Posted By Susan Bernhardt

This past weekend my husband, Bill and I went up to the northwoods of Wisconsin. Our 100+ year old, 3 bedroom cabin, that we rent every September, is on a wooded island surrounded by a pristine lake. It was the first time in ten years we would be up there alone. My ideal weekend consisted of relaxation, romance, and to decompress from the internet, cellphones, etc.

Early Friday evening after getting unpacked and a fire started in the stone fireplace, Bill asked me put on some music while he poured us a glass of wine. I had packed music that I thought Bill would enjoy: jazz, classical and included an album that I loved and thought would be romantic. Clearly, it was the best album of the weekend. I put on Santana's, Supernatural Album.

Bill said immediately, "That's not cabin music."

I responded, "I think it is."

There is a song called "Smooth" and when that came on, I suggested that we dance. With the wood fire crackling, the dimmed lights (I hadn't replaced the bulbs yet with higher wattage ones I had brought along for reading.) I thought it was incredibly romantic.

That night the temperature went down to 30 degrees.

Around 9:30 the next morning, Bill announced that it was warming up and that we should go kayaking. I looked at the thermometer on the screened porch. It read 39 degrees. Agreeing, I started looking for my winter hat and gloves that I had packed while Bill put on sunscreen. Soon he headed off to the kayaks. I asked him to please check out mine for snakes, insects, etc. (I'm very outdoorsy.) as they are stored outside, upside down. (Once there was a toad in my kayak.)

Last summer I had experienced a near drowning incident while kayaking with friends on a wild river, that was way out of our league. After hitting a limestone bluff, my kayak overturned. The current was strong in that area. Under water, I was unable to get my legs out of the kayak. Luckily I was pulled out by my friend, Lisa who had once been a life guard. I had bruises over most of both lower legs and on my arms. This kayaking experience is told in my third Kay Driscoll mystery when Kay has a similar experience. By the way, for those of you who have been asking, "Murder Under the Tree," the second Kay Driscoll mystery is coming out this fall.

When I got to the kayak, the compartment for my legs looked incredibly tiny. I undid the upper clasp on my life jacket, as I felt closed in and was having trouble taking a deep breath. I got in, but kept my legs on top of the kayak.

The lake was calm, the surface smooth like a mirror. It was the most peaceful feeling, gliding along past the trees. I felt again like I had previous to the accident. When we got to the other side of the island the water was more choppy, the wind was blowing us out more towards the center of the lake. We went around the island in a little over an hour.

I had brought along three jackets. One for falling into the lake, a winter jacket that I wore most of the weekend, and a lighter jacket that I immediately put back in the car as it was cold. Actually I also bought three pair of shoes along. Two for falling into the lake. Like I would ever really need two pairs for that.

The rest of the weekend we boated, kayaked again, went for walks around the area, into town to the gift shops much to Bill's delight. ;), read, listened to music, watched movies, had fires, drank a glass or two more of wine. It was relaxing.

Saturday evening we went out to dinner. Seated by a window, we overlooked another lake. As I watched the water, I commented to Bill that the lake reminded me of a Monet painting, with the lily pads, the reflection of the sky, and the ripples in the water. In his lily pad painting, Monet had captured what was in motion and I could see why.

Bill said, "Reality isn't always perfectly in focus."

Profound, I thought.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

In August I went on a mini-road trip to the Milwaukee area to visit my brother and sister-in-law and to meet up later in the week with some friends in Sheboygan. I drove our new SUV that my husband usually took to work. To date, I had only driven this vehicle for about twenty minutes total.

Earlier that morning, my husband, Bill left for work in our other car where I kept CDs that were great for driving (and singing), i.e. Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, etc. (or Excedrin as Bill would say.) So on the way out of the house, I grabbed a few CDs out of our living room cabinet. In the few minutes I had to pick out the music, I chose Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms, Meat Loaf - Storytellers, Tom Petty's Greatest Hits, John Prine, and Queen.

I had my sunglasses on, the windows down, and the wind in my hair. I figured some captivating music was in order to begin my six hour drive and you couldn't go wrong with Queen so I put it in the CD player first. It's amazing the high notes Freddy Mercury reaches. When the music ended, I pushed nearly each of the thirty buttons on the sound dashboard trying to eject the CD while still watching the road.

I saw the Sirius music button on the car and I didn't even want to try to go there. Bill has a USB media stick that plugs into the car stereo with mp3s on it that he gives verbal commands to. Again, no way was I going to try and figure that out either. So I put Meatloaf's Storytellers in and drove like a "Bat Out Of Hell." By the time I finished listening to it, I wanted to tell Meatloaf, "Enough with the talking. Sing!" He has a great voice and the music was brilliant...lots of great singing parts.

Bill and I had just gone to listen to a Tom Petty tribute band in July so next I put in Tom Petty's Greatest Hits. Well some of them were but I skipped over the rest.

The two remaining CDs were John Prine and Dire Straits. I remembered there was a sad song on the John Prine CD that made me cry every time I heard it and I didn't want to mess up my makeup, so I decided instead to listen to Dire Straits. One Christmas many years ago, I gave almost everyone I knew the Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms CD. I thought it was great music with a strong beat. Almost right away I had had enough of MTV but the other songs were pretty good.

I looked at the John Prine CD. I didn't want to play it but I had listened to everything else. I drove in silence for a while. Finally I put it in. There wasn't just the one sad song I remembered but four! I was trying hard not to cry. I kept wiping my eyes with a tissue. They were brimming with tears. When I was about twenty minutes from my brother's home, I thought, I couldn't show up on his doorstep like this, so I ejected the CD and put Queen back in. And sang "We Are the Champions" to perk myself up.

I am going to be travelling this week again. I'll be sure to set out the right music the night before, plus now I know how to use the media stick.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Today I have my friend, David Bazan on my website. He is an Award Winning Stage/Screenwriter who recently completed his first novel. I've read several of David's scripts. He has an amazing mind and dialogue is his forte.

Talking About Talkin' by David Bazan

Example 1:             

Julia put her fork down, looked around the lush restaurant with intensity in her eyes, and felt so out of place. She was embarrassed. She thought she was underdressed, no, she definitely knew she underdressed, and everyone must be staring at her. There was something on Julia's mind. It had been there since they walked into the place she never knew existed. She licked her lips, gave the place one quick look, slowly batted her eyes, and whispered too loudly, "So, do fancy places like this have a place for a girl to pee?"

Example 2:             

"... and then I told Marge," Fred said, lifting the sledge hammer from the bed of his truck, nodded to Jimbo, and Clive, and waited, "I told her she ain’t goin' to no reunion, wit 'er high skool sweetheart, no damn way, but-."             

"-Ahhh, I just don't see why you boat 're still together," said Clive, placing the three inch spike on the beam, then nodding in its direction for Fred’s attention, "here, hit her right here, right on the freakin’ head."             

Jimbo, standing in his normal work position, with his right elbow on his shovel head, and his chin on his arm, said, "I think she's havin' an affair, you axe me-"             

"- Come on! Why'd you even go dare,” Clive cut in, “why you say sumpin' like da about this poor idiot's wife?” Clive took firm hold of the spike and prompted, “bash it here, come on Fred, show her... ahh, show it whose boss."             

What makes good dialogue?

Hell, I don't know, I just know that my best reviews come from dialogue, so I’m going to share a bit of what I’ve learned.

My first example deals with contrasting dialogue, and incongruity. This is the basis of good comedy writing. (1) Setting up an image in the readers mind. (2) Reinforce the image. (C) Pay it off with something completely unexpected.  

In the second example, we see a bit of subtext, where Fred is complaining to Clive and Jimbo, about his wife's latest adventures, while his two co-workers use their work to add a bit of comedy and meaning to their words.  

So, what is, and isn't good dialogue?

Dialogue is not: A method of delivering your story.

Dialogue is: always an expression of the character. It is never enough to write a whole story based solely on a name, occupation, and age. Each character must have a unique makeup; traits that help them stand apart. Furthermore, every character must possess underlying, and perhaps unflattering traits, hidden from the world, and maybe hidden from the characters themselves, that help to drive their motivation. Every line of dialogue must reveal and reflect at least one, or more, of those traits to be effective and supportive.

Finally, dialogue is not neat, and dialogue is not perfect. In real life, people jump on over each other’s comments, they get mental stutters, they mispronounce and misunderstand words, speak in circles, and even speak volumes with silence. If you are a serious writer, then I would highly suggest a trip to the food court of a mall. Sit there, be quiet, and listen to dialogue.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Cuba, Adiós, a compelling memoir written by my friend, Lorenzo Martinez, was published today. Lorenzo was part of Operation Pedro Pan (Operación Pedro Pan) a secretive mass exodus from 1960-1962 of 14,000 unaccompanied minors to the United States to escape the Castro regime.

From the first time I read Lorenzo's work years ago, I fell in love with his beautiful, lyrical writing. Since then, I have become addicted.

Lorenzo, please tell us a bit about yourself and about Operation Pedro Pan.

When I came to the United States as part of Operación Pedro Pan, I was eighteen years old. I came with a younger brother, 14. Our task, as was the mandate given to the thousands of children in the program, was to care for our younger siblings, some were as young as three and four, apply for our parents’ visas, get reunited with them and return to Cuba in a few months. Fidel would not last was the general belief at the time. But then the October Missile Crisis took place. The United States confronted Russia about the propagation of missiles in Cuba, and everything changed. No one could leave Cuba, except through a third country, a difficult and costly proposition. Our parents were stuck, and it took us four years before we were reunited with them. Many Pedro Pan children never saw their parents again. The separation from our families and uncertainty of the future was a time of great sadness for all Pedro Pans. Our parents lost everything, homes, businesses, cars, bank accounts. It was tragic and traumatic for all of us.

Is there an underlying message in Cuba, Adiós?

The underlying message is that to achieve happiness you must accept who you are today and say goodbye to the past. The precept, which we've heard many times before, is easier said than done. For me, self-acceptance came sooner than letting go of Cuba, a country that kept pulling me in with powerful memories of all I had lost. After fifty years, I realized the chances of my going back to live there again were slim. I had to say goodbye to that dream. I wrote my book to keep the memories alive, accept the what was, ignore the what ifs and enjoy my life here fully. A great deal of healing took place as I wrote the book.

Originally your title was What Says the Moon? Why did you change the title?

While I was in this country, away from family and everything and everyone I was familiar with, loneliness suffocated me. The moon became a constant, a friend I could confide my secrets to, one I'd never lose because of politics. I loved the title What Says the Moon, but as I got closer to publication I realized the title fit a novel better than a memoir. I had to come up with one that would immediately telegraph to someone browsing through other memoirs what my story was about. Since leaving my past behind was the core of my book, I chose Cuba, Adiós.

What were the challenges in bring your memoir to life?

The challenges were many. I was writing about personal experiences, some of which were extremely painful, and was unsure how people, particularly family, would react to them. It was not my intention to hurt anyone, so I debated long and hard about how much to include and how to say it. In the end, I had to be truthful to my story and myself. I changed names and identifying details of some people to protect their privacy while keeping the vulnerability and pain my interactions with them caused me. The benefit of distance helped me to write about those difficult experiences with sympathy for the people involved. Still, reliving those moments brought on torrential tears.

Please continue immediately below.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

What was your process of self-publishing like?

I was fortunate that early on, even before the book was completed, a literary agent in New York agreed to represent me. When I finished the manuscript, after several revisions, she submitted it to a number of traditional publishers. All passed, but offered encouraging comments, “strong voice,” “interesting story,” “evocative language.” After a year of this, I decided to look into self-publishing and researched everything that was out there offering support to authors interested in it. This took a while. Self-publishing is no longer considered taboo by the industry, and I’m glad I pursued this option.

What will your marketing through the Pedro Pan group be?

I belong to a Pedro Pan group on Facebook and they've been very supportive, commenting on my blog and my book while I was still writing it. I'm hoping they'll embrace the book now that it's out and help me spread the word. In September, an exhibit about Operación Pedro Pan will open in Miami at the Freedom Tower, former headquarters for the Miami Herald. I've contributed several items to the exhibit, including the trousers I wore on the flight from Cuba. My book will also be on display. This is so exciting.

I know your memoir will meet with great success. It's an incredible book. Where can Cuba, Adiós be purchased?

Cuba, Adiós is now available as an ebook on The print version will be out in a couple of weeks.

Thank you, Lorenzo. As always, I wish you all the best.


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