If times are-a-changin’ should classic stories–like CARMEN–change too? No… and (sometimes) YES. In general, I say “No.” I’m against revisionism of the past or the changing of classic works—I don’t believe they should be edited, whitewashed or altered to fit modern sensibilities. Though they may not be politically correct or include what’s no longer acceptable (or […]
The AFTERWORD for a new client project that publishes in February 2018 (the book is in final editing, so this might change slightly). When Jack (the author) and I were talking about that book—his second and the complement to his debut title published last year—I thought it was the perfect sequel. And as we developed […]
Types of Clients Since 2010
- President of a Nonprofit Organization
- Scientist / Hydrogeologist
- Plastic Surgeon, renowned Physician of the Year
- Deputy National Security Advisor
- Retired / Renowned Artist
- Entrepreneur Who Just Sold Her Multi-million Dollar Company
- General, US Marine Corps (retired)
- US Senator (retired)
- 2 Vice Admirals, US Navy (retired)
- Renowned Artist/Art Historian & Art Dealer
- Senior VP of a Fortune 500 Company
- Gallery Owner & Art Dealer in Manhattan
- Lieutenant Colonel, US Marine Corps (retired)
- Major, US Army Intelligence (retired)
- Colonel, US Marine Corps (retired)
- Colonel, US Army (retired)
- 2 Captains, US Navy (retired)
- 3 Attorneys
- Major General, US Army
- Major General, US Air Force (retired)
- 2 Rear Admirals, US Navy (retired)
- 2 CIA Agents (retired)
- 2 CEOs of NYSE/multi-billion dollar companies
- 4 University Professors, PhDs
- 2 Medical Doctors
- Graduate of the Afghanistan Military Academy and a Soviet Union Trained Fighter Pilot (who defected to the US)
- Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy
- Former Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs
- Former Special National Security Affairs Advisor
Examples of work: The following books are some of those I’ve helped to develop, edit and/or publish for clients. Some are books I’ve ghostwritten where, due to confidentiality agreements, I’m not named on the cover. And there are a few of my ghostwritten books not shown or listed here due to specific restrictions in my agreement with those particular clients.
How do you start to tell your story? It all begins with a single step…
I like dark chocolate and sometimes have a piece in the morning with my coffee. There’s a brand of individually wrapped pieces called Dove™ that includes brief thoughts and statements inside the wrapper. With our preparation for the holiday season each year, my wife buys bags of them and I thought beginning on December 14th, I […]
WHITE BIRD (Love is the Very Best Gift to Give & Receive)
A perfect–feel good–story for the Christmas season! And that twist at the ending, how you add some Christmas lore. Love it!”
This is just the type of story to read during the holidays. Dennis has a lovely way with words and crafting the story to keep the twist hidden just around the corner, but when it happens, it’s a warm and satisfying revelation. Grab a mug of coffee or cocoa, sit in a favorite chair, and enjoy this heart warming story.” –Amazon Review
A 7,469 word holiday story about two people who find love and a future not bound by their past.
Olivia works for a misogynistic businessman who made his fortune in New York City real estate. Her life has not turned out as she expected or wanted.
Henry had lost his wife and children in a tragic accident. It’s been years and he doesn’t know if he can keep going… nowhere. And is it wrong to want the pain to go away?
Both are haunted by the past.
Both are alone, caught within circumstances.
But then… this holiday season something happens…
The Ballerina in the Garden (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)
About the Story (revised and expanded a bit from the original)
Two years ago, Claire lost her husband and Audrey, her father. A job promotion requires a move to a new state and town, and Claire hopes it’s also a fresh start for them both. Audrey, just starting high school, since her dad’s death, had become withdrawn and the move hadn’t helped. Now on a single-earner income, Claire can’t afford a pricey house. So, she picks the cheapest one in an older, affordable neighborhood. The once-lovely house she buys is old and needs work. In its overgrown, neglected, backyard Audrey finds something hidden among the overgrowth of weeds and scrub that changes both their lives. For the better.
Note from Dennis
A friend sent me a picture of an orchid shaped like a dancer and asked, “Dennis, what can you write about this?” A part-challenge, partly hopeful request that I met. This short fiction piece is about finding beauty—in an unlikely place—and how that helped a young girl deal with loneliness, to accept and appreciate new surroundings and make new friends. And that what you find often leads to some self-discovery that can have a great effect on your life. So, always look for the beauty—the things we should appreciate—around us. Because they’re there. It may take some work to uncover them, but they are always there.
A few of the reader comments:
“Oh my gosh!!! I am in tears. That was amazing how you just pulled a beautiful and complete story out of a simple picture!” -Janet Mix
“Beautiful…” -Vicki Tyley
“It touched my heart Dennis!” -Rea de Miranda
“What a great read, over morning tea! Thanks!” -Susan Gabriel
“A lovely morning read to start the day feeling good!” -Nina A.
The new girl tightly clutched her phone and didn’t look up at him.
“Audrey…” Mr. Gardner, the teacher, repeated, “It’s your turn.” He motioned to the large display he had wheeled beside his desk and thought about what she had told him last week after class when he had assigned the project.
“I don’t draw, and I can’t make anything… Not like what you said.”
“You don’t have to do those things, Audrey. When I said a visual presentation, I also meant you can take pictures of people or places and then tell us why you find them interesting. Present why they mean something to you.”
“Why do you care; why ask us to do that?”
After teaching kids for fifteen years, he knew she had really asked him, why make ME do this. He pushed his glasses higher on his nose and studied her as she remained in her desk. In part, he had decided on this kind of project to reach the quiet ones in the class. To try and nudge them toward expressing themselves in a way that wasn’t quite voluntary. It being a graded project might help push them to become more comfortable in front of their classmates. Before he could answer, she had stood. He had thought she was going to walk out.
“I don’t know anyone here,” her right arm had swept the room, “and I don’t know this place.” He knew she meant not just the school but also the town. She had only been there a month. He had seen her sitting at lunch, seemingly alone even when surrounded by other kids.
He had nodded and told her, “I know… I can’t draw either, and I understand that you’re new to us, and us to you.” The light tone and smile he gave her hadn’t changed her expression. “Even so… there are things you see or are around that you enjoy or they mean something to you. Just take some pictures of them or maybe a short video and add your description—just a few words—of how you feel about them. That’s all I’m asking.” She hadn’t seemed to buy into that but said nothing more and had not mentioned it over the past week.
The rest of the class had given their presentations and were now shifting restlessly in their seats, a few looking up at the clock on the wall. Gardner rose from behind his desk and came around to sit on its corner nearest the display, moving it another half a foot from him. “It’s your turn.” He knew she heard him.
Audrey’s long wavy hair fell forward as she got up. She didn’t brush it away as she walked to his desk, tapped her phone and then and handed it to him. “It’s ready.” He saw the video window on her phone, connected the micro-HDMI cable to it and the display and then looked at her. She nodded, and he pressed play.
The picture on the screen showed what looked like an overgrown, neglected yard full of weeds and brush. “Last month when we moved here, I found this behind our house.” Her voice pitched lower. “It—the backyard—seemed sad.” The next picture showed improvement, some of the area had been cleared, and remnants of what had once been flowerbeds now showed among the scrub brush. “I worked on it a little each day and on the weekends.” Her voice rose slightly, “Then I found her.” The next picture showed a flower, petals of a burnt-orange red, yellow and white, formed like a dancer in a pirouette. “She was on the other side of a scraggly bush. All alone.”
The teacher watched Audrey who had swept the hair from her face. The shake in her voice belied nervousness, but her look at the class was steady. Pushing his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose, his eyes went back to the video. The next picture was a close up of the flower, arms raised, its chin up. “She was so pretty among what had grown so ugly around her. I read a story once that used the word ‘forlorn.’ I looked up the definition but didn’t really know what it meant until I saw her there. She’d been forgotten.” Audrey paused and studied her classmates. “But she didn’t want to be alone. She wanted to have friends but didn’t know how. She wanted to dance but couldn’t because where she was… wasn’t where she wanted to be. So, she cried there among the weeds that crowded her and the horrible, tangle-thorned bush that blocked the morning sun.”
Gardner half-turned his head from her to glance at the class. Most were now leaning forward and watching Audrey. Jimmy Reynolds was in the back looking out the window, as he always seemed to, but still got straight As. He turned back to the display. The image on it began to move. The camera pulled back to show a now cleared area. There was a sound of the wind that swirled small bits of grass past the lens as it focused on the flower now fully revealed. A gust lifted its petals.
“I call her, The Ballerina.” Audrey sounded almost happy as the camera panned around the orchid swaying in the breeze. The sky grew darker, and a drizzle of rain flitted past the lens, falling to the ground with an occasional plop of a larger drop. The camera zoomed in on the flower. Beads of water now clustered on the petals, bowing the orchid with their weight. A bit of wind tipped the flower, spilling the rain off as a voice, Audrey’s, now accompanied in the video while she stood silently in front of the class.
“I like to read, and I remember something from an author that now makes sense to me. He wrote ‘misty rain falls; not as tears, but a kiss for a garden. It’s there, in its beauty, I find peace.’” The camera panned up to a blue spot in the lightening sky. It captured the instance of the rain’s end. A bit of rainbow color arcing overhead and as the camera walked back, it seemed to end at the orchid. There the motion stopped, freezing on the flower caught in a sliver of sunlight slanting down. “I know how The Ballerina felt in that garden where no one could see her. But now I can, and she’s beautiful.” The screen faded to black as the voiceover ended with, “Now she’s not alone.”
“That was wonderful, Audrey.” Mr. Gardner detached the cord and handed the phone to her. She returned to her seat not noticing his thoughtful expression or the look on some of her classmate’s faces.
* * *
The doorbell startled her. It had not rung since they moved in, nearly a month ago. Claire Stanton rose from the kitchen table and heard—an old, creaky board sound signaling—shifting steps on the porch outside the front door. She peeped to see a tall, lean, man with dark-rimmed glasses. She opened the door. “May I help you?”
“Mr. Gardner, what are you doing here?”
Audrey had come downstairs and was just behind her mother in the doorway.
“I hope you don’t mind,” he smiled at her and then her mother. “But I wanted to ask if I could see your flower—the ballerina—in your garden?”
“It’s funny,” Claire said with an over the shoulder look at Audrey. “My daughter’s had two classmates, who ride the same bus, come by this morning asking the same thing.”
He saw a small flicker on Audrey’s face that settled into a grin. The first he’d seen from her. “Mom, can Mr. Gardner come in and can I show him…?”
“Okay,” Claire looked up at the man as he pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. “Sure.” She stepped back as he stepped in. He moved gracefully but seemed just a bit embarrassed. “Would you like some coffee, Mr. Gardner? We can take it out back with us.”
“Yes, please… that’d be great.” He followed them to the kitchen and moments later—mugs in hand—they were through the back door and into the yard behind the house. About thirty feet from the door stoop’s two-step concrete pad he could see the area from Audrey’s video. Among the green and fresh pastels of new flowers, the ballerina stood out proud in the morning sunlight, two white wide-wooden-slat lawn chairs next to her. He sipped the steaming coffee. “Your daughter’s project—what she showed and said—was impressive. I had to come see for myself.”
Claire looked at Audrey, who was sitting near the orchid, a smile on her face as she watched them drink their coffee. The breeze had lifted her hair back to show how much she and her mother looked alike. Claire set her cup on the arm of the garden chair. “It’s been hard on her, losing her father two years ago, and me moving us to a new town and state.”
Joe Gardner cupped the mug in both hands and sat elbows resting on his knees. “I didn’t know the circumstances. I’m sorry for your loss.”
She expected him to look at her as he spoke but he seemed lost in thought. She didn’t reply and watched him for a moment.
“They say time heals us…” He straightened in the chair and looked over at her, but his eyes were shadowed by someone or something not there. “A little bit each day…” his tone lifted, he looked at the orchid and smiled at Audrey.
A burst of birdsong made them look up at the nearby copse of woods. Claire sighed, “It’s beautiful here. Very different from the city where we’re from.”
He looked around and something—maybe the melody in her voice—made him realize how lovely the morning was and how good the coffee smelled and tasted.
“Mom, can Mr. Gardner come back again to visit her?” Audrey gently touched the ballerina’s petals.
“If he wants to.” Claire brushed a lock of hair back and smiled. He seemed a nice man and anything that got Audrey more engaged in school and with other kids was a good thing.
“Morning coffee?” He asked with a grin. “Next Sunday?”’
She returned his smile. “You bet.”
* * *
Sunday Morning – Twelve Years Later
The tall man, dark hair now thickly-frosted gray at the temples, pushed his glasses up on his nose as he looked down at the young lady next to him. The pool of her wedding gown train was cloth of antique ivory draped over the natural jade of the close-cropped grass. The dew dampened it, but that didn’t matter. In seconds, the music would start, and they would walk to her new beginning. He shook his head. So many years… so fast they go by, he thought as he looked around. It was the start of a beautiful day. The white chairs sat brightly on the emerald green grass. Each had a cluster of orchids at the end of its row full of guests.
“We’re here—all of us—because of a flower,” he murmured to himself and looked at the group of people, his eyes immediately going to the woman sitting proudly in the front row, half-turned in her seat and watching them. She lifted a hand and waved. A mother at the moment in a daughter’s life that holds so much meaning. A woman he would not have met if not for this young lady… and an orchid. He felt tears pool in the corner of his eyes. The music began, and they took their first step. He hugged her arm tightly to him—she was so lovely in the morning sunlight—and he felt her squeeze back. He bent, but only a little since she had grown so tall, and whispered, “I love you, Audrey.”
“I love you, Dad.” She smiled up at him and thanked the ballerina she’d found in this garden that day long ago.
# # #
Filled with the detail only an experienced naval Surface Warfare Officer and ship commander can provide, DAUNTLESS takes the reader inside a warship at sea. COMING EARLY 2018 A Naval Warfare Thriller Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors’ warning. -About the Book- On August 2, 1990, the Persian Gulf […]
The Song On the Wind (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)
A few of the reader comments about this story:
“So sweet and warm, regardless of all the snow.” -Nina Anthonijsz
“Dennis, it doesn’t matter what you are writing about, your descriptions of the scene or the feelings inside of a character, the reader feels like they are there watching it all unfold before them. Everything is so vivid. Thank you for this sweet story.” -Janet Mix
“What a beautiful story and music to share with us. Great way to start the day with a smile.” -Kathy Rosson
“I enjoyed the story very much, have always loved the song. Great job.” -Karen Gross
“Made my day. Thank you. 💛” -Dawn Jackson
“Cute story. You do have a way with words. Merry Christmas!!” -Dave Hendrickson
“Most of all, I remember looking out the window as I shifted around on the seat clutching my purse and glancing up to make sure my bag was still on the rack above me. The station and buildings nearby were decorated and dressed in lights of silver, blue, gold, red and green. As the train pulled out, they reflected off and in the glass flickering past in a kaleidoscope of holiday colors. When I felt the wheels begin to turn, I took a couple of deep breaths. Then a feeling of certainty that I was making the right decision came over me.
“Soon the train was outside the city and had picked up speed. The view dimmed to gray with a lighter blur as we passed snow piled high in some places along the track. Occasionally, color flashed from trees with their brown limbs thick with green pine needles powdered and sprinkled white. I saw country houses, too, that sped by. My view of them grew slowly when the tracks curved toward them in the distance. As I got closer, they would suddenly fly past; a smear of more color on the frosty pane clouded by my breath on the cold glass. I liked it most when the train slowed at a crossing, and the flakes drifted—a slower dance—down and then that sensation of getting closer to where I was going when the train started going faster again.
“It was my first Christmas away from home, and I hadn’t traveled much. Actually, not at all until I surprised everyone by taking a job in the city. My parents never went anywhere, not even on vacations, and had never been big on celebrating the season, but Tom’s were. He and I had met the year before. Both of us had been stuck working through the holidays. I was young, new to the city and happened to take my lunch break the same time he did. Idle comments—nervous ones on my part—about the holidays led to conversations. I learned he was only a couple years older than me and could tell how much he missed being with his family by the wistfulness in how he spoke of them.
“As winter passed into spring, summer and then fall… we fell more in love. As the next holiday season approached, we decided I would meet him at his parent’s and spend the day before Christmas Eve through New Years with them.
“I had grown up shy but being with Tom made me discover a confidence I didn’t realize was there. Still, I wasn’t always comfortable around people I didn’t know, so that Christmas would be very different for me. Full of anxious anticipation, I looked forward to being with Tom even if it meant among a bunch of people I didn’t know.
“Since then—and maybe it started with that trip—I’ve learned how much you can change the way things are—the way things once were, into what they become—if you have a catalyst that triggers it. Even if it’s only a small something that makes you realize your happiness is determined by what’s in you and not from others. But back then, I was still learning about myself and life.
“I remember changing trains at Holy Oak. That small town’s station sat at a crossroads for the east-west and north-southbound railroads. I had come south and now would be headed west into the mountains on the 7:50 PM train. Two hours later, making better time than expected, I got off that westbound train in Tom’s hometown and stepped onto the open platform full of thoughts of him.
“I heard bells ringing, sharp and crisp in the cold night air. They were lovely, so pure and clear, not smothered by the sounds of a city that never slept. A girl of the suburbs and city life who had never known the quiet of small towns and the country, as the train I’d been on pulled away and its sound receded, I paused to listen to them in the stillness.
“Night had fallen, but there was enough light from the streetlight on the corner to see the flakes of snow, making their slow way to the ground adding to the drift in the lee of the concrete base of the bench I sat upon. The wind couldn’t catch it there and cast it away. The small pile was a landscape of its own; I saw a mountain slope topped with bare, gray, stone. Then a bed of white snowflake-crafted linen that flowed from shadow into the light with only a glint showing it was not fabric. It ended at the heels of my scuffed boots.
“It was a moment of self-reflection I’d never experienced. I felt it… the cold that came around edges of the framework of who I really was inside. Though 20 years old, I still felt a scared child’s fear of the unknown. I loved Tom but had never traveled so far alone and soon would be surrounded by people I had never met. I shivered as the wind picked up and wished I’d worn a scarf as the icy gust feathered my hair and peeked down the collar of my jacket. I tried to smooth my long hair as I rose to go inside to wait for Tom to pick me up. I checked my watch; he should be along shortly.
“Then the wind carried more than the sound of bells. Voices. I turned toward the singing and followed it around the corner of the station that faced a park and off to the right, the beginning of the town’s main street. As my train had pulled in, I hadn’t noticed the glow of the small group of people holding candles near what appeared to be caves that peppered the snow-covered hills surrounding this small town, and that hugged the station and park on two sides. The plumes of their breath accompanied each verse. The music touched me, pushing aside the coldness of the current of air that brought their music to me.
“I listened and felt warmed by their voices and the song’s message. It made me feel that the things ahead in my life—ones I could never know would come to pass—though maybe challenging, could become blessings. It made me think of how the story of a baby boy, born to follow the path meant for him, had changed billions of lives over two thousand years. I’d not been raised particularly religious, but in the words and beauty of the song, I found peace and hope for a purposeful life, too.
“I had bent to pick up my bag and turned to go inside, and there was Tom. A dusting of snowflakes sprinkled his dark, wavy hair and his smile caught the light from the Christmas-ribboned lamppost above us. He lifted me, twirled and gave me a quick kiss as he set me on my feet again–”
“I was stronger back then…” The man behind the steering wheel laughed.
I turned from facing the back seat to glance at Tom sitting next to me. Much stouter and gray-haired—just like me—the lights of cars passing in the opposite direction shining through the windshield showed the lines on his face. I smiled at him and then felt a touch on my shoulder. I looked back at Cassidy, my youngest granddaughter, who had leaned forward. Twelve years old and still full of questions, she had asked me to tell her about when her grandfather and I were young.
“I love how you tell stories, Grandma! So, that was your first Christmas with Grandpa?” She had just made her first trip to visit us in the country for Christmas since we had retired and looked so much like her mother, sitting next to her, had at her age.
“It was my second,” I brushed a wavy lock of dark hair from her face, “but the first real one. It was the one that taught me that the holidays mean so much more than big city decorations, parades, and shopping.” I reached for her hand. “And that we don’t always know how life will turn out, so it’s important to have faith and a purpose.” I squeezed it and let go so she could sit back.
At the stoplight, Tom turned to look at Cassidy. “But, there’s a part of it that’s about gifts, too.” He reached over, took my hand then brought it up to kiss and hold to his cheek. “Your grandmother’s the best Christmas present I ever got!”
“Do you remember that song, Grandma?” Cassidy asked as the light turned green and we began to move.
Only five miles to home. I looked at Tom and still saw the young man who had lifted and swung me on that train station platform decades ago. “What’s that, honey?” I shifted on the seat to face her.
“The song… the one the people holding the candles were singing. Do you remember it?”
My mind went back to that moment when my young girl’s mind was full of love, all awhirl about the future and how hearing that song settled my heart and soul. “Yes, sweetie… it went like this…”
Note from Dennis:
It was my daughter Cassidy who came to me one December weekend morning—I think with Alpha and Beta in tow—and asked, “Dad, have you heard this song?” I put down my writing pad and took her phone, turning it sideways to play the video. When the song video ended, I handed it back to her, “That’s beautiful!”
Now, my girl Cassidy has possibly the hugest, most loving, heart of anyone I know (which she gets from her mother). I think her greatest reward is when she does something for others that touches them—makes them smile, or happy—in some way. The song she had just introduced me to, did. I went to Amazon Music and bought it, adding it to our library. Then with the song playing softly on the little Jambox Bluetooth speaker beside me, I set aside what I had been working on and wrote the story you just read, for Cassidy… and you, too. Following is the music video ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ by Pentatonix—that prompted me to write it. If you’ve not heard it, you might like—or even love—it too.
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If you liked this story, check out WHITE BIRD another–much longer–holiday season story.
He looked at her across the fire, the flame’s dance of light and shadow on the stone wall, as she sat with her head down. He turned his back to the fire and looked out into the night. “The road seems so much longer when we have no dreams to believe. And we have no destination… life has no purpose.” He heard the steady sound of water running down the mountain and knew it would wear away more rock. “It stayed that way until I decided one day to start walking and not stop until I found what I sought.”