Welcome to The Persnickety Proofreader site!

February 20, 2009

Thanks for stopping by. Here you’ll find useful information to help your writing come alive, make your words leap off the page and dance around with glee. You’ve just got to give me some time to get some stuff written, so check back soon, okay?

A Mother’s Day Reflection

May 14, 2018

I didn’t want today to get away without wishing you and yours a Happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day observances have long been bittersweet for me because in late summer of 1997, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy and lost my itty bitty baby – and, as it turns out, my only chance at motherhood. Then, in 2015, Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s. So, Mother’s Day that year was kind of a double whammy for me. What made it bearable, however, was the thought that Mom was getting to spend her first Mother’s Day with her granddaughter.

Today I was really missing Mom. This was my fourth Mother’s Day without her… and it was the most difficult one so far. I woke up missing her… and then all morning I was beset by little things that triggered memories.

Memories are strange things. They crop up at odd moments – and for the most unusual reasons.

When a butterfly crossed our path this afternoon, it reminded me of the time Mom and I were heading home after going out to dinner one Thursday night (because Dad worked late on Thursdays and we decided we didn’t want whatever it was that was in the fridge). We noticed a hot-air balloon with a great big butterfly on it flying low overhead… so we decided to follow it. It eventually landed on the golf course. And oddly enough, it had been Mom’s idea to chase it.

Songs are big memory triggers.

My local Kroger occasionally plays Vaughn Monroe’s “Ballerina”; Mom and I both loved that song. And I always thought he had the most magnificent voice! Go on, give it a listen and judge for yourself.

Or I’ll hear one of the songs she would call and ask me to play when she’d listen to me on the air at work (like “Life in a Northern Town” from the Dream Academy; Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”; “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra; “Lotta Love” from Nicolette Larson… or even “Penny Lane” by the Beatles). Those are the songs that generally bring a smile.

Then there are the songs attached to  memories of Mom that make me laugh out loud. One morning in 1974, over breakfast, Steve Miller’s “The Joker” came on the radio. At the part where he sings, “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker,” my sister Áve and I, being of tender age and having no frame of reference for that particular term, asked, “Mom? What’s a midnight toker?” Not surprisingly, she had no earthly idea. And we had no clue until years later how truly hilarious it was that we’d asked her that!

Another time, in the mid ’80s, Áve and I were listening to WFCS, the radio station at nearby Central Connecticut State University. “Never Say Never” from Romeo Void was blaring from the little radio on the kitchen counter. Mom happened to wander in just when the chorus came on and we were singing along, “I might like you better if we slept together…” She made her infamous “Mom lips” (a dead giveaway of her utter displeasure) and muttered, “Oh, that’s just nice!” and left the room. I won’t even tell you what she said when she heard the Rolling Stones’ “She’s So Cold.”

But music isn’t the only memory trigger.

Mom was big into words. She was a terrific writer – and a fun storyteller. And she used to write some of the best letters I’ve ever received. She used to write me letters all the time while I was away at college.

This morning, on our way to church, something triggered a memory about those letters. She’d write two or three times a week, usually during her lunch break, typed on the clunky old electric typewriter at her desk in her office at the City of New Britain’s City Improvement Commission. When she and Dad came back from a 25th-anniversary trip to Italy, she wrote extensively about that. But mostly, she’d tell me what was going on at home or at work, or she’d regale me with the latest antics of Rehab – a cranky old stray she and her coworkers adopted. He wasn’t the nicest cat (a far cry from our dear Scruffy at home), and he had a penchant for sleeping in open file cabinets and getting black fur all over the files, but Rehab did manage to keep most of the rodents at bay in that drafty old City Hall building.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but those letters were as much for her benefit as mine. I was the last of her brood to leave the nest and she was probably really missing having someone there when she got home after work… not that she missed the loud music and the phone being tied up all the time. But it gave her a connection to her youngest kid. And it was nice to open up my mailbox in the student-center mailroom to find a small envelope with my name and address neatly typed and the New Britain postmark and return address.

Yep, memories surely are tricky things. Some are wonderful; others not so much. They sneak up on you at the most unexpected times and, if you’re not careful, will burn a hole in your heart. If you’re lucky, though, they’ll warm a small cozy place in there and leave you with a smile.

What are some of your favorite Mom memories? And what triggers those memories?

A Few Handy Tips for Creating Three-Dimensional Characters

January 13, 2018

I’ve been invited to give a talk (and conduct a workshop) about writing fiction at a local writers’ conference in Chattanooga on January 20. Over the years, from crafting my own fiction as well as editing other people’s manuscripts, I’ve learned a thing or three about creating realistic characters.

When writing fiction – whether your particular vehicle of choice is flash fiction, short stories or novel-length fiction – every author should keep some basic elements in mind, not the least of which is how to develop believable, three-dimensional characters.

Years ago, at a writing workshop I attended in Connecticut, our instructor led us through an exercise in creating detailed character profiles. The queries she posed ranged from our characters’ physical attributes to relationships with parents, and from childhood experiences to favorite and least-favorite things. Here are some of the items from that list:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Eye color/hair color
  • Hometown
  • Family structure (parents/siblings/extended family in the home?)
  • Relationship with parents
  • Occupation
  • Strengths/weaknesses/fears


Over the years, I’ve expanded the list of questions to ask my characters; in fact, some of them have balked, saying it’s approaching “interrogation” status. Nevertheless, here are some additional things to consider when rounding out a character:

  • What is his favorite color?
  • What is on his bedroom wall?
  • What does he like to do on his day off?
  • What does he suck at doing?
  • What must he have at the grocery store?
  • What does he refuse to eat?
  • What is his guilty pleasure?
  • Where won’t he be caught dead?
  • What is his best childhood memory?
  • What is his favorite musician/band?
  • What are his hobbies?


Once I’ve compiled a profile for each character, I’ve got a handy reference guide for when I’m wondering whether, for instance, Gary would ever order anchovies on his pizza (not a chance; he’s a sausage-and-mushroom guy) or if Marc would have far to travel to attend his class reunion (again, no; he lives about 20 minutes from Danbury High). I tend to get less detailed and picky with secondary or tertiary characters, but I still know their basic backgrounds.

However, it’s not enough simply to identify each character’s likes and dislikes; you must know their motivations, as well. After you’ve completed your character profile, ask these questions to get to the heart of your central character’s raison d’être:

  • What does he want more than anything?
  • Why must he achieve this goal?
  • What’s standing in his way?


You might end up never divulging any of this background information in your finished work (and this is especially true with flash fiction), but it’s vital to know about your characters’ history, drive and motivation, so you can write their story – and their dialogue – effectively.

The “Royal Order” of What, Now?

July 10, 2017

Here’s something I’ve often wondered about: Why do English speakers innately grasp the natural placement of adjectives in sentences? For instance, why do we always describe a “creepy little old man” instead of an “old creepy little man” – or even an “old little creepy man” – in that precise order? And why is it some strings of adjectives get separated by commas while others don’t… like a “hideous, barbaric monster” or an “unkempt, disheveled urchin”?

These are the things that keep me awake nights… when I’m not being awakened by our left-side next-door neighbor’s rooster going off at odd hours or the right-side next-door neighbor’s yappy dogs.

Oddly enough, there’s an actual reason for this – the adjective order and the commas, not the stuff that wakes me up at night. It’s because of something called the “Royal Order of Adjectives” (not to be confused with the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo, for those of us old enough to remember watching The Flintstones). The Royal Order of Adjectives is a set of specific guidelines by which English-language sentences are structured, regarding the placement of adjectives.

Nine descriptors comprise this Royal Order. They are: determiners; observations/opinions; size; shape; age; color; origin; material; and type. Because observation/opinion precedes size, which precedes color, we’d say “creepy little old man” instead of any other configuration. And because they fall into different descriptor categories (cumulative as opposed to coordinate adjectives), they require no comma.

Conversely, strings of adjectives within the same descriptor category do get separated by commas, because they are of equal weight (for lack of a better way to describe this).

Let’s explore those nine descriptors.

  1. Determiners – these specify the item being described (e.g., that, my, their)
  2. Observations/opinions – subjective descriptions (e.g., crumbling, hairy, disheveled)
  3. Size (e.g., medium, microscopic, gargantuan)
  4. Shape – physical dimensions (e.g., round, rhombic, star-shaped)
  5. Age (e.g., Art Nouveau, antique, seven-year-old)
  6. Color (e.g., blonde, crimson, cerulean)
  7. Origin – the item’s place of origin (e.g., Chinese, American, Tibetan)
  8. Material – what the item is made of (e.g., cotton, iron, maple)
  9. Qualifier – this refers to specific properties or type, and may be considered part of the name of the item being described (e.g., boudoir lamp, cellular phone, electric guitar)

Go ahead and use any number of descriptors in your writing – just be sure to put them in the proper order. You could describe “her clingy blue skirt”; “his rusted, clunky [note: You’d use a comma here because both adjectives are observation/opinion descriptors] oblong red wagon” or even “my sleek antique black European spruce grand piano.”

And now that I’m fairly certain I won’t be kept awake wondering about adjective placement, I might just get a good night’s sleep tonight. What more could I ask for?

Former Founder?

May 18, 2017

From this morning’s top-of-the-hour national news about the passing of Roger Ailes, one thing has become awkwardly evident to me: The reporters at ABC Radio have no actual understanding of the proper usage of the word “former.”

All morning, they were identifying Ailes as the “former founder and chairman of Fox News,” which made me go pawing through my utility cabinet in search of duct tape – to prevent I.C.E. (imminent cranial explosion).

I’m guessing a few folks are scratching their respective heads and wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, once you’ve been established as the founder of something, that particular designation can never be taken away – so Ailes could not possibly have been the news organization’s “former founder.”

How might this have been remedied? Well, for starters, ABC News could employ writers with a more-precise grasp of the English language. Beyond that, I’d recommend phrasing the sentence so the adjective “former” modified “chairman.” The correct way to identify Ailes (who resigned last year) would be “founder and former chairman of Fox News.” His designation as former chairman of Fox News had no bearing whatsoever on his status as its founder.

On a personal note, this obvious gaffe brought back memories from my nearly ten years as board secretary for the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. In emails, at monthly meetings and in what came to be known as the unofficial “Blue Minutes” from those meetings, we’d often refer to founder Brian Jud as CAPA’s “former founder” – with his full understanding that we were being intentionally goofy with that title.

However, to earnestly call someone the “former founder” of anything shows a basic lack of awareness. It’s akin to referring to someone as a “former graduate” of a college (and yes, I’ve heard that phrase so often my dentist is planning to fit me for a dental guard so I don’t grind my teeth into piles of enamel dust). Either you’re a graduate of an institution or you’re not – you can’t suddenly become no longer a graduate. There’s no need for an adjective. Still, if you must use one, consider “past.”

Think I’m making too much of this whole “former” issue? Go ahead and refer to a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps as a “former Marine.” I will assume no responsibility whatsoever for your resulting injuries.

Reflections on Two Years Since Mom’s Death

April 25, 2017

Tomorrow will be two years since Mom died. She’d languished in the nasty clutches of Alzheimer’s disease for a little more than eleven years and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit her eventual passing was as much a relief as it was wrenching.

Through the ensuing weeks, I was fortunate to have many family members, friends and, yes, even clients, around to support me. My husband and I relocated from Connecticut to Tennessee a year and a half earlier, so I wasn’t even nearby when she passed away… and it took us two days of driving to get back there. Along the way, I kept in touch with family and friends via email and text. I also found myself borne up on the prayers and support of dozens of Facebook friends. Aside from a few moments that stand out in my memory, much of our time there is a blur.

At the wake, we saw streams of people – many of whose faces I recognized but whose names I don’t recall. It was a steady flow of friends, neighbors, coworkers, clients, Dad’s coworkers, a state Senator, the daughter of one of my brother’s colleagues (from a job twenty years earlier), my husband’s former business partner, his office manager, our former pastor, our favorite waiter from our favorite Chinese restaurant (yes, really!)… UNICO members, my parents’ longtime friends and even their longtime friends’ grown children.

Afterward, Cousin Maria invited everyone back to her house, where she’d amassed a feast that could have fed 50 people. Socializing was the last thing I wanted to do, but I went because it afforded me a way to reconnect with family after being so long away. What a blessing that was! It was a little like being in a beehive – a constant buzz of activity – surrounded by people who’d known and loved me my entire life. And there’s something oddly comforting about being amid people who all have the same nose. Then there was the food. Oh, the food! Pasta, meatballs, chicken… every manner of Italian food, on platters piled teeteringly high with assorted deliciousness. Did I mention that Maria must have, in a former lifetime, been an Army cook?

If you asked Maria why she did that, she’d probably say, “We’re Italian. We feed people.” But it was more than that – what she did was a tremendous ministry to our family. She reached out and took a tangible step to help when we were immobilized by grief.

If you’re on the periphery of a loved one’s grieving process, there are concrete ways to help. There’s always a plethora of hugs and the obligatory “I’m so sorry” murmurings. And everyone says, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Trouble is,  grieving folks are so numb at this point, they can barely think of what they might need, let alone conceive of articulating it – or reaching out to ask someone to help.

Fortunately, Jodi Whitsitt (a recently widowed mother of three) has provided a baker’s dozen of specific, real-world ways to help a grief-stricken loved one.

What are some of the ways you reach out to the newly bereaved in your life? Please share in the Comments section below.

Book Review – Christy Wright’s Business Boutique: A Woman’s Guide For Making Money Doing What She Loves

April 17, 2017

In Business Boutique: A Woman’s Guide for Making Money Doing What She Loves, you’ll discover everything you need to begin living your dream of running your own business. Christy Wright walks you, step by step, along the road from “finding your why” (the reason you want to go into business in the first place) to identifying your customers and meeting/exceeding their needs and expectations… all the way to keeping your business in the good graces of the government when tax time rolls around.

Christy’s lived it. From her earliest memories, Christy watched her own mother live it. She knows how challenging it is to juggle full-time work and family and friends, manage a household and run a successful side business. She knows all about the little niggling nay-saying inner voices that derail our dreams and keep us from pursuing what we love. Christy understands how difficult it is to step out in faith and take that first terrifying step… her stories about perseverance in the face of fear and soul-crushing adversity are both heartening and empowering. And her personal stories (about facing even the small hurdles we women tend to turn into gigantic boulders in our paths) are hilariously human.

Having attended Christy’s first two Business Boutique two-day events in Nashville (in 2015 and 2016), I can attest that Business Boutique: A Woman’s Guide for Making Money Doing What She Loves distills the lessons presented – and keeps them close by as you need them. It’s like having a one-on-one session with Christy right at your fingertips; she’s there, coaching you and reassuring you at every step. And trust me – this is one book that won’t languish with all those ‘start your own business’ books on your bookshelf; it’ll be right on your desk, where you can access it at a moment’s notice.

Follow the guidelines laid out in this book and you’ll find yourself equipped with all the tools you need to succeed in realizing your dream.

They Like Me… They Really Like Me! (At Least They Like My Writing)

April 11, 2016

This past weekend, at the Tennessee Mountain Writers 28th annual conference in Oak Ridge, I was honored to have spent two-plus days among nearly a hundred of my fellow wordsmiths. Together we learned from such gifted writers as Courtney Stevens, Judy DiGregorio and Michael Knight (along with master storyteller Saundra Kelley).

Moreover, at the Saturday-evening banquet, I felt further honored to have won two literary awards: second place in the Joy Margrave Award for nonfiction; and third place for the Patricia Boatner Award for fiction.

My winning nonfiction piece, “Xena’s Adventures in Doggy Hell,” is a distillation of this post from March 2009. The fiction entry is Chapter 4 of my forthcoming novel, Glimpse of Emerald. Below is that winning entry. But first, some backstory: Seventeen-year-old Gary Sheldon has had a hell of a year. Last September, his mom abandoned him; since then, his alcoholic father has been beating him. The only people in whom Gary can confide are his grandfather, Edward Sheldon, and Father Justin Maynard, dean of St. Joseph Academy.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Please feel free to offer feedback, and to share this post with others.

Chapter 4

(16 June, 1981 – Tuesday)
Edward welcomed Gary that bright June day and promptly solicited his help. He’d bought the cottage on the Milford shore in 1950, to enjoy summers with the family. Now, thirty-one summers later, it was time to make it a permanent haven.

Gary savored the invitation.

Too old to do it all himself, Edward was glad of the help and the company. Besides, it’d keep Gary’s mind off his troubles at home. He afforded his teenage grandson ample opportunity to hang out on the beach. Gary usually declined, saying he’d rather help with the renovation project.

For ten weeks, morning to night, grandfather and grandson worked side by side. They measured and cut, hammered, drilled, sanded, rewired and painted. They laid insulation in the attic, hung windows and installed new plumbing and heating. Every night, Gary fell into bed exhausted, lulled to sleep by waves lapping at the shore. Each morning, he awakened to the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee – and with a sense of purpose. After supper, they’d sit on the porch to talk. Anything was open to discussion: the future, the past, work they hoped to accomplish; whatever was on their minds. Edward related stories of his early years with Josie. And occasionally – reluctantly – Gary talked about his troubled home life.

“I don’t wanna go back,” Gary confided in August, staring out over the water as darkness crept across the shore. His shoulders sagged under his lingering depression. “He makes me feel so insignificant. Like I’m not even there. Know what I mean?”

Edward nodded. “I do.” He wondered whether this was his cue to take Gary out of there, reunite him with Diane. “But, Gary, it’s only another year ’til you graduate; then you’re off to college. And you can spend summers with me. You’re always welcome here; this is your home, too.”

They watched the last pinks fade to blue, then grey. It was a long time before Gary spoke. “I never told anyone – not even Ellen…” He studied the weathered floorboards. Edward leaned close. “It got so bad” – he sighed with the weight of secrecy – “last Christmas I… almost killed myself.”

Edward’s eyes widened in alarm and concern. “Gary! Why would you even consider that?”

Cries punctuated the teen’s words. “Have you ever felt so desperate and so – alone… that suicide seemed like the only escape from the pain? D’you know what that feels like? Do you?” Edward was silent a moment too long. Fists clenched, elbows gouging into his knees, Gary spat the words. “Well, I do. It feels like emptiness and failure!” He dropped his head against his fists.

“Oh Gary…” Edward pulled Gary to his feet, enveloped him in a mighty hug. “Why didn’t you tell me it was that bad?” He tried not to sound like he was scolding. Fear took hold as reality seeped in: He’d lost a son too soon, and that had triggered Josie’s depression. He couldn’t bear to lose his grandson. “Gary, you’re seventeen – you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. What would make you feel like you had no other choice than that?” Edward’s embrace was too much to fight; the tears won. Sobbing, Gary clung to him; tears soaked his grandfather’s shirt. Finally, Edward spoke again. “Let me get you out of there. I can get you into Milford Academy. You could live here.” He wasn’t sure Gary had heard, because he didn’t answer right away. Gary shook his head, mumbled something about not wanting to leave Ellen. Edward figured as much, but he had to offer. He promised to stay in closer contact; then he posed the question he dreaded asking: “Is your father hitting you?”

“N-no,” Gary stammered. “Of course not! Why would you even ask that?”

He’s lying… telling me to mind my own business, Edward mused. I have to respect that. If he wants out, he’ll tell me.


Gary crumpled back into his chair. His chest ached from crying – and his ribs hurt from Grandpa’s embrace. And now he’d just lied to him! It felt awful, but he didn’t think he had a choice. If Grandpa knew the truth, he’d tear me away from Ellen. I can’t risk that!

Patting his grandson’s shoulder with a giant hand, Edward fetched him a glass of water. Gary accepted it gratefully, drinking the cool liquid in great, rushing gulps. It felt refreshing, but it couldn’t soothe away the guilt over his lie.

Edward set the empty glass on the floor. “C’mon. Let’s walk.” Obediently, Gary followed. The night sand felt cool and soft against his bare feet. “Tell me about it,” Grandpa persuaded, draping a comforting arm around his grandson’s shoulders.

For a second, Gary thought he meant, Tell me why you lied. Then he realized Grandpa meant, Tell me why you wanted to kill yourself. Reluctantly, he discussed his anger at Mom and the insecurity, inadequacy and loss that led up to his thwarted suicide attempt.

“Holidays are rough when you’re depressed. Grandma struggled with depression herself, years ago. I understand how overwhelming it can be.” Gary turned toward Grandpa in the moonlit semi-darkness, his eyes asking the question he couldn’t find the courage to voice. “It was a deep depression that lasted a long time – back when your father was a little boy,” the old man answered the unspoken query.

“What happened?”

“It took a long time, but she eventually came out of it.”

“No, I mean: What caused her depression?”

Edward chose his words carefully. “When your dad was little, we learned Grandma was expecting,” he said. “About six months along, she lost the baby. She couldn’t have any more. We’d always wanted a large family and that news was devastating. Our friends were having second and third babies, and she couldn’t give me another child.”

“I never knew that,” Gary said soberly.

“I never meant for you to. But I figured you deserved to know now.”

“Because of what I told you?”

“In part,” Edward said. “I wanted to be honest with you. I understand how destructive pain can be.” Gary nodded. His deception twisted in his heart. “Whatever pain you feel, there’s nothing so deep, so awful, you can’t share it. There’s no reason to suffer alone.” Edward slipped an arm around him. “I love you, Gary. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you – especially if I could’ve done something and you didn’t reach out to me. Capisce?” That was Italian for “Understand?” Edward managed to pick up a few words in Josie’s native tongue during their marriage. He ruffled his grandson’s hair.

“Yeah.” The near-darkness hid a hint of a smile.


The Gary who returned to Pine Cove at the end of August was markedly different from the one who left in June; not just because of the auburn highlights in his hair, his deep tan and well-defined muscles. His confidence was buoyed and he carried himself with a certain self-assurance.

Edward phoned Gary weekly. And prayed for him daily. Within a few weeks, those prayers had begun to bear fruit. By October, Gary’s depression seemed to have lifted. He began attending Mass regularly and paid more attention to his studies. His grades picked up to Bs and a few As. And he and Ellen talked fleetingly of marriage.

In December, Gary was accepted at Boston University. He expected to be congratulated when he told Dad. Instead, he got, “Great, another twelve grand a year I’ll have to shell out for you.”

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Ellen applied at Wellesley; she was accepted a week before Christmas.

When her family went away over New Year’s, Ellen invited Gary over. He arrived with a bottle of Asti; she greeted him in a skimpy bathrobe, which she quickly shed. They made love in her parents’ bed, using the only condom he brought. A champagne-tinged midnight kiss ended sometime after two. Gary couldn’t be sure if it was the bubbly or the absence of a condom that made the resulting sex so intense. In the morning, they made love again, then quickly made up the bed before her folks came home.


Five weeks later, a weeping Ellen approached Gary in the library with the unsettling news.

His heart pounded crazily. “Are you sure?”

“Gary, I’m never this late,” she insisted.

“Maybe you counted wrong.”

“Or maybe I’m pregnant,” Ellen hissed.

When her fears were confirmed, they agreed to keep it a secret while they figured out what to do. They tried to keep up appearances, but soon they stopped sitting together at lunch and study hall. When they had to work on class projects together, they bickered constantly. He stopped going to her house; her parents and sisters began to wonder why. Even the guidance counselors asked what had soured between them; but Ellen and Gary revealed nothing. By the end of March, they’d stopped speaking altogether. By mid-April, she’d begun showing.


In the privacy of his office, Fr. Maynard counseled Gary gently about the sanctity of marriage and the seriousness of his actions. Deeply ashamed, the teen hung his head and said nothing. “I can only imagine what you’re going through, Gary; but, it isn’t the end of the world; and ohh, our Lord is forgiving! All you have to do is ask Him.”

Remorseful, Gary nodded. “Forgive me?” he whispered.

Laying his hands on Gary’s bowed head, Fr. Maynard prayed. “Dear heavenly Father, hear our cries for forgiveness; show us Your mercy and kindness. Send Your Holy Spirit upon Gary, cleanse him from his sin, and grant him Your pardon and peace. We ask this, as we ask all things, through Christ, our loving and compassionate Savior.” Giving him a mild penance, the priest offered Gary absolution. Then he embraced the teen. “Your sins are forgiven, Gary. Go in the peace of Christ.”

Gary left Fr. Maynard’s office with the boulder lifted from his heart.

Next day, it seemed the young priest had somehow talked Msgr. Streng into letting them finish their course requirements with tutors; they’d get their diplomas, but wouldn’t be allowed to attend graduation.

To stave off his guilt, Gary put in long hours at the station, filling in on air whenever he could. He also tried to fix things with his dad, who remained angry and aloof. Making things worse, Ellen refused to see him, even threatening a restraining order


Three days before they would have graduated, Gary’s boss called him into his office. “I don’t want you thinking I don’t appreciate your work,” Paul Ramsey began. “We all do. You’re talented, dependable and we love working with you. And I said if anything full time opened up, I’d hire you.”

“I remember,” Gary said expectantly, nodding.

He laid his palms flat on the desk, fingers splayed. “Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer you.”

“Are you letting me go?”

“More like pushing you out of the nest.” Paul slid a business card across his desk. “Here; give Steve Reynolds a call. He’s interested in talking to you.”

“Why would he wanna talk to me?”

“’Cause I sent him your ‘New Music Monday’ demo.”

“Not that!” Gary groaned, appalled. “Paul – I did that as a joke!”

“Well, he liked it enough to want to meet with you.”

“Really?” Gary took the card, smiling for the first time in weeks. “Thanks, Paul.” Now he studied it. “Hey, wait a minute – he’s in the City!”

“Yes he is; it’s the big time.” Paul’s air of confidence both encouraged and terrified Gary. “Or, at least, it could be. One kid in a million gets a break like this. And if it’s gonna happen, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see it happen to.”

Gary called Steve Reynolds that day. They scheduled an interview for Thursday at ten.

It was 9:47 Thursday morning when Gary poked the call button in the mid-Manhattan office building whose address was embossed on the business card in his jittery hands.

Steve was amazed Gary was only eighteen. “You’re very talented. Great on-air presence, quick wit, a terrific voice – and a good ear for music. That’s important in this business.”

“Thanks,” he replied self-consciously, not knowing what else to say. He still couldn’t believe Paul had sent that tape. It was just a goof!

Steve stood. “C’mon. I’d like to see you at work. Let’s go see what you’re made of.”

Gary’s nervousness got the best of him during his production audition; he criticized himself silently all the way back to Reynolds’ office, where Steve handed him a card. “Here. Pete Donovan’s got an on-air opening; I think you’re just who he’s looking for.”

Gary stared at the card. Middlebury, Connecticut. So much for the Big City. “Thanks.” He tried not to sound too defeated. “I’ll give him a call.”

“Don’t look so down. Know how many other kids I’ve referred to my PDs in the last three years?” He held up two fingers. “You’re the third. Most folks I see aren’t good enough. But if I had an opening here, Gary, I’d snap you up in a second!”


(2:37 p.m., 4 June, 1982 – Friday)
“Listen. I know things have been rough lately… but I know we can work through it – I still love you.” Gary gripped the receiver. “Marry me, Ellen.”

“You must be joking. Why would I want to marry you?”

“Because I love you – and you’re carrying my baby.”

“What makes you so sure it’s yours?”

Her question ground Gary to a nauseating halt. “Whaddaya mean? Of course it’s mine… Isn’t it?”


“At least let me help financially. I – I don’t have much, but I can help you wi–”

“You’re too late,” she interrupted. “I got an abortion.”

Gary felt the color drain from his face. “No!” The topsy-turvy feeling returned; the phone nearly fell from his hand. “Ellen, no…

“I didn’t want that baby, Gary; and I don’t want you. I never want to see you again. If you come near me, I’ll have you arrested! I mean it. Now, leave me alone!”


Didn’t want that baby… don’t want you… got an abortion. Ellen’s words hammered in his brain. Dizzy and weak, Gary curled into a ball; he couldn’t absorb her words. Ellen loved him – he knew that! But she said she didn’t. And aborted the baby? Mom would’ve known what to say. She’d have sat on his bed, stroking his hair, soothing him; she’d have held him and wept with him over her lost grandchild. But she wasn’t here. She’d left him. And he was left to mourn his baby alone.

That night, after tossing back a hefty scotch, Dad confronted Gary about his impending fatherhood. “You’d best be planning to make an honest woman of her. Though I can’t see why she’d marry a no-good bum like you!”

“I asked her. She said No.” He didn’t mention the abortion. He won’t care anyway.

Sneering, Dad refilled his glass. “Well, who could blame her?”

Gary had never openly opposed his father before. “I dunno. I can’t understand how I turned out so awful… after the terrific example you set.”

“Why, you lousy little–” Dad slammed his scotch glass down on the coffee table. With a soft hiss of leather through fabric, off came his belt. Doubling it, he lunged at Gary, sputtering.

Gary winced as several blows landed across his back. Then something snapped. Ellen’s rejection and news of her abortion were already too much. He caught the belt as it lashed toward him. Wrapping it around his hand, he reeled Dad in. “Stop it!” he roared, eye to eye with his father. He hurled the strap across the room. And for the first time, Gary hit back. “I’ve taken enough of your shit! It stops now!”

Dad stumbled backward against the table, fell onto the couch. The amber liquid sloshed. Scrambling to his feet, he charged, giving Gary a mighty shove. “You ungrateful little fuck!”

Before he could say more, Gary struck again. Dad staggered and fell; by the time he got up again, his son had the upper hand. He fought fiercely, retaliating for years of humiliation and beatings. Rage fueled his determination. “You bastard! How’s it feel to be on the receiving end?” A left to the jaw; a right to the midsection; a left jab to the face. Gary felt more than heard the crunch as bone gave way. Shaking off the pain, he watched in smug satisfaction as Dad wiped at the blood streaming from his broken nose.

“You lousy little shit!” he snarled. “I want your worthless ass out of here! Now!” Grabbing for the sticky glass, he gulped his scotch, then poured another.


When Gary arrived, heartsick and empty, dim light still glowed from the study at 52 Field Court. He gave a hesitant rap at the door.

“Gary!” He’d grown since Edward had last seen him – he was nearly six feet tall – but the old man still towered over him.

Grandpa had been an imposing figure when his grandkids were young. His great “tallth,” as they called it, frightened them. They said he was like an oak tree. They’d been right. He was sturdy and dependable. “Dad threw me out,” Gary blurted out. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

Edward hugged him. “You came to the right place. Welcome home, Gary.”

Gary needed that hug. Home. What a nice feeling! It’s good to be welcome somewhere.

The Ubiquitous @

March 7, 2016

Aside from its obvious email application, how many of us have ever really considered the “at” symbol – @? It’s been around for centuries, yet it was largely ignored by all but those in the math or accounting arenas much of that time. For years, this unassuming character languished above the 2 on our typewriter keyboards, snubbed by virtually all except folks who included it in their grawlixes.

With the advent of electronic communication surfaced the ingenuity of one Ray Tomlinson, an American computer engineer (who, incidentally, passed away over the weekend at the age of 74). In 1971, Tomlinson drew the humble @ into the spotlight as a central figure of his recently developed “electronic mail” system.

Of course, you can also use the @ symbol to send electronic roses to your sweetheart… —-^–^-<@ – but you’ll have to kind of squint and look sideways to make it look like a long-stemmed rose with thorns.

As for what the ubiquitous @ is called in other languages, check out this article. Personally, I prefer the Armenian ishnik and the Danish snabela. What about you? What’s your favorite other-language moniker for @?

Win a Copy of Diagnosis: Love

December 3, 2015

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Diagnosis by Rita M Reali

Diagnosis: Love

by Rita M Reali

Giveaway ends December 07, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


How Do I Get a Copy of Diagnosis: Love?

October 21, 2015

In the past week, dozens of folks have asked me, “Hey, Rita… how can I get a copy of your new novel, Diagnosis: Love?”

Excellent question. Here’s what you need to do: Email me at rita@LittleElmPress.com. Include your full name, mailing address (including city, state and ZIP Code) and number of books you wish to purchase. I’ll also need to know whether you want them delivered via media mail (fairly slow, yet highly economical) or priority mail (a smidgen pricier, but you’ll get your book(s) within three days.

I accept PayPal, checks and money orders. I’ll give you specifics by return email.

Oh, I’ll also need to know to whom you want your book(s) inscribed.

That should do it. Any other questions, feel free to email me at rita@LittleElmPress.com.