“Not that old thing.” My husband frowned at the tarnished brass ring. Foil fluttered from one of the four candle holders, a remnant of Advents past and my attempt to keep a candle in place. They never fit well in the cups.
“Can’t you buy a new one?”
“This was my mom’s.”
“I know, but…”
“But it’s a cheap Advent wreath she bought at Woolworths in 1962 for their first Christmas in their new home,” I rummaged in the box for the purple and rose candles.
How could I explain to my husband what the old, warped brass Advent wreath meant to me? How, coming home from school on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the wreath would be on the silver tray, candles in place, plastic greenery adorning the tray, the box of matches waiting for me to light the first candle. How we would save the church bulletin to read the prayer over the wreath, and how the wavering flames marked the days until Christmas.
Yes, the Majek family is back in my new novel I See You. This spooky page-turner starts simply enough with a Christmas gift, and ends with David, Josh, Eddie, and the rest of the beloved family solving a 50-year old cold case.
Intrigued? I hope so! I’m offering the Kindle edition of the new novel for just .99 cents (free for Kindle Unlimited members) and just $14.99 — almost at cost — for the paperback version.
Below is an excerpt of I See You. Ready to order? Visit Amazon to purchase your copy today!
Chapter 11 excerpt – I See You
Pale lemon dawn gleamed over the slate roof of the Majek’s Tudor as David pulled into the driveway. Frost gleamed on Christmas decorations and snow glittered under the cold light. David switched off the Yukon and turned to Eddie and Josh.
“Stay in the car for a few minutes, please.”
“What are you going to do?” Josh tensed.
“What I should have done a few days ago when you took that fall,” David gritted his teeth.
The boys waited in the car while their father unlocked the back door. His first stop was the basement, where he briefly checked for water, saw none, and checked the fuse box. The lights in the basement worked, but he saw the fuses blown on the second floor of the house; each of the switches had moved to the left. He quickly reset them, then returned to the first floor, closing the basement door behind him.
He strode into the living room. The couch loomed dark and threatening, the temporary work desk hulked in the corner. He was undaunted. He strode to the mantle and reached for the snow globe.
It wasn’t there.
With a shiver, he whirled around. The hairs on the back of his neck stood. The air seemed colder. He thought his breath would ice in the air. He wrapped his arms around his coat and strode to the wall switch, flooding the living room with bright, pure light. The hulking desk and crouched sofa vanished under the wash of light, turning back into plain desk and burgundy sofas he knew well.
The mantle remained empty. The clock was there, and the candlesticks, but not the snow globe.
He had a feeling he knew where it was. Pushing past the air that threatened to engulf and squeeze him, he made his way towards the stairs.
On the third step from the bottom, the snow globe gleamed.
There is no way that could have gotten there, his rational mind whispered. We were all at the hospital. It’s half past six in the morning and Turquoise isn’t here yet. The only other people who have keys to this house are Eva and Alex. Eva is in the hospital with Anna, and Alex is in Massachusetts…. there is no way that thing could have moved.
Except it was moved, and it was there, and he knew he hadn’t moved it nor the first responders who had come to the house the night before. Clearly in the shuffle of police and EMTs, with Josh concerned for his little brother and trying to text his father, no one would have played with a toy like that.
“That’s it,” David said aloud, and the pressure around his head that squeezed with ungodly force, the icy air, all vanished in a puff as if it hadn’t been there. “That’s it. It’s you or me, and you’ve got to go. I don’t care if Turquoise’s feelings are hurt. You. Are. Going.”
He snatched up the snow globe and stomped to the back door. He saw his boys’ white faces pressed against the window glass of the Yukon. With a muttered swear, he pulled open the lid of a trash can next to the garage. It was stuffed with balled wrapping paper and stunk of carp from Christmas dinner.
“Goodbye,” David announced and threw the snow globe in the trash. He slammed the lid onto the can, and for good measure, clicked the plastic lid locks into place that they used to keep the lids on during windy days.
Our breath spangled the frosty December evening as we waved goodbye. My dog, Zeke, dropped, exhausted, to his mat in the living room to dream of chasing tennis balls and his best friend, our neighbors’ boxer dog, Cinder. We’d spent a good two hours watching the dogs zoom like maniacs across the lawn chasing balls and each other. The men wandered to the back for target practice while my neighbor and I leaned on the deck rail, petting Zeke and sharing stories about horses we had known and loved.
It was a perfect Sunday afternoon.
Sundays were once like this, a day of presence, first with God in church, then with family for dinner, then with family and friends for visits or fun. Presence. I think a lot about presence the days especially as social media becomes ubiquitous and most of our interactions with others occur through the computer screen.
My grandmother lived with us and she was one of seven children, so every Sunday one of my aunts or great-aunts or uncles would visit. Visiting hours were typically two or three o’clock; if family did not visit, we piled into my dad’s 1962 blue Ford with the black hood, replaced after a car accident and never repainted, and we’d rumble to the duck pond to feed the ducks or to the playground to swing and slide and play in the fresh air.
Sometimes, if we were very lucky, there would by Jiffy Pop popcorn on the stove and a fire in the “real” fireplace in the living room. Sometimes there would be movies on television or Wild Kingdom or Disney’s Magic Kingdom and soup and sandwiches and more laughter and fun.
But always, presence.
We were fully present with one another. In those days, there were no screens other than the television screen. And even though we lived in metro New York City, there were 8 channels on the television set, and Channel 21 was iffy unless the rabbit-ear antenna was adjusted just right. My mother had no hesitation ordering the television shut off when company came, either, and it stayed silent. The soundtrack of those Sunday afternoons was the laughter from my grandmother and her brothers and sisters as they shared stories and caught up on the gossip from their huge extended family.
Stories. Presence. We have lost the art of visiting and we are rapidly as a society losing the art of being present with one another.
This Christmas season, give the gift that only you can give. Give the gift of presence. Be wholly, fully present. Keep your cellphone in your pocket. Turn off the television and the radio and the music and the internet. Tell stories. Share time together. Play a game. Play with your dogs. Organize hot cocoa and cookies and skating parties and snowman building fun and tree decorating parties and tell stories.
It is the gift everyone will cherish long after the holidays are over.
I am thankful for so many things in my life right now. Yes, I have had my share of trouble. This fall was especially tough. But the Bible tells us to give thanks in everything and so I do.
Besides, no matter what my troubles, if I have a roof over my head, food in the pantry, and someone to love – and to love me – my life is blessed beyond measure.
I am thankful.
I am thankful for this little guy who has brightened my life and changed it for the better. He turned five months old today.
I am thankful for my farm and for my life in Virginia…for the beauty around me and the grace to see it…
For morning walks and evening strolls, for trails nearby and forest paths, for hikes and charity 5Ks and the fact that I am healthy enough to do all these things, for this I give thanks.
And Lord, most of all, I thank you for the gift of words. For writing what I see in my mind’s eye with clarity. For imagination. For fortitude to continue to write until the end of a novel and publish it and not know how people will react to it. For the words, the wisdom, and the stories – thank you.
Matthew 23:12 says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled…” and boy, did I learn a lesson in humility this past month. God chose to use my point of pride – my writing and my work – to teach me valuable lessons in humility.
First, there was the fiasco of my October book release. If you purchased the edition of I See You released on October 27, 2019, please update the edition on your Kindle starting this weekend, November 23, 2019.
Friends immediately contacted me after its launch to alert me that the book looked like a draft. Not just a few typos, but dozens of them. Missing words, incorrect words, missing punctuation. Oh. My. Goodness. This from the wordsmith, the editing queen…yes, I used an automatic proofreading software on my novel. Never again. I missed more typos than I caught and it seriously degraded the quality of the book to where a friend said, “I cannot read this.” Ouch. Pain. The truth hurts.
Thanks to Barb who flagged the book and brought it to my attention, and to the generosity of Eleanor, Lucy, and Linda who volunteered time as typo-catchers, I was able to correct the mistakes and reissue the book today. I had to pull it off Amazon in the meantime, apologize to my readers, and swallow my pride. I screwed up. I had to fix it. I fixed it. Now I move on.
It was, however, a lesson in humility. I know I tend to rush through things and this was a great example. I was tired from taking care of our new puppy and rushed, and I thought, “Well, I know it’s a good book, one or two typos won’t matter.” Try about 40 typos. Ugh. Yes, it does matter.
God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, decided I needed still another dose of humble medicine, and gave me that dose in November. I cannot go into the details as it involves too many other people whose stories aren’t mine to share. But it was another lesson in trusting God with my work and not my pride.
God chose this month to help me overcome a big stumbling block in my spiritual life. I am a Daughter of St. Francis de Sales. Humility is one of the key Salesian principles. Yet God saw that pride remained in the way and chose the fall of 2019 to help me learn new lessons.
I hope His school is in recess for a while, but I trust Him to know what’s best for me.
Ugh. October and November are months around here I wish I could forget!
Novelists draw from many sources for their inspiration. I draw from my childhood growing up on Long Island, New York. The Dalinger Estate, White Oak Hall, features prominently throughout I SEE YOU my new novel. I draw from three estates on Long Island to create the unique setting for much of the mystery in I SEE YOU.
Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens includes both Westbury House and the gardens designed by the same architect who designed the house. It is truly a gem of Long Island. It was donated by the Phipps family who built the home to the county in the late 1950s and was preserved intact, including furnishings, making it a true treasure.
When I was in junior high school, my older sister completed an internship in the gardens there as part of her biology major in college. I would accompany her to the gardens and have free run while she worked. I spent many hours exploring every nook and cranny of the old estate. On days when the house was open for tours, I loved seeing the interior of the mansion. My favorite room was the music room, a ballroom where concerts and dances were held. I transformed this room, with a bit of poetic license, into the ballroom in the fictional White Oak Hall.
Oheka Castle can be seen for miles around from the North Shore of Long Island. Long Island is mostly flat thanks to glacial action but Otto Herman Khan, the wealthy man who built the enormous estate, actually had soil piled up so that his castle could be seen for miles around.
In 1994, when I was working for one of the prestigious garden centers on the North Shore, we received a call from the new owners of Oheka Castle. We met with them on the grounds and I saw the building under refurbishment. The entire building had been sadly neglected, as had the gardens. After Khan sold the building, it went through a series of changes, including time spent as a military prep school, and the new owners were restoring it to its original 1920s splendor.
I’m happy to say that the castle is now restored and open for events. It’s a hotel, event center, and more. And it’s gorgeous! The library was restored when I saw it in the 1990s and that’s the library I imagined when I wrote about Andrew Dalinger’s library in I SEE YOU.
Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge (the former Ebsterstadt Estate)
By far the biggest influence on the imaginary White Oak Hall, however, is what is known today as Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge. My husband took me there for long walks while we were dating; we had many lovely picnics on its pebbled beach. It was a quiet, seldom-visited sanctuary in the busy, crowded urban area we lived.
Target Rock itself is a gigantic boulder that during high tide sits out in the bay. During the American Revolution, the British used it for target practice. At low tide, you can walk out and climb to the top.
The estate was once the home of Ferdinand Eberstadt. He was a wealthy lawyer, a diplomat, and a government employee who worked with the CIA and FBI. Eberstadt’s estate consisted of a Georgian manor house and 80 acres of prime land in Lloyd Harbor including beachfront property. The gardens and home were donated to the National Park Service and turned to the Department of the Interior as a wildlife sanctuary. It was this act in 1969 that ended up stopping Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant from being constructed; the danger to migrating wildlife protected on the land helped stop the plant from being built. (Which, as a Long Islander, I can tell you was a relief. You cannot get off the island if an emergency happens. It’s too congested and there are too few bridges and tunnels. We dreaded Shoreham).
When I first visited Target Rock, the mansion was still standing. It was a gloomy old structure with tattered curtains and shades from its days as a headquarters for the Park Service. I’d peer through the dusty windows hoping to see some of its former grandeur, but aside from the old radiators and some interesting woodwork, it wasn’t much to see.
The gardens were sadly neglected too but in the spring you could see just rows and rows of rhododendrons and laurels lining the pathways. The best part of the gardens is the freshwater pond. As in I SEE YOU the pond lies just a few yards from the ocean. There is now a bird-watching blind constructed on its banks and I loved to sit there and observe the great white heron fish. My walks at Target Rock were my Sunday morning “church” in the days before I returned to my Catholic faith. I’d pray, nature watch, and pray some more.
Yes, I SEE YOU is a ghost story. None of the places mentioned above are said to be haunted. The haunted mansion on Long Island is the old Woolworth mansion. I’ve never been to the estate and it was privately owned when I lived near its location. However, a good friend who was a professional photographer gained permission to photograph the estate.
She took a picture…and saw a mysterious figure in the window.
Of the empty mansion.
I saw the picture. It was many years ago, but the ghostly image in the window still gives me the shivers. At the time the image was taken, computer graphics were in their infancy and she didn’t have a computer, so it wasn’t a photoshopped image. It just was…creepy.
The mansion itself is said to be haunted by Woolworth’s daughter and I’ve heard all sorts of stories about rapping sounds on the pipes and odd shadows. It was enough to get my imagination primed for the ghostly happenings in I SEE YOU.
Did you miss the first book? It’s still available!
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of Shirley Jackson’s masterpieces yet it has never achieved the fame of The Haunting of Hill House or The Lottery, her over-anthologized short story that most school children in America have read, dissected, and studied. And that’s a shame because it is truly a chilling masterpiece and odd story with what is known in literature as an ‘unreliable narrator’ – a narrator who cannot be trusted because she herself isn’t trustworthy.
(At this point I must announce SPOILER ALERT. If you do not like spoilers, read this after you’ve seen the movie or read the book. It’s impossible to write or speak of this story without some type of spoiler.)
The story is told from the point of view of 18-year-old Mary Catherine Blackwood, a reclusive, odd young woman who plants fetishes such as her father’s watch and coins around the Blackwood’s property to cast spells of protection.
Mary Catherine lives with her older sister, Constance, and that is where the plot takes off. For Constance was accused of murdering her entire family save Uncle Julian (who survived) and Mary Catherine. Arsenic added to the family sugar bowl poisoned all; Constance purchased the arsenic, rat poison, as she murmurs in one scene “to kill the rats.”
Only Uncle Julian survives and he’s confined to a wheelchair and yes, also slightly cracked. We have a family of crazy people here. Constance suffers from agoraphobia thanks to the awful cruelty and hounding of the villagers locally who seem to loathe the Blackwood family. Perhaps that’s due to their father, John Blackwood, who seems to have brought sadism to a new extreme by pushing off all of Constance’s beaus including a young man who was sweet on her. John Blackwood had the boy fired, stripped of all his possessions, and pretty much ruined. So much for wishing his daughter’s happiness.
Although not much of the backstory before the fateful night of roasted lamb and blackberry dessert dinner is mentioned, one gets the impression, reading between the lines of the novel or watching the acting of the characters in the movie, that there is much, much more cruelty lurking behind the Blackwood’s facade.
There has to be to make both of these girls absolutely crazy.
Constance, agoraphobic, who smiles sweetly and waits on everyone hand and foot. Julian, who mumbles to himself constantly replaying the fateful evening, seeing his brother John lurking in every corner.
And of course, Mary Catherine, with her bug-eyed stare and her short, clipped speech.
Into this world comes Cousin Charles, a fast-talking young man driving a sporty automobile. The book did a better job of describing the backstory here: in the novel, Charles is a fortune finder, a gold digger whose parents left him penniless and who has heard rumors of the Blackwood fortune kept in a large safe in the house (John Blackwood didn’t believe in banks.)
Charles arrives and sweet talks Constance, but neither Mary Catherine nor Julian fall for his charm. He’s a lout. He moves into John’s bedroom, wears his suits, and harasses Mary Catherine for her oddities like burying a box of silver coins under a broken back step.
As the story progresses, we see the persecution of the townspeople when Mary Catherine walks into town for the weekly grocery trip and the burgeoning tension between Charles and Mary Catherine. She begins asking him nicely to leave; when that fails, she throws dirt, leaves, and water on his bed. And when that fails, she casually knocks his lit pipe — her father’s — into the wastebasket in his bedroom starting a conflagration that kindles a blaze in both the physical house and in the minds of the townspeople who flock to the impressive sight of the Blackwood mansion burning to ashes.
There’s no resolution to the story except to learn the true identity of the person who put the arsenic in the sugar bowl and the reasons why. Here the movie fails to truly hit the right note until the very last frame when Mary Catherine gives a half-second grin, her one, and only smile in the entire hour and a half movie. When she realizes that Constance and she will be together forever, she smiles. She is safe. She has chased away the town bullies from the door, she has secured the castle fortifications both real and imaginary, and she is safe.
Oh, the nuances of this story get me every time…the castle as a metaphor for the mind, the aching backstory that longs to be told but never is explicitly mentioned.
The movie does justice to the novel and the acting by the women playing Constance and Mary Catherine is excellent. I found Cousin Charles too good looking and too sincere in the movie; he comes across better in the book as a fortune-finder who will stop at nothing to grab at the Blackwood money. And in the book, Uncle Julian is portrayed as slightly older, but the actor playing him does a great job swinging between past and present in a seamless rambling monologue.
There are some parts of the movie that feel slow even for this fan of the book but all in all, a faithful retelling of a story that’s difficult to put into the visual medium of a movie. It is well done, if not a horror or ghost story like The Haunting of Hill House. The horror is, instead, one of the mind: of two women locked into a family that has constricted them to the point where they must literally blockade themselves into a crumbling mansion.
My new novel, “I See You,” will be available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions on October 27, 2019. It is Book 2 of the Majek Family stories that started in “I Believe You.” Don’t miss it! It’s a hauntingly good tale in which the Majeks must solve a 50-year old cold case of a missing Down Syndrome child, lost on one of Long Island’s famous estates.
Good news to fans of my first novel, I Believe You – the second book in the Majek Family Mysteries series is now edited and nearly ready for publication!
I See You takes place two years after the events in I Believe You. Turquoise Daniels, the family’s quirky housekeeper and now property manager, purchases a snow globe at an antique store for David Majek as a Christmas present. Soon, the family finds themselves battling an unseen entity who seems bent on making sure he – or she – is both heard and seen. The family quickly becomes embroiled in a decades-old cold case involving one of Long Island’s most prominent Gold Coast estates. How far will the wealthy go to protect their good name?
I love this story. It is like a roller coaster that gradually takes you higher and higher and higher with some dips and curves, but then to THE big hill. Held my attention throughout, characters that are relatable, mystery that makes the reader hungry to know what…who…etc. Well done.
It’s a ghost story…and the story of how disabled children were treated in the 20th century.
It’s the story of why everyone human life matters.
And of course, it’s a story about family – every family – and especially, the Majeks.
Official release date – paperback and e-book to be released on Amazon.com
Netflix’s The Indian Detective is an odd cross between a serious police drama, a Bollywood romance, and The Office. I loved it. I’ve been reading reviews online and many critics don’t seem to like it all that much. Reviews are lukewarm. That’s a shame because anytime you can slide a William Shatner cameo into an Indian police story, it’s a win.
But I digress…
(Some spoilers in my review, below)
The Indian Detective is set in Toronto and the slums of Mumbai. The hero, Doug D’mello (Russell Peters) is on the brink of a big drug bust when it all goes wrong. He ends up getting suspended from the police force. A phone call from his father in Mumbai, played by Anupam Kher, sends him jetting halfway around the world to visit his father in the hospital. While Doug is in India, he becomes embroiled in the murder of a young woman, leading back to the crime syndicate he’d originally set out to bust.
The show itself is four episodes, which felt oddly both too long and too short. I think the problem with the show is that the crimes seem random at first. It’s as if he’s solving one mystery, and you think he’s done, and then the second mystery is introduced and it is connected to the first in an odd way. Some of the connections felt forced.
Doug falls in love with Priya, played by Mishqah Parthiephal , a beautiful, intelligent lawyer who dedicates her considerable talent to the Indian legal aid society helping the poor. This local connection enables Doug to search for clues amidst Mumbai’s citizens with Priya as his guide.
It’s obvious Doug likes Priya – a lot – but she is supposed to be engaged in an arranged marriage. The comedy portions of the show are mostly “fish out of water” type of jokes with Doug, who is Indian but born in Toronto, trying India’s food from a street vendor and appalled at the lack of hygiene as the man hands him his meal, his interactions and bad jokes about a Lieutenant Devo (“Do you whip it? Whip it good?”) and other sidebars. Doug’s smirking one-liners add levity to the plot.
Doug’s interactions with his coworkers in the Toronto police force had an “Office” vibe to them with some funny bits. I liked his relationship with Robyn, his partner, and his brotherly affection for her.
The funniest and most realistic interactions are between Doug and his father, Stanley, a former airline pilot who dons an obvious wig for his bald head, falls in love with his massage therapist and hides a serious heart condition from his son by pretending it’s gas. Their interactions rang so true and heartbreaking – father and son clashes, old family hurts brought up to heal – that their relationship could spawn its own show.
I’d say the strength of The Indian Detective are moments like the ones between Doug and his dad, and some of the other relationships among the characters. The characters all felt real and true; only the gangster twins felt a bit like stock characters out of a B movie, but most of the characters were well rounded and likable. You looked forward to certain characters on screen like Devo and Stanley because of the jokes between Doug and these characters but the interactionis and interplay felt just right.
William Shatner, another Canadian actor, makes a few appearances as a shady businessman. He pretends to be a good guy but is working with the Mumbai gang on a real estate deal. It’s fun to see Shatner cast as a villain and I hope they bring him back for another go as the global bad guy.
My biggest complaint with the show is how neatly they wrapped it up with a bow at the end of the fourth episode. The ending had a bit of a Bollywood musical tacked on to it, which was fun but felt forced and rushed. The romance between Priya and Doug seemed doomed and is just pushed forward without much development on Priya’s part. We know that Doug really, really likes her, and why not? She’s brilliant, kind, and smart. But for Priya to disobey her parents’ wishes for the arranged marriage, give up the wealthy nice lawyer she’s engaged to, and suddenly fall for the pudgy not handsome but wacky dedicated detective just felt too sudden for me.
All in all, this is a fun show and worth a watch. A bit of violence and bad language but you won’t be embarrassed to watch it with your grandmother. I look forward to Season 2 and to more adventure with Doug D’mello!