roar. Switching the music back to classic rock, I decided a little hair of the dog would cure me of my hangover. I also decided there was no reason to get dressed. Birthday weekend, birthday suit. All weekend long. I was just going to lie naked in the sun again, alone, so what did it matter?

I put my earbuds in, grabbed a towel, and headed downstairs. Snagging a bottle of expensive cabernet out of my dad’s stash—it was my birthday, after all—I stepped out onto the deck and headed down the stairs.

“Surprise!”

More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ when you aren’t expecting it is shocking. More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ followed immediately by laughing and cat calls and shocked exclamations defies description.

I screamed, dropped the bottle, and covered myself as best I could while scrambling back toward the door. A full-bodied red had splattered all over me, and my fully-naked-body dashed for cover. Of course I stepped on some of the glass, embedding it in the flesh of my feet. I hobble-hopped to the door, but it had locked behind me. I stooped down, trying to cover myself, and pretended to try to pull the glass from my foot. In reality, I just hunkered there, praying the earth would split open and swallow me whole.

I had to wait until my dad went around to the front door, unlocked it and let himself in, and came out the back door to rescue me. Thankfully, he brought a blanket for me to cover myself with.

“Come on in, pumpkin.” I have to give him credit. He neither laughed nor lectured. He was surprisingly straight-faced. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

My mother wasn’t as merciful. She followed us in, yell-whispering like only an Italian mother can. “What were you thinking? Have you lost your mind? Who’s here? What are you doing?” She glanced at my phone. “Please tell me you aren’t sex-texting!”

I still couldn’t look at either of them, but I found my voice. “Okay, one, it’s called ‘sexting.’ Two, ew, no. And three, what were you thinking? This weekend was supposed to be your gift to me.”

“That’s why we’re here. Why we’re all here. To give you a party. And presents.”

Dad cleaned up my feet and left, still having said nothing. I think I saw his shoulders shaking as he walked away. I definitely heard a snort before the door closed behind him. Traitor.

Mom, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped talking. So much for what I wanted.

“Honestly, Gina. How… why… I can’t even begin to—”

“Mom. Stop. I have a hangover. And I just exposed myself to one hundred family members.”

“And Tony.”

“Tony is family. Uncle Tony, Big Tony, Little Tony, and Tony Junior. They’re all family.” We have a lot of Tonys in our family. Most Italians probably do. I never found it odd until I listed them all.

“No. Tony DeNunzio.”

That nausea thing was rolling back around again.

“From the Catholic Date site. You two are a perfect match. And I’ve known his mother for years. I thought it was such great luck that we found his profile on that site, and you then went and—”

“Stop.” Thank God she did. “You filled out a profile on that dating site. For me. After I asked you not to. And now you think you found my perfect man?”

Tony DeNunzio. He was my perfect man. I’d had a crush on him from third grade on. But I don’t think he could pick me out of a lineup of male convicts. To think he saw me naked before he even knew I existed was more than I could bear.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of him sooner.” She still prattled on, oblivious to my humiliation. “He’s—”

“I don’t care what he is or isn’t, Mom. Did you say he’s here?”

“Yes. That was another part of the surprise. And then you went and…”

I walked away at that point. Or, I guess I limped away. By my calculations, I had about three minutes left to get dressed and sneak to my car before my cousins converged on my room and dragged me out—dressed or not.

I slipped into jeans and a t-shirt. Why had I drunk so much the night before? Why had I insisted on running around in my birthday suit? Why had I trusted my mother? Why had I stayed in the shower for so long?

Why am I such an idiot?

I stepped out onto the front porch and looked around. There were cars everywhere. I was hopelessly blocked in. Damn loud music and long shower. I never heard any of it.

My humiliation was being exploited in the back yard. Even from the driveway I could hear the quips and the laughter. I glanced around. Tony DeNunzio stood off to the side, chatting with my grandmother.

Damn, he was even better looking than in high school.

I supposed I deserved this. I did wish for it, in a way. I said I’d rather run naked through my family than suffer through another birthday party. This way, I got to do both. Delightful. Happy thirtieth to me.

Tony looked up and smiled, kind of cocked his head, beckoning me to come to him. If I could just laugh with everyone, maybe it would blow over sooner rather than later and I could try flirting with Mr. Right.

Or I could accept that my family loved to torment me and this would go on for years.

Eh. Either way, Tony DeNunzio was at my birthday. He’d seen more of me than I ever thought he would, and he hadn’t run away screaming. It could be worse.

April showers didn’t bring me May flowers. My April shower brought me a hangover, a bad decision, and a new opportunity.

One out of three isn’t bad.


I hope you enjoyed this story. Feel free to share it with your friends.

Setting Descriptions in Novels Reveal Character Details

I write different genres. One style of storytelling just didn’t enable me to say everything I want to say. I’ve already released a mystery, which lets me explore crime and problem-solving skills, and a mainstream novel, which lets me explore characters and their motivations. Both of these genres let me do what interests me most—delve into relationships and family dynamics. And the novel that’s coming out this spring? It’s a paranormal romance, but the main point of the story is, once again, relationships.

Pittsburgh_skyline7That said, I get to do something in my new series that I haven’t done before. Explore Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is near and dear to my heart. My hometown is only about forty minutes away. It’s the city I spent much of my time in as I grew up. I went to college there. All my favorite sports teams play there. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s amazing. And if you haven’t, you really should go.

The things to do and see there are too numerous to count. I’ll introduce a smattering of them over the coming weeks. But today, I want to talk about the museum. Specifically, the art museum, as Pittsburgh has several museums.

If you thought museums were boring or for only student field trips and upper crust society, you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s something for everyone at a museum.

And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. If you watch international news, you’ve heard about the museum in Tunisia. I want to turn the conversation to something happier.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a Hall of Architecture, in which is housed the largest plaster cast collection in the US (third largest in the world) with almost 140 pieces. These are full-sized pieces, one of which is the largest in the world.

hall of architectureIn my novel, Bleeding Heart, the female lead studied architecture and (both in college and in her current life) spent a lot of time in the Hall of Architecture. I drew on personal experience for this part, because in college, I also spent a lot of time there. (I would now, too, but I live too far away.) Of particular interest to her is the cast of the Porch of the Maidens.

In Greece, the Erechtheion is a temple on the side of the Acropolis in Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. On this temple is a porch with six supporting columns sculpted in the shape of women—desirable and strong women—presumably holding up the stone roof as they gaze at the Parthenon. In Pittsburgh, the front four maidens are displayed in the museum, a life-sized cast depicting both the power and beauty of the feminine form.

My main character is focused on these four women, in part for their aesthetics, but also because she is one of four sisters. She is drawn to these figures, and we learn interesting facts about our lead through her study of the work.

Writers, consider your setting in your WIP. Setting descriptions in novels can be used to reveal so much about characters and plot. I’m not recommending you spend pages and pages describing a place, but a few well-placed details can not only ground your reader, but impart necessary information about the characters.

Readers, pay attention to the details writers give you about the setting in their novels. Writers don’t waste words, so if the information is in there, it’s important. Many people gloss over those setting descriptions as nothing more than purple prose, but in reality, those descriptions might hold clues to the characters that you would otherwise have missed.

If the Porch of the Maidens interests you, visit this site for more information.

If the Hall of Architecture interests you, visit this site for more information.

If Pittsburgh museums interest you, visit this site for more information.

And if Bleeding Heart interests you, visit this page on my site for more information.

I’d love to hear what you like about Pittsburgh, what’s going on in your WIP, what settings helped you better understand characters and plot in novels you’ve read. Let’s discuss it. Comment below.

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