Thursday, July 27, 2017


The cover for A CARAVAN OF BRIDES is here!  Cover designer Louis Roe worked hard to create the perfect cover for the book. My request was to make it warm and inviting, the antithesis of covers for books about Arabia..the usual veiled women, swords, Arabian steeds, and desert dunes. I wanted an illustrated cover, and Louis is an expert in that style at his day job designing covers for Beacon Press.  Here is a wonderful blog post Louis wrote for the blog of Beacon Press about his process: Each Cover Design a Collection of Small Stories

For A CARAVAN OF BRIDES, Louis suggested we incorporate the concept of paper collage, which is a current trend in covers, as it adds a warm, three dimensional feeling. The human figures are hand-painted pieces of paper. The border is hand-drawn. The background is also hand-painted.  One of the themes of the book is the pre-modern way of life in Saudi Arabia, in which women wove and sewed their own clothing. The collage and hand-illustrated cover echoes this element.

The process that Louis went through with the cover was really interesting. First, he read the book. Then he sketched out several ideas for the cover, some really interesting elements of the plot, some just fleeting moments. We focused in on one, and Louis was off and running.

There was a stretch there where neither of us was working on it. When we returned to finish it, he came up with some new ideas. He finalized it and voila. Now, he's working on the map!

 I am so pleased with the result and hope it will be enticing to readers interested in Saudi Arabia.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Becoming an author

My current headshot - will be updated this summer!

In the literary world, one is only an author when one has written and published a book. You can write magazine articles, op-eds, poems, and short stories until you fill a room with manuscript pages, but you are not an author until your work is put into a book.

If you use that definition, I have been an author for a long time. Back in the 1990's I published a very small print run of a history of the US Consulate General in Saudi Arabia. But I never used that title, perhaps because it was never released publicly.

When I started the quest of publishing my novel A CARAVAN OF BRIDES, I learned that the title author is reserved for those who have climbed the mountain from writing a book to publication.

So here I am. Publishing through the small Loon Cove Press, I'm managing the process myself. I've hired editors and designers, revised and revised the manuscript. My to-do list is long and I feel like I'm riding a big old bicycle up a hill, picking up speed each day.

Today I took the step of setting up an 'author page' on facebook. It's a big day for me, daring to declare publicly that I am indeed, an author. So here is the link to my new author page. Feel free to stop by and 'like' it if you wish.  Thank you for reading my little blog, and I plan to write more about this part of the process as the time grows near.

Here is the link:  My Facebook Author Page

Friday, April 7, 2017

Robin Practices Spring

Winter has now passed in Maine, though at our place we still have snow here and there, including a respectable snowbank at the end of the driveway.

As a certified bird call fanatic, I listen every spring for the first robin's full song. It was two days ago that I heard it, full volume. But a few days before that, I heard and watched a robin 'practice' the spring call.

It was in the afternoon. I had taken a break from my long hours of desk work, and strolled out to our little farm pond, listening for any signs of the robins' song. And wouldn't you know, a very rotund robin with a bright red breast (perhaps a Canadian robin who wintered down here), sat on the fence rail on the far side of the pond. He or she was all puffed out. The next day we were expecting the last snowfall of the season. I must say I was a little down, wishing for it all to be done and for spring to start.

As I stood still, afraid to frighten it, this little robin started clucking, but at a very quiet volume. The bird seemed like it was practicing all its calls, the warning 'chip chip', some other little cheeps, but very quietly. Then it even started up its full song, but so quiet I could hardly hear it. I kept watching the bird to see if it might be coming from another bird far away, but no. This bird was literally practicing its spring call. Perhaps it, like me, was worried that it would be 'bad luck' to declare it spring just yet. It seemed like it was puffed up with the joy of spring, but was holding it back until the time was right.

This morning, I stepped out near dawn and was overwhelmed with an orchestra of robins in the forests all around. Later, a flock of raucous red-winged blackbirds came through. And the juncoes seem to have left, save a few stragglers. So it's here at last.

Maybe there's a lesson in the practice of spring. Maybe we all need to do it!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Novel in progress - A CARAVAN OF BRIDES

It is with pride, excitement and a great deal of nervousness...that I let my loyal readers know that I've decided to self-publish my novel about Saudi Arabia, with the title A CARAVAN OF BRIDES.  In the last year I hired a developmental editor and have been finalizing revisions ever since. Now I am searching for a copy editor and a book cover designer.

My goal is to have the book ready late this summer, on Kindle and hopefully other e-book platforms, as well as a small print run.

This book has been in the making for two decades. It started out as a series of short stories about my time living in Saudi Arabia, and it gradually morphed, through many iterations, into its current form, which is a multi-generational saga focused on the friendship between two Saudi women: a college graduate and an elderly storyteller.

Even writing this blog post seems to mark a milestone. So, as I proceed in the process I will keep you updated.

In the name of God the Merciful the Beneficent. May it begin!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

14th session of the Arab Dance Seminar filling up

Once again, I'm posting about the upcoming Arab Dance Seminar. It doesn't take place until November 3-5, 2017, but registration just opened up and it always sells out quickly.

This year it's taking place in Dearborn, Michigan at the Arab American National Museum. The area is filled with Middle Eastern eateries and culture, and participants will be able to enjoy a more 'organic' cultural experience. In addition, Dearborn/Detroit is a fabulous airline hub for travelers. If you are thinking of signing up, don't delay!

This year's theme about the dance of minorities will be really interesting for me to tackle since I focus on the dances of women of the "Gulf" (Arabian Gulf). I want to include some really amazing roots dances that are rarely studied and performed. It is easy to think of the Gulf countries as monolithic desert societies, but they are varied and are influenced by minorities who have lived there for many years. The Gulf is geographically at a global crossroads, bringing people in from all over.

14th Arab Dance Seminar Link to website to register

Here is a recent video of the Arab Dance Seminar, with some clips from my classes teaching "Khaliji" dance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November's Gray

A group of writers meets in our town, and we share essays and other short writings that we read aloud to each other. It's not a critique group. People read poetry, short stories and essays, and occasionally a book chapter. We meet in a cozy home with a jolly wood stove. I brought this essay to our last meeting a couple of weeks ago. I tried to capture the last golden moments of autumn here.

In the city, November’s gray is cold. It surrounds you on the streets and sidewalks. Gray concrete buildings rise toward only a sliver of faintly aqua sky. And at ground level, tiny cherished city gardens here and there attempt to offset the dreariness of the urban tomb.

Lucky we are in Maine. On a country road, of a mild sunny afternoon in November, a delicate palette of gray lies all around. Set off by pale green fields rolling by, a wide blue sky above, lit by the slanting sun from the south, our grays have texture, shadow and shape. Next April we will be so weary of gray, but now it has a kind of glory, speaking of centuries, eons.

These grays are best in the late afternoon sunlight. The south sides of the tree trunks blaze and you can examine the barks of elfin corduroy maple, elephant leg beech and fizzured oak. Old gnarled apple trees pose in the orchards, their silver gray dancer arm branches still clutching handfuls of golden leaves.

Now that most leaves have fallen, hidden woodpiles and boulders appear once more along roads and paths. The character of each stone wall is laid bare now, every one as distinct as an old person’s face. Some are piles of small stones, others built with huge lichen-splotched boulders. Some wave with the passing years’ frost heaves. Others are steadfast and strong, but all are haven of chipmunks, snakes and mice. In the low sun they are sculpture and scripture of form and shadow.

Even the gray paved and gravel roads in the country delineate the fields and forests, neutral picture frames of each field’s color. And at some point in the season, the yellow stripes down their middles match the still golden maple leaves perfectly.

It is good to contemplate November’s gray, in the country on a sunny day.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Shining Stars of Shoma

It's less than two weeks to Opening Night for Shoma, a Storytelling Dance Theater Journey to the Desert. Information and tickets here.

The dancers and actors are rehearsing in Jawaahir's studio. The musicians are working on their material. The seamstresses are sewing, the actors and dancers are pulling the details of their costumes together. Director Hilary Stellner Smith and Cassandra Shore are directing all the myriad facets of the production. Assistant Director and Stage Manager Shannon Russell is wearing many hats, as an understudy, reading the parts of others in absentia, generally working non-stop.

This production has so many stars and outstanding performers and contributors that it's impossible to give them adequate homage. Here is a run down of some of the extraordinary individuals who will be part of the show, both on and off the stage.

Dance: In addition to Cassandra Shore and her incredible company, Donald LaCourse, the Artistic Director of Minnesota's Ethnic Dance Theater, will be playing a featured theatrical and dance role. Read about Don here.

Musicians: The orchestra playing in Shoma is a veritable who's who of performers in the genre of Arabic music. They learn the show material by ear, the traditional way musicians in the Arab world learn music. Many of them are have national and international reputations. While they seem to be somewhat lean on websites, they are long on talent. The Jawaahir audiences are in for an extraordinary musical extravaganza.

Georges Lammam leads the ensemble. Based in California, Lammam is a beloved virtuoso violinist who brings passion to his playing. He is one of the reasons Jawaahir audiences are so loyal year after year. George's facebook page.

Naser Musa will be singing and playing oud. Naser is a specialist in the music of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, and produced a CD of music from the region. He also composes and has worked in film as well. Naser's website.

Michael Ibrahim is the conductor of the National Arab Orchestra of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is an extraordinary performer on Arabic wind instruments including nay (end-blown reed flute) and mizmar (the closest thing to an oboe in Arabic music), as well as oud. In Shoma he'll be playing nay....and here is video of him conducting and playing nay - a composition entitled Fatafit al-Sukkar.

Susu Pampanin:  A leading Arabic percussionist from California, Susu wows audiences around the country with her polished and powerful style. Here is a video of Susu and the Cairo Cats. (She's the lead percussionist).

Miles Jay: Miles plays double bass, composes, and makes instruments. He has been a key player in the Nile Project. It is hard to summarize all Miles' talents and the projects he is pursuing around the world. In addition to performing with global artists, he composes, arranges for film, and performs for film as well. Here is his website: Miles Jay website

Jim Grippo: Jim hails from California, where he has been playing Middle Eastern music on oud and qanun for twenty years. He will play qanun for Shoma. Jim is pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology, and teaches at Ventura College. He performs regularly with the Middle East Ensemble at the University of California- Santa Barbara, and has performed with Georges & Elias Lammam, Souren Baronian, Rowan Storm, Afif Taian, and Naser Musa. Here he is on video: Jim Grippo on Qanun

Tim O'Keefe: A Minnesota-based multi-instrumental percussionist and oud player, Tim has been playing with Jawaahir for years, and is a mainstay of many productions. Tim performs with several Minnesota groups across music genres and teaches percussion.

Laura Harada: Ms. Harada plays violin in many genres and styles, from classical European to tango and beyond. She has been playing Arabic music since at least 1997, and is a regular in Jawaahir shows. She played violin in the first Shoma, back in 1998.

Yaron Klein: This is Yaron's first performance with Jawaahir. Born in Haifa, Yaron earned his PhD at Harvard in Arabic Language and Literature; his thesis topic bridged language and music. He plays both oud and violin, but in Shoma he will join the violin section. When he is not playing music, he is a professor of Arabic at Minnesota's Carleton College.

Set design: Saudi-American artist Hend Al-Mansour has created a unique tent divider for the scenes set in a desert encampment. Her website: Hend Al-Mansour

Lighting: Jeff Bartlett is legendary in Minnesota for his stage lighting. When Shoma was performed in 1998 at the Southern Theater, Bartlett's lighting added fantastic effects and gave the show its extraordinary feel. Once again, he'll be conjuring up his magic.

Sound Engineer:  Stephen Spaise has worked on several Jawaahir productions. He is also a percussionist and has been playing world music (especially Middle Eastern music) for 25 years. He performs with several ensembles in the Twin Cities.

Costumes: Eileen O'Shaughnessy has been contributing her costuming talents to many Jawaahir productions, and Shoma is no exception. Her work on the original Shoma will once more be in the spotlight. Shannon Russell and Lori Wilczek are also sewing up a storm for new costumes and new actors/dancers.

If you are within traveling distance to Minneapolis, try to make it to Shoma to see these fantastic stars shine.