Welcome to Selene Castrovilla's blog!

I'm an author spreading the words. Read about my books at www.SeleneCastrovilla.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hokey Pokey Wednesday: Our Search For Happy Endings

This post was going to be about what passes for Christmas these days: Shopping.

What is our holiday message?

Gifts = love.

If I buy you a gift, I love you. The more expensive the gift, the more I love you. And if you buy me a pricey gift, that means you love me. This is dangerous, appalling and just not true.

This brings me to my broader topic: Happy endings.

Christmas has become retail's way to manipulate us toward a fake "happy ending." All those commercials with glowing faces, jingling bells...and of course, lots of shopping. Every single one of them gliding us to that magical morning when we bestow our gifts and get the love we crave.

Or, we open our gifts and realize that the spouse who treats us like dirt the rest of the year actually loves us because they've purchased a big-screen tv for the bedroom. Now, we can numb ourselves in a large way. Problems solved.

But happy endings don't last. How can they? We don't freeze in time...We don't stop existing just because we've gotten the moment we were promised. The only true "end" comes when we die. So building our hopes around a "happy ending" (a wedding is another good example) can only lead to an emotional letdown. What goes up must eventually plummet. Television and the media revel in the "coming down" as well. All you have to do is watch reality tv, read a magazine or catch the evening news. 

The problem is that we're raised to think we can only be happy if someone else loves us.

It's the Cinderella complex, and hey - it's in every romantic comedy (and yes, I watch them too.) No matter how messed up the couple is, they find their way into each others' arms. Sorry, but that's not going to happen in real life, folks. And if it does, it won't last - because people revert to their true selves.

Ironically, a movie I hated - The Break-Up - is more realistic. The couple breaks up (as promised), and they take time to work on themselves. They run into each other in the end. Will they get back together? We don't know. That's where we're left. I like that, in retrospect. At the time I saw it, I'd just broken up with a boyfriend. I sobbed through the whole thing. I didn't think I could be happy without a man. I felt cheated because the couple in the movie did actually "break up" without magically working things out.

We can love people. We can miss them. We can grieve for them. But ultimately, we cannot let them control us. We need to seek inner happiness. If we love ourselves, we are never alone. We are our own best friends.

Now that's a happy ending.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Snail's Tale on Tightrope Tuesday

            This is a short one.
            It’s the story of something that happened a few years ago.
            Casey, my younger son, was about six.
            We have a lot of snails where we live. They’re always sliming their way across the walkway.

            On this occasion, Casey noticed a snail as he headed toward the car. Generally he moves them to safety, but we were in a hurry to get somewhere.
            On our return home, he discovered the snail had been stepped on.
            “Mommy, I could have saved him,” Casey cried.
            He said, “Why didn’t I move him into the grass when I saw him before?”
            I told him, “Casey, you can’t save everyone.”
            I looked into his sad eyes and said, “There are no super heroes.”

            Finally, I advised him, “The only heroic thing you can do is to save yourself.”
            That’s it.
            Told you it was short.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Method to my Madness Monday: Build Your Story/Build Your Barge

Building your story is like building a floating concert hall: neither one comes finished.
This is kind of what Aunt Olga's barge looked like when she bought it.

                This is the beginning of Saved by the Music, chapter two – when Willow (aka me) sees the interior of the barge her aunt wants to convert into a concert hall:
                Maybe the inside looked better.
                Aunt Agatha yanked open the thick metal door of the cabin.
                Any hopes I had were swept away in an explosion of dirt and dust. Particles went up my nose and down my throat, sending me into a coughing and sneezing fit.  “Sorry, Love. I’ll have to remember to clean up around this door,” Aunt Agatha said.
                Once the cloud and I cleared, I saw a cavern, big and dark and spooky. That’s all it was — one huge, bleak steel room, about the size of my school gym, with a regular sized door at either end, and gigantic sliding doors on each side. The walls, floor and ceiling were covered with grime. Piles of wood cluttered the room, plus other construction-type junk.
                “What do you think?” Aunt Agatha chirped, propping the door open with a crowbar. “Isn’t she a beaut?”
                I cleared my throat. “It’s not what I pictured.”
                She laughed. “What is?” She tweaked my nose. “You didn’t think the place came all finished, did you?”

            Your story doesn’t come all finished, either.
            Just as my aunt saw the potential in the dreary cavern, so must the writer see his completed work through the jumbled mess in his mind.
            Aunt Olga enjoyed restoring each piece of wood for the walls and the floor. She reveled in painting the roof. The whole project was a labor of love. And she was no spring chicken.
            So here’s a clue: If you don’t love the writing process – maybe you’re not a writer.
            Sure, there’s frustrating moments. Many.
            Soooooo many.
            “Oh my god,” you may scream, “I have to revise that #?!@!?# scene again?
            But once you sit down and work on it, you’re happy. This is what you were meant to do! The fun is in the revision. In finding “le mot juste,” as Flaubert called it: The perfect word.

            If you don’t enjoy going over the same sentence seventeen times (bare minimum) to make sure it sings, you might want to reconsider your path.
            Go find something else that makes you heart sing – life is too short.
            But if you identify with these words, then go forth and write! Build your scenes, bird by bird (once again, I urge you to read Anne Lamott’s beautiful book.)

             You are the pig who built his house out of bricks, not straw or sticks.

You are taking the time to build the strongest story ever!!!

             Remember my aunt and her dark cavern.
            She believed she could build it into a concert hall.
             See the metaphor?

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
-Henry Ford

If you'd like to read my novel Saved by the Music, here's the link for Amazon:

There's a lot going on in this cover, if you look closely. See the face, the music strings, the skyline, the water...and the barge?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Requiem for my Aunt Olga Bloom


           My friend Orel called me last night and told me I’d been omitted from my Aunt Olga Bloom’s obituary in The New York Times.
            It upset me. She was the most influential person in my life, and I was the same in hers. She'd said it many times.
            But Aunt Olga would say, “Let it go, love. What does it matter? We hold the truth in our hearts.”
            She would be right, of course.
            She was always right.
            It was maddening, sometimes.
            But oh so comforting, as well.
            In my dark childhood Aunt Olga would arrive outside my house, shouting, "Hello, Old Chum!" She'd whisk me away in her battered Volkswagen Beetle, riding shotgun in a seat with no back. She’d removed it to carry planks of wood for her barge. Off we roared! On expeditions. It didn’t matter where. It only mattered that it was the two of us. She was the only person in my life who made me feel special. I would be locked in a mental institution right now pounding my head on the padded walls if not for her.
            We did not agree musically. She loved classical music, obviously. I adored rock & roll. But I did like Chopin, I admitted grudgingly – for teenagers hate to enjoy anything adults treasure. I also came to look forward to “The Four Seasons,” which they performed on the barge every Easter. And, at Christmas and New Year’s, The Brandenburg’s were pretty okay, too.

            I guess it was all pretty okay. It just took me a while to appreciate it – like many things in life. Rarely do we comprehend the beauty of what is right in front of us.
            I did appreciate Aunt Olga, though. We loved each other madly. She tried so hard to get me to play the violin – she even bribed me, paying me ten cents per line – but all I wanted was to write. It took her so many years to accept that. It wasn’t until she read my manuscript Evolution that she embraced me as a writer – a real writer. “My God, child,” she said, “I stayed up all night reading. I couldn’t put it down. You’ve written something worthy of Shakespeare. And the insights into humanity...You are so young for them...”
            That was one of the happiest days of my life: When Aunt Olga approved of my work. I don’t know if I could’ve found the strength to write such a gut-wrenching thing, if not for her love.
            Then there was the book I wrote about us: Saved by the Music. She couldn’t get past the opening at first, saying “I can’t bear to think of the sadness in your life.”
            But I told her she was the one who got me through, and she was able to read the rest. And she was proud – of me, and this tribute to her.
            Because she was proud of me, I was proud of me, too.
            My aunt taught me that there was no such thing as "no." There was only “not yet.”
            When people laughed at her dream, she laughed louder, agreeing that it was indeed a funny thing – but knowing that all great accomplishments started out with something humorous, or even ludicrous.
            When she brought me to her barge – the barge she was inspired to buy because of me, to give me a safe, creative haven – she stretched out her arms and declared, “Welcome home, love!”
            It was a disgusting, grey place – but it was home because she said so.
            My aunt was my home.
            And then, because I wanted so badly for her vision to come true, I helped her. I didn't love doing it, but I did it anyway. With me by her side, Aunt Olga turned that atrocious barge into Bargemusic.   

             Aunt Olga and I did share the same romantic tendencies. I read a love letter she wrote to her second husband, Toby: “I worship you,” she wrote. “You are God.”
            I so could have written that.
            She was a free spirit who truly lived the life she wanted, and she didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought about it. She was a floating, Russian Auntie Mame.
            She was Aunt Olga.
            Thank God, she was Aunt Olga.
            My old chum.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tomorrow: A Revolutionary Life Revisited

Aunt Olga and Lovely Bloom during the early days of the barge

I apologize for missing today's Revolutionary Saturday.

On Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - my aunt, Olga Bloom, passed away.

To say she was beloved is an understatement.

My aunt's concert hall, Bargemusic, was known the world over.

My aunt brought joy to this world.

Tomorrow, I will hopefully be able to get my thoughts together and write a suitable tribute to Aunt Olga.

They don't make them more revolutionary than her.

As Aunt Olga - first and foremost a musician - was fond of saying: "I love you darling, but the season is over."

It was a helluva season.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Take A Closer Look At Reunions With Guest Blogger Author Karen DelleCava!

Today I welcome guest blogger Karen DelleCava, my friend and the author of a brand new YA novel: A Closer Look.

Karen's website - www.KarenDellecava.Com - is lovely. Please visit it to learn more about her - and read a chapter of her awesome book.

Karen is also a model (just kidding - but she could be!)

"There are a lot of great YA's out there, but it has been a long time since I read one as hard-hitting and in-your-face as A Closer Look..."
-Young Adult Book Central, 5 star review

I'm particularly excited for Karen and her book because she and I have been friends for years. We meet in a New School writing class/support group. Karen has always championed my (& everyone else's) books. It's about time she had her own parade!

Karen and I were roomies at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. We even went on swamp tour together - and held a baby alligator!

That's me in between Karen (right) and Scars/Hunted author Cheryl Rainfield. This picture was taken at the WestSide Books booth at ALA New Orleans. We will never have another WestSide Books booth photo (sob...)

Karen agreed to pinch-hit for me at the last minute this week. Fortuitously, she'd just been to a class reunion, and she was bubbling with some thoughts about it. (You know us writers.)

Karen (from New Jersey) and I (from Long Island) are teaming up with two other tri-state area WestSide Books authors to bring you an adventerous new group blog soon: Got Teen Fiction? Even though WestSide Books is gone as we knew it, we Westies stick together!

Welcome, Karen:

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! It’s great to be here on this lovely Black Friday far from bumper to bumper traffic and those enthusiastic bargain-hunting power shoppers.

Thanksgiving weekend is typically earmarked for class reunions—next year’s a biggie for me—30 years! Passaic Valley H.S. Class of 82ers (Go Hornets!) meet casually every year for those who still live in the area. The cool thing about a reunion is how old friends come together with a shared, unique and irreplaceable past. Classes, sports, clubs, the music, secret crushes and not-so-secret crushes. Sure we’ve made other friends since high school but none that remember what we remember, none that knew us when. It was neat to see how many of us have remained tight with the same people for 3 decades.

Two nights ago, I was hanging out with friends, some I hadn’t seen since last year or even longer. Conversations about careers, kids, parents, marriage and divorce all moved along seamlessly. Talking about our kids was especially interesting because a lot of us have kids in high school and we couldn’t help comparing them to us at that age. Yikes!

As I listened to their voices, I was transported back in time to the teen emotions that I always try to draw on. There were plenty of laughs back then but plenty of angst and tears, too. My two closest friends couldn’t make it and I had to actually rationalize that there’d be plenty of people I could talk to if I went alone. See? Still feeling the angst. 

As I writer, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to chat with someone from high school, it jump starts so many emotions—good and bad—but honest which is paramount for my characters. As a PVHS Class of 82er, I’ll never pass up a reunion if I have the opportunity give a friend a hug, look into their eyes and ask about their lives. If you have a reunion this weekend, give it a shot, you’ll be glad you did.

Before I dive into a hunk of pumpkin pie, I want to mention how excited I am about our group blog, Got Teen Fiction? launching next year with you, Shari Maurer, author of Change of Heart and Joe Lunievicz, author of Open Wounds! It should be a blast!

Have a great rest of the weekend!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Share Your Miracle & Win A Kindle!!!

Here’s a story about a miracle:

A few years ago the transmission in my Ford Windstar died in the left lane of the Long Island Expressway in Queens. It was terrifying. I still can’t believe I didn’t get hit by some maniac speeding too fast to stop in time. A police car came and sat behind me,

but once they’d arranged for a tow truck, they left me sitting there, vulnerable and scared.

This has been a frequent theme in my life.

The miracle has nothing to do with that ­– but I figured I’d fill you in on the circumstances leading to the miracle. Call it backstory.

I made it off the LIE and got towed to the car dealer. Then I got a car rental and went home. There was a whole debate about whether the warranty on the transmission would cover the car rental. On the phone, I told the representative from Ford that I hoped one day he would find a job with redemption. (I’ve actually told a few people from Ford that.)

The miracle is coming, I promise...

I got home and did whatever I needed to do with my kids after school. My younger son, Casey, and I took our dog, J.D. (after Salinger,

not Jack Daniels) to the school field to play. Sometime during our frolicking, the rental car keys fell out of my pocket. I realized they were gone when we got back home and I wanted to drive to the store.

“Oh, well, I’ll find them tomorrow,” I said to Casey. “I know they’re on the field.” That was good of me, not to panic. I was proud of myself.

I went back with JD the next morning to find the keys. At first, I was fine. I figured I’d find them eventually. But after about an hour I started to freak. This was a big field.

I looked up at the sky, spread my arms out wide, and demanded, “Are you gonna help me, or what?”

I looked down at the grass. My keys were right there, in front of my feet.

So there you go. Take from this story what you will. I took a lot, the biggest thing being the assurance that I was not alone in this world, and that if I asked for help I would get it.

And what happened with the car rental? Ford agreed to pay for it.

Henry Ford wrote one of my favorite quotes, incidentally:
“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

I have another story about a miracle involving a Ford Focus Matchbox car. I’ll tell you next week. I know you can’t wait.

Got a story about a miracle? Share it with me, and you could win yourself or someone you love a Kindle.

There are other ways to win:

1. Follow this blog.
2. Post this contest in your status on any social media.
3. E-mail your favorite quote on "miracles" to Ldymcbeth@aol.com.
4. Review one of my books (there are four) on your blog, Goodreads or Amazon.
5. I'm open to other creative ideas for entries. Try me!
You will receive one entry for each thing you do. I will select ONE winner out of all the entries on Thursday, December 15.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hokey Pokey Wednesday: Gratitude in a Different Light

Gratitude is a funny thing. It kind of slips up on you.

I used to hold so many grudges against the people who hurt me. I knew they weren’t going to apologize, but I was stuck in the heated mire of my rage.

It was my chiropractor who came up with the solution. (Dr. Daniel Silver in Rockville Centre, NY, if you happen to be in the area.)

“When people hurt you, thank them.”


“They’ve given you a life experience that will help you grow. Thank them, and move on.”

He is quite the guru.

Now I had the answer, but implementing it took time, and guts. I tried meditating, but wound up sending silent curses to those who had wounded me.

Then one day I woke up and said, “Thank you.”

I really felt grateful. I don’t even know why. Maybe I was just fed up with sitting in my angry chair. Someone on Facebook wrote the other day, “Build a bridge and get over it.” Yeah. It was like I’d constructed my own route across the pain.

If I knew the exact formula I could write a self-help book and made a fortune. But I’ll have to settle for a free self-help blog.

All I can say it that when I said “thank you” and meant it, the heavens opened and smiled on me. I felt a load being lifted from my chest. I swear, I heard music like in the movies.

At the risk of sounding like a religious zealot, I know God (or whatever you want to call the universal force) led me to this moment of liberation. In fact, like Dorothy, I had the power all along. I just had be brave enough to use it. Because gratitude is a leap of faith.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tightrope Tuesday: A Week With Mom

I could be happy here...as long as laptops are allowed.

This Tightrope Tuesday is a bit different in that it focuses on the time I've spent parenting my mother.

How can a child parent a mother? You may ask.

The answer is, not well.

It seems to happen with the children of alcoholics. I remember identifying with David Hasselhoff’s daughter as she pleaded for him to get up off the floor and go to his acting job, which he would lose if he didn’t show up that day.

Sometimes children have to hold the world up, like Atlas.

My mother is not an alcoholic, but she is mentally ill. I don’t know exactly what she is¸ because she never went to therapy. But I’ve spent much couch time diagnosing her in absentia.

The consensus is: bipolar. Maybe medication would’ve helped. Maybe my childhood could’ve been rescued by a little pill. We’ll never know.

I’m not going to get into all that “David Copperfield” crap – as Holden Caulfield calls it. If you want to know about my lousy childhood, read my novel Saved by the Music. You’ll get the gist. There were newspapers. Lots of newspapers, everywhere. The New York Times gives me the chills.

Mom was (is) a hoarder. Now her stuff is not only piled – it’s decaying. The house stinks.

(I couldn't find a Google image as bad as her house interior looks.)

If you read my Facebook updates you’ll know that my mom arrived on my doorstep last Monday evening. That fateful morning, the electric company shut down her lights – the culmination to years of warnings that she needed to have her circuit box repaired.

Like a little girl she phoned me, “Selene, something terrible has happened. The house just went dark.”

She was at a neighbor’s, because she’d lost yet another cell phone a month ago, and had neglected to replace it. But frankly I think she likes asking for help. She gets attention from it. Oh, help me, help me. She's like Blanche DuBois: "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers."

Naturally I thought she hadn’t paid the bill (which has happened.) It took a while to ascertain the real problem.

I called an electrician and arranged for them to come. I thanked the neighbor. I told my mother to go home and leave the neighbor alone (she stayed there for three hours, and he'd never even met her before!) Then I hung up and went about my life – which means I sat down to write.

But the work on her house never got done that day. The electrician came, and my mother refused to let him do the work because she had to “think about it.”

That’s how she wound up here.

The week has been a series of unfortunate events. She’s lost her car keys twice (they are gone at the moment) and also the new cell phone she purchased on Wednesday. The lights are still not on, though the work was finally done and the electric company claims to have restored her service. She paid some handy man the hardware store clerk recommended $75 to come and flip her breaker switch because she didn’t think she was strong enough to do it herself, even though a neighbor had tried. (Her poor neighbors!)

Through this all I have been nice –mostly. Sometimes she pushes me too far. How many times can I answer the same questions? She asks how to use the microwave repeatedly (for years, she’s been asking how many minutes for tea, and what buttons to push.)

She sure knows what buttons of mine to push!

She forgets the things she asked me a moment ago¸ and when I answer again, she forgets again. You may call it dementia, but she’s always been demented. It’s just worse now.

People ask me, “Don’t you feel bad for her?”

I say, “No. I feel bad for me. I don’t want to be her parent anymore. She never learns.”

Last night I left her by her car waiting for AAA to come give her a jump¸ even though I knew they couldn’t do it without the real key (she found some skeleton emergency key, but she has a short circuit in her alarm that has to be clicked off.) I told her this, but she didn’t listen. I had to go home to my kids. So I called road service and I told her, “Good luck.”

About an hour later she called me from another neighbor’s. (At this point I think she must’ve hit every house on the block.) “Selene, they couldn’t jump the car without the regular key.”

“I know, Mom. I told you that would happen.”

“The driver was very nasty. I think he was drunk.”

“I doubt that.”

Earlier she’d called the pharmacist “a jerk” when he didn’t want to renew her prescriptions sooner than authorized. “I can’t help it if I lost my pills,” she’d grumbled.

“What should I do?” she asked now.

What else? “Take a cab here,” I told her.

“Oh, okay,” she said, sounding relieved.

The only people having a good week are the cab drivers. They are making a mint.

So my challenge this week has been not as a true parent, but as an unwilling surrogate to my mom.

Incidentally, I left out the parts where she turns into a raging lunatic. That’s her other persona. Her whole voice changes. It’s a scary tone, but I always preferred it because at least it was authoritative. No child wants to be responsible for their mother.

It’s been a helluva week. My son Michael says this is an endurance test. The thing that helps the most is that I’m not alone in this experience. My kids see that my mom is nuts. Before, no one believed me. She can put on a good short-term act, and she’s real good at playing the wounded victim in front of people.

Most of all, this week has been a lesson in appreciating the life I have.

I worried that I’d be like her. I’m not.

So there.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Method to my Madness Monday: Get Thee to a Writing Group! Go!

Writing is like life. You need to be in isolation to sort things out, but your heart cries out for companionship.

This is why you must find a group.

Just as we search out friends with similar interests or, sometimes, troubles – so should we seek writing buddies. Like the swim pals we had as children, our writing buddies will have our backs – and whistle if we start to flounder.

Here are my top ten reasons for finding a writing group:

Reason one: You’re with like-minded people. There’s something to be said for a group mind-set – a common focus. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for that.

Reason two: You have a deadline. Let’s face the facts: the writing gets pushed aside more than you’re willing to admit, right?

But you have to submit to the group by Wednesday. People are waiting!!! So you skip that episode of reality trash you were going to veg out to, with your wine and/or ice cream (sound familiar?) Instead, you’re going to create something. Go, you!

Reason three: You have people who chant: Go, you! In a world of doubters & detractors­, this is essential.

Reason four: Your work will improve! Believe it or not, you’re not an impartial judge of your own writing. Go figure.

Reason five: With the group’s comments in your head, you’ll be able to self-edit somewhat better. Your work will improve even more!

Reason six: You have something to look forward to that’s just yours: not your mate’s, not your kids’, not your creditors’. And there’s no calories or indiscretions or felonies involved (as long as you don’t eat the Starbucks desserts, encounter a tall, dark stranger in the parking lot, or rob a gas station on your way home.)

Reason seven: Reading your buddies’ work will inspire you. It’s all part of that group mentality/energy thing.

Reason eight: You will lead a happier, productive life because you are doing the thing you were meant to do!

Reason nine: Your families will be happier because you are happier. You will inspire them to follow their dreams!

Reason ten: Your new positive life-force will ignite the universe. You will be the change you wish to see in the world.

Go confidently! Live the life you’ve imagined! And it all starts with a writing group!

Mine meets tonight ;)