The Older Generation of Sisters in Water Signs

The Older Generation of Sisters in Water Signs

“On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, we we walk in a dream. On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, life will be peaches and cream.”

Atlantic CityI paid homage to my sister Carolyn in my last post on the occasion of her birthday, but Water Signs also features another generation of close sisters: Monica and Maria, based on my mom and my Aunt Marie (who’s name really was Maria, although everyone called her Marie).

From the time I was a little girl, I always admired the relationship between Mom and Aunt ReRe (as I affectionately referred to her), which was as close a bond as I’ve seen between siblings. Like Carolyn and me, Mom and her younger sister were also opposites, physically speaking: At 5’5″, my active mother maintains an impressive figure, even after giving birth to five children. Aunt Marie, on the other hand was — in her own words — “pleasantly plump”, although height-wise, I believe she and my mom were about the same.

Both are and were attractive women with sweet, beautiful and completely different faces. Whereas my blonde mother’s face shape is angular, frosted-haired Aunt Re Re’s was round. Mom has thin lips, Aunt Re Re had full ones — but both shared an unwavering commitment to the application of lipstick as the final touch of make-up before leaving the house. (A funny side note I will definitely incorporate into a future book: as a kid, I couldn’t get over how Aunt Marie could expertly apply make-up without ever using a mirror. She’d just laugh and tell me “Dar, I know my face!”).

In terms of personality, this passage from Chapter Four sums it up nicely:

“But though there were physical contrasts between the two sisters, each shared common traits of generosity, gregariousness, unselfishness, and — oh yes — an almost irrational love and over protectiveness when it came to their children.”

Me (left), Mom and Carolyn on Easter Sunday, 1970.

Easter Sunday, 1970.

In that same chapter, Maddy muses to herself how blessed it is indeed to be so loved and cared for by these women. Certainly as a mature adult, I’ve made enough friends and acquaintances over the years to know that very few are so fortunate. I not only grew up with a mother who loved me, cared for me, and enjoyed spending time with me, I also had an aunt who loved me as if I was her child, too. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for that.

But as I am sure my sister Carolyn and cousin Annie will attest, when you’re young, it’s tough at times to fully appreciate such expressions of love and devotion.

When I sat down to write Water Signs, I knew I wanted to pay tribute to my dear Aunt Marie, who’s been in heaven now for just over six years. Although she was actually more involved in my life during the “Jake Winston” courtship, caring for my wonderful Uncle Merle (may God rest his gentle soul), and running a business demanded pretty much all of her time when “Ken” came into the picture. So I decided to alter reality a bit.

In real life, my mom’s good friend Marion was actually staying at the Ocean City house with us when “Ken” picked me up for our first official date. A wonderful woman in her own right, Marion was a femme fatale, a sharp dresser, a quintessential female — in short, a northern version of Tennessee Williams famous character, Blanch Du Bois. Like Aunt Marie, Marion has also gone on to the next life, but she lives on in my memory. She also inspired an unforgettable line in the book, which is uttered by Aunt Maria, just as Ken and Madeline are about to depart for Atlantic City:

“Drive nicely, Ken. You’re carrying precious cargo.”

And just like Maddy, I was completely embarrassed, though I never admitted it to my date, figuring (as Maddy does) that there was nothing wrong with him knowing exactly how important my safety and well-being were to my family. Looking back, I’m fairly certain “Ken” was at least a little nervous, having recently been exposed to the entire boisterous clan over breakfast the morning after meeting me. And though I tried not show it, I most definitely had butterflies (more on that in another post).

In the early parts of the book as the relationship between Ken and Maddy progresses, Aunt Maria becomes even more of a friend, confidant and support system, much like Lori. I even managed to pay homage to our younger years, when the two sisters would pile their respective kids (Mom’s five and Re Re’s two) in the car and set off on new excursions.

Much of these remembrances I incorporated into the story through the use of flashback. Thus, one evening when Ken is having dinner with Maddy, Monica and Maria, the conversation turns nostalgic as the characters discuss one of my very favorite childhood memories involving an intense summer heat wave and the Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey:

“Ken seemed to get a kick out them, particularly the one about a hot and humid day in August, 1973, when she and Maddy’s mother had decided to take all of the kids to Great Adventure. About midway through the Safari — where even the lazy, sleeping animals seemed to have been affected by the intense heat — the air-conditioning had broken down in the car. As a woman who was often “roasting” even on the most bitter-cold winter days, Aunt Maria had insisted on rolling the windows down, only to have the park ranger scold them over the P.A. system. Good thing he had, though, because right after that a mob of baboons descended on them, apparently for the sole purpose of “christening” Monica’s brand-new, white station wagon.

“And of course, having insisted on wearing her cute new sandals instead of practical sneakers to the park, Aunt Maria had ended up in First-Aid with blisters all over her feet. After throwing the shoes away, she’d stolen her teenage son’s hockey socks so she could walk around in comfort — but not before they’d wasted most of the day waiting for someone to help her.”

Fun times for sure! And just like Madeline in the book, as a six year-old child who absolutely loved amusement park rides, I only managed to experience two of them with my mom that day when all was said and done. Still, it’s a great memory.

As for the sisters’ shared love of Atlantic City casinos and intrepid hunt for “hot” machines, that is straight out of real life too, though these days, Mom spends more time at the new Harrah’s in Chester than she does at any of the offerings on the famous boardwalk. Oh and she’s constantly imploring my aunt for some heavenly assistance, though if God indeed allows such intercession, Aunt Re Re has yet to respond with a huge jackpot. I’m thinking she’s too busy regaling other loved ones on the other side of the veil with her side-splitting stories and infectious laughter to take time out for such mundane things. She’s on to much bigger and better experiences now.

So here’s to loving mothers, fond memories and the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood. And someday when I get to heaven, I sure hope Aunt Marie tells me how happy she was with my portrayal of her.

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The Sisters of Water Signs

The Sisters of Water Signs

In honor my sister Carolyn’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Car! :)), I am dedicating today’s post to a discussion of the sister characters in Water Signs.

Born under the sign sign of Cancer (another water sign), Carolyn and I share several traits, not the least of which are fierce loyalty to family and friends, emotional sensitivity, compassion for others and a drive to succeed. Five years my senior, physically speaking, she is quite different from me — standing at a stately five-feet, seven-inches, with big dark eyes, dimpled cheeks and a light-olive complexion. (I didn’t include this real-life fact in the novel, but during the summer of Flashdance, Carolyn was actually mistaken for Jennifer Beals at an upscale South Jersey Shore restaurant, where her then-boyfriend had taken her to celebrate her birthday).

With respect to academics, well — she kind of blew me away in school. Like her, I was smart and worked hard but oftentimes my best efforts would only result in achieving “Second Honors” instead of “First” in high school (although I did occasionally attain the pinnacle of quarterly Catholic school success). My sister on the other hand, never failed to make “First Honors” every grading period in high school after earning the coveted “plaque” (an elementary school phenomenon I describe at length in Water Signs) at eighth-grade graduation; in college, she achieved a perfect 4.0 every semester and graduated at the top of her class while maintaining an active social life.

To their great credit, my parents cheered us on and acknowledged each of us as individuals, granting every child his or her just recognition for a job well done, while avoiding confidence-killing admonitions like “Your sister (brother) achieved that. Why can’t you?”

Being very much a late-bloomer, I sometimes envied Carolyn’s confidence and her easy ability to make friends. She never seemed hampered by the slings and arrows of adolescence, although she was not immune from being on the receiving end of the typical cattiness of teenage girls, or the hormonally fueled arrogance of teenage boys. In fact, although she was quite attractive, to the best of my knowledge, she did not have a steady boyfriend in high school, which I suspect was partly due to my mom’s influence. Our mother really wanted us both to get a good education and make our mark on the world before settling into marital bliss. And let’s face it: knowing that society had dramatically changed since her own carefree high school days, I am fairly certain at least some of the motivation stemmed from a desire to keep us out of “trouble”, though my mother always had the utmost faith in us.

I honor of Carolyn, I created the character of Lori Rose, newly engaged, 30 year-old sibling to Madeline who has witnessed her little sister’s heartbreaks over the years and longs for her to find happiness with the right guy. As we learn in Chapter One, Maddy’s heart has recently been broken in two by the first man she’d ever really called a boyfriend, Jake Winston (based on a real man). Among other things and for reasons having nothing to do with Madeline herself, he has beaten down her self-esteem by being overly critical of her appearance and failing to appreciate her better qualities.

Having pretended to be asleep the night Jake cruelly ends things with Maddy over the phone, the second the gut-wrenching conversation ends, Lori jumps into Maddy’s bed and, with a warm hug and these reassuring words, “I know exactly how you feel”, offers the best medicine for her sobbing sister. This is exactly how it went down in real life. And to this day I’ll never forget my sister’s kindness and compassion.

In Chapter Two, Lori’s breathless announcement — in-between uncontrollable giggles — of Ken’s presence on the other end of the phone line, is another example of fact woven into fiction. The memory of that morning and its comedy of errors — “Ken” waiting for me at the beach while I was talking the long way to mass via the Ocean City boardwalk, then arriving home to discover “Carmen” had apprised everyone of the “new guy” I’d met — is one that will stay with me forever. Part of the upside of having a close family is that they take joy in your potential joys; part of the downside of having a close family is that it’s next to impossible to keep anything, no matter how personal, a secret for long.

In Water Signs (and in my own life), as Maddy nervously takes the call in her parents’ bedroom (where she’d mistakenly believed she’d have some privacy), it’s only a matter of seconds before her excited mother and sister appear at her side, with her mother mouthing the words, “invite him over for breakfast”. And yes, Ken’s reaction in the book is pretty much verbatim to the real-life Ken: “In my bathing suit? Are you kidding? I can’t meet your family like that!”

Later on, when Maddy is under pressure to end the relationship due to Ken’s lack of a college education, Lori (like Carolyn) takes her side, encouraging her to follow her heart and disregard their mother’s misguided, though well-intentioned, opinion on the matter.

Throughout Part One, Lori remains a loyal sister, a trusted confidant and a voice of reason. Though for dramatic purposes, we don’t see much of her in Part Two until the very end, my own sister continues to be a welcome presence in my life — another great gift from God I know I can depend on.

Happy Birthday, Carolyn! May all of your wishes come true! xoxo


God and Spirituality in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, Part Two

God and Spirituality in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, Part Two

In Part One, I discussed the prevalence of faith, God and spirituality in Water Signs, and the important role they play in the development of the plot and characters. Coming from a traditional home and raised in the Catholic Church, it never occurred to me that everyday activities —  like reading my daily horoscope with my mom every morning before going to school, and later, starting each day with a passage from the Daily Word magazine — could be perceived by many as “anti-Christian, or anti-God”.

Neither has ever changed the fundamental beliefs with which I was raised. Nor did the supernatural experience I had with the “remote viewing” psychic who turned out to be the only one who could rid me of the menacing panic and anxiety disorder that plagued me for many years.

When choosing to make some of my own trials and tribulations public knowledge via the character of Madeline Rose, I also strove to uphold traditional faith. In the Prologue, readers discover that the two main characters are taking marriage vows at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Deerfield Beach, FL and throughout the book, attending weekly mass is an integral part of Maddy’s life. In fact, much of her role as a catalyst for Ken involves helping him find his way back to their shared religious faith, although Maddy accomplishes it strictly through example:

“Hey Maddy?”


“What time is mass tonight at St. Augustine, do you know?”

“Um, I am pretty sure it is still 6 p.m. on Saturday. Don’t think they’ve gone back to winter hours yet. Why?”

“Because I’d like to go with you before we have dinner.”

“Really?” Maddy was happily surprised by his request. Although she was a regular churchgoer, it had never been her style to force anyone else to adopt her habits; as long as a man respected her right to attend mass, she was fine with him staying home. Much more important to Maddy was the way in which he conducted his life. After all, Jake knelt in a pew every Sunday, and it hadn’t prevented him from mistreating her.

“Sure,” he said softly. “You inspire me, Madeline Rose. I want to do everything the right way.”

And of course, at this phase of the book, “the right way” also entails waiting until marriage before consummating their relationship, just like God intended — something Ken is more than willing to do, having realized from the start that Madeline is no ordinary woman. But such high ideals also cause complications in the relationship, not simply due to normal, raging hormones, but also to each one’s nagging insecurities.

While Ken is thrilled by the prospect of someday being Maddy’s “first”, he fears the fact that he’s being with other women somehow diminishes her opinion of him. In Chapter 6, during an intimate moment, he flat-out asks if she’s bothered by his past:

“Does it bother you that I’ve been with a woman before?”

“Kenny, no,” she sighed. “No…I don’t judge you for that at all. I mean, it’s completely normal. It’s just that…well…I wish we were on the same level playing field in that regard, that’s all. I know it’s probably too much to hope for with any guy, but it kind of makes me feel bad, like I’m not being fair to you.”

“Shh,” he replied softly. “Madeline Rose, I am here with you because I wanna be. There’s no one else like you out there. And if I have to wait to marry you before I can be with you, then that is exactly what I’m gonna do.”

And while Catholic faith and family upbringing are motivating factors, there’s also a much deeper psychological reason for Madeline’s reticence — the devastating duo of fear and insecurity. But try as she might, she remains frustratingly unable to express her true feelings to Ken who, as a result, spends a great deal of the book hurt and confused by her actions.

For Maddy, it went far beyond the “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” teachings of the Catholic Church, repeated so often throughout her schooling she could almost hear them in her sleep. She’d long ago accepted the validity of these words; indeed, she took them to heart and wanted nothing more than to give herself to her husband — whoever he might turn out to be — for the very first time on their wedding night. It was simply that, as she grew older, she realized how few people, good people, had practically applied the same beliefs.

In Part Two, as Maddy is adjusting to life in South Florida, coping with the news of Ken’s engagement to another woman, and running into some pretty dishonorable men (I will devote another post to the exploration of the minor male characters of the book, deliberately created as a contrast to Ken), her faith in God is the one constant in her life, aside from the support of family and close friends.

Moving through these difficulties compels her to develop a deeper understanding and relationship with her Creator, an effort that is eventually assisted by Ann Claire and Unity Church. However, Madeline never once renounces the tenets of the faith within which she was raised, perceiving these new insights simply as methods for breathing life into her belief system. As a result, she’s a stronger, more emotionally mature and spiritually advanced woman by the time she and Ken reunite toward the end of the novel.

For his part, Ken has also done quite a bit of maturing by the end — mainly due to the responsibilities of fatherhood, the pressing demands of a successful career, and the struggle to save a marriage which, in the end, fails in spite of his best efforts. Still, the process of honoring his commitments makes him a better man. And it is not until his divorce is final that he and Madeline even come back into each other’s lives — a reunion that is guided along by the advice of a psychic.

To emphasize the characters’ closeness with their respective mothers and to bring their spirituality full-circle, I purposely created Chapter 31 to center around a Mothers Day celebration at the home of Carl and Paula Lockheart, Ken’s parents. He and Maddy have just spent a platonic night together in Madeline’s home, after having spent an entire day rediscovering each other and clearing up the misunderstandings from the past. I will delve more into the specifics of this mutual emotional release in another post, but it is no coincidence that their forgiveness of each other’s previous transgressions and reaffirmation of their love for each other is confirmed through their attendance at mass the next day:

“Standing in the pew with him again, reciting familiar prayers and singing timeless church hymns had been such a powerfully emotional experience — and yet another example of having come “full-circle”. There were several moments during the service when she found herself dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, thoroughly overwhelmed in the best sense of the word. It was during those times that Ken would look over and smile, or squeeze her hand reassuringly.”

This divine experience is followed by Madeline finally meeting Ken’s parents after sixteen long years — a delightful scene that unfolds over dinner and karaoke at the elder Lockhearts’ Royal Oak Hills home, where among other welcome news, Maddy learns that Carl and Ken have also reconciled their past differences and now share a close father-son relationship. This scene also marks the first time she has sung in front of audience in quite some time, another example of coming full-circle.

Both characters also acknowledge the hand of God not just in their much-desired reunion, but along the broken road that ultimately led them back to each other.

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God and Spirituality in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, Part One

God and Spirituality in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, Part One

As in real life, faith and belief in God and spiritual growth play a major role in Water Signs, particularly in the character development of the book’s heroine, Madeline. Like me, she was brought up in a traditional, Catholic home where the family attended weekly mass together, celebrated sacramental milestones (First Holy Communion, Confirmation, etc) and sent their children to parochial school. One of the things for which I am most grateful to this very day is the solid foundation of faith my parents gave me — along with clear boundaries of discipline. While I never thought of them as being overly strict or too lenient, my guess is that by today’s standards, most kids would view them as “out of touch”.

Given the prevalence of current cultural problems like drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and generally out-of-control, irresponsible behavior, I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have grown up with parents who cared enough to set and enforce the rules. This responsibility mainly fell onto my mom, since my dad’s work as a surgeon often kept him out of the house during the after-school hours of dinner, homework and play time. Being a strong, independent and determined woman, mom was never one to scold, “Just wait until your father gets home!” when one of us was in need of severe reprimanding. Whenever there was a need for punishment (which, in truth, was rare as we were all pretty good kids most of the time), she had no qualms dispensing it. For me, one warning look from my mother was typically enough to change my behavior. I knew she meant business.

But I also knew her as not only disciplinarian, but as ever-willing helper with school-work, homeroom mother, Home & School Association President, confidante and comforter. Perhaps most importantly, she was also my first spiritual guide who taught me how to make the Sign of the Cross and recite prayers like the Our Father. And the values imparted in the home were reinforced through 18 years of Catholic schooling — from Montessori to university.

However, our traditional beliefs never stopped us from doing something that I now know many Christians consider the work of the Devil — reading a daily horoscope. Along with the crossword puzzle, my mother and I used to take great delight in checking out that day’s forecast for Aries and Pisces, our respective signs. Never did either of us think of it as anything more than fun entertainment, kind of like a thought for the day. And in no way did it change our beliefs about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; it was simply an enjoyable activity that became part of our morning routine.

In the novel, the same is true for Madeline. Thus, when she unexpectedly makes Ken’s acquaintance at the Somers Point dance club in Chapter One, she takes no offense when he expresses his delight upon discovering that they are both Pisces. He’s further intrigued to learn that not only do they share the same sign, but also the same exact birthday, down to the year. As an author, I gave my two main characters the same date of birth to enhance the “star-crossed”, “soul-mate” aspect of the novel, as if to suggest that God purposely brought these two souls into the world simultaneously so that they could experience life in a physical body and aid in each other’s spiritual growth while on Earth. Once they’d finally met each other for seemingly the first time (at least at the physical level), this purpose could be fulfilled. In real-life, “Ken” and I are both Pisces born in the same year, but about two weeks apart.

The Pisces symbol also reflects real life significance in terms of Madeline’s grandmother. In a previous post, I revealed that March 7 — the shared birthday of Ken and Madeline — was actually my maternal grandmother’s birthday. I’d enjoyed an especially close bond with her, having been born several months after my grandfather’s death and thus provided her a much-needed, joyful distraction from bereavement and sorrow. According to my mom, it was almost as if I were her baby, given the way she constantly doted over me. Although she died quite traumatically a month before I turned seven, my remembrances of her are crystal-clear, thanks to the close bond we’d shared, and the many wonderful hours we’d spent together. “Nanny” epitomized everything a grandmother should be: loving, warm, caring and comforting. A stickler for looking her best, she always had her hair done, and wore nice dresses with matching pearl necklaces and earrings. Her best accessories, however, were her ever-present smile and joyful disposition.

Which brings me to perhaps the most controversial element of the book, which is also an event straight out of real life. While still battling panic and anxiety disorder — in spite of embracing just about every known remedy from prayer and meditation to Yoga and exercise — I bumped into a very interesting woman at a monthly business/networking meeting. Trained in what is known in military circles as “remote viewing”, she was in reality what most civilians call a psychic — and many Christians a “handmaiden of the Devil”, although upon first sight, she looked like just another no-nonsense businesswoman.

When Maddy meets Ann Claire in the novel, it’s an accurate retelling of my own experience. Thus, when Ann accurately calls out Maddy’s guilt for “leaving behind a middle brother who is handicapped” (my brother Ralph who is in-between oldest son, Mark, and youngest son, Paul), and notes that she is still “in mourning” for a grandmother who’d passed away over 20 years prior, it’s an example of fact that has only been fictionalized marginally. I might have changed the names and altered the descriptions a bit, but the basic events are 100% true, including the fact that Maddy awakens one morning — six months after a private reading with Ann — to discover that for the first time in years, her head is clear, her stomach is calm and that the black cloud that seemed to relentlessly hang over her head has completely dissipated:

And exactly six months later, Maddy awoke with a clear head, a calm stomach and an overall feeling of excellent health for the first time in nearly eight years. It was as if a black cloud had finally been lifted, leaving a clear, blue sky and a brilliant rainbow in its place. Overcome with sheer gratitude, joy and relief, Madeline called Ann to share the wonderful news, exclaiming, “Ann, thank God I ran into you that night! I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t — I was at my wits’ end!”

“Madeline,” she replied dryly, “You manifested me into your life, don’t you know that? God led you to me, based on your own intentions.”

As was true for me at the time, Madeline doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of that statement until much later, when she takes a course at Unity Church in Delray Beach. She’d been reading Daily Word faithfully for years, having been gifted a subscription by her mother, and had even called their toll-free prayer line on many occasions, without really knowing anything more about the organization. That would change upon meeting the local minister and taking a few classes.

More to come in another post.

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