Wednesday, June 13, 2012

TBR welcomes Ann Elia Stewart

Stick around.

            One of my other passions besides writing is tap dancing, so last night my mother and I enjoyed Tommy Tune at the Mount Gretna Playhouse. Mr. Tune celebrated his Golden anniversary in show business. That’s fifty years of hoofing it across every stage from Broadway to London. He had shared his philosophy on success and it gave me the topic for this post:  “If you stick around long enough, something is bound to happen.”

            Though Mr. Tune no longer flies across the stage as he did in his youth, he delivered his dance combinations with perfection. And a whole lot of love.

            And I believe those two elements — perseverance and love — provide the key to success for anyone geared toward the arts. In Tommy Tune’s world, success came in the form of seven Tony Awards (Broadway’s Oscars) and juicy roles on Broadway and in film.

            In my world, success comes in the form of watching the light bulb go off above both my teenage and adult writing students as they absorb the difficulties and embrace the triumphs of writing well. And it just so happens that sharing my passion for the written word fuels my own desire to write.

            It wasn’t always that way. I’ve been in this writing business just three years shy of my own Golden anniversary. I’m counting, of course, my nine-year-old self who devoured every Nancy Drew mystery, spent after-school in the library mesmerized by the shelves of books and intoxicated by their unique scent, hanging on every word my beloved third grade teacher, Mrs. Amelia Stevens spoke, pleasing her with perfectly diagrammed sentences.  These were my “time steps,” as Mr. Tune demonstrated to us last night — the foundation for every great tap dance move. 

            The love of the written word has shaped my life and career. I sought out nearly every form of it, beginning with reading, following through as an editor/writer in various stages of life: high school and college newspapers, corporate newsletters, brochures, press releases and now, novels. I tapped my creative vein during my advertising years, developing concepts and copy for a host of clients, big and small, winning the occasional award along the way. It was as if I zip-lined through my writing life, braking at various stops, gobbling up the scenery and never wanting it to end.

            When I did reach “the end,” I took the leap and decided to write fiction. Why not? If I could spin a yarn around a new design for dinnerware, one of my many writing jobs for The Pfaltzgraff Co., I could spin a yarn. Period.

            Something pushed me to go on, get beyond the usual fluff pieces or boring news writing. When my son was an infant, I worked around his nap time to analyze an Anne Rice novel: Queen of the Damned. I wanted to know how the author brought to life a most unreal world, why I could feel the vampire’s teeth puncture the vein, or why I could taste the marrow of the bone or the iron of the blood. Gross, I know, but I was fascinated by how Ms. Rice used words to paint pictures in the mind.

            I devoured every book on writing, picked the brain of writing professionals, wrote short stories – some crap, some publishable. Fueled by the validation of earning a fellowship in literature/fiction from the PA Council on the Arts (a victim now of brutal budget cuts) I started a literary magazine and opened a new world for others bitten by the writing bug. Facilitating writing workshops quickly followed and by the time I knew it, I had four novels under my belt, three of which were practice, and the fourth now in trade paperback and downloadable for a Kindle or Nook.

            The book is entitled twice a child and it contains one of the essential ingredients of sustaining a career in writing: Love. (See second paragraph.) Love for the subject, which is based on my father’s battle with Lewy Body dementia, a form of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; for the genre, mainstream literary fiction; and for the sheer joy of writing well.

            I believe in bringing people along as well.  So if you go to, you’ll find twice a child as well as A Community of Writers, the first of many, I hope, anthologies of short stories penned by participants in the writing workshops I facilitate at the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA. 

            You see, as Mr. Tune well knows and now I do, too:  if you stick around long enough, something is bound to happen.
            Let me know your story of perseverance! The best one will receive a free copy of A Community of Writers, an awesome collection of twenty-five short stories!    


Ann Elia Stewart received a 2001 fellowship in fiction from the PA Council on the Arts, as well as enjoyed an extensive career in all facets of writing, including journalism, advertising copywriting, and creative nonfiction. Her work has been published by a variety of on-line publications as well as several regional magazines. Stewart facilitates a popular creative writing workshop for the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA. She edited the first anthology of short stories generated from that workshop, entitled, A Community of Writers, available from as well as from Amazon and eBook versions for both the Kindle and Nook.  Stewart also teaches creative writing at the Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg, PA. 

twice a child is her debut novel, also available from and Amazon.  She lives in central PA with husband Daniel, three beloved cats, Tac, Luigi and Benny, and is the proud mom of Anthony, a special makeup effects artist residing in Los Angeles.


Frank Lillo lost his beloved wife of sixty years, Mamie. People and places have begun to confuse Frank, especially at Mamie's funeral, where the story begins. One person stands out in Frank's mind: his son, Eddie.
At any moment, Frank knows Eddie will arrive - how could anyone miss his mother's funeral? He stumbles through the crowd of mourners, asking for Eddie like a parent of a child lost to catastrophe.
And then he sees it - a vase filled with white roses, Mamie's favorite flower. Frank reads the card: "We'll see you later, Mom. Love, Eddie."
Frank decides if Eddie can't come to him, he'll go to Eddie. When he reveals his plan to Tina, his granddaughter who just graduated as a registered nurse and became a single mother of Joshua - her "little brown baby" -- she reminds him that Eddie lives in California, a long trip for an eighty-year-old, and especially for someone who has not been invited.
Frank is determined to go and pulls out all stops...

Available at Sunbury Press

Here's an excerpt:

I sit among familiar faces, listen to familiar chants, see the coffin draped in white. I occupy the first pew, I suppose I’m the guest of honor, but when I turn to ask Mamie for a tissue because my nose starts to drip, I discover I am sitting in this pew with a young girl and a baby.
            “Did you need something, Grandpa?” the young girl asks me. And then I realize who she is:  my granddaughter, Tina. Tina and her little brown baby. Jake. No, that’s not it. John. It starts with a J, that I know. He looks at me with huge, brown eyes, and my mind shifts to a picture of a naked baby taken long ago, a baby perched on its elbows, a smile on his face. That innocent smile where everything is new and something so easy to give is met with great reward. If I’m not mistaken, I think that baby in the photo was me.
Joshua. The kid’s name is Joshua.
            “Grandpa?” Tina nudges me with her free hand. She nods toward the coffin and when I follow her direction, my gaze stops at the priest standing at the end of my pew. He’s extending his hand. I don’t have any money for him.
            “Peace be with you, Frank.”
            He clasps his hand over mine. It’s warm. Mine feels like a moth flapping its wings inside it. The tremors have started up again. They come out of nowhere.
            He leans down, facing me squarely. I always appreciated that, people who can meet you eye to eye.
            “Frank, the Church can help you through this. If you need us at anytime, you call.” Then he shifts his gaze and nods at Tina. The baby’s whimpering.
            What do I need him for? I’ve got Mamie. She takes care of me, really good care.
            A great rustle fills the room. People are standing up, so I get up. My knees creak -- I have to hold onto the pew in front of me. Tina’s bouncing that baby up and down, kissing him, talking softly to him. I bend over and kiss his head and he looks at me, upside down, with those big, dark eyes.
            “She brought home a nigger baby, Frank.” That’s what Mamie said, when was that? Last week? Last month? Doesn’t matter. I told her she can’t call him that because he has our blood too.
            “Eddie will throw a fit!” Mamie said.
            Is he here? I just can’t pick him out of a crowd anymore, been too long. But you think he’d come up and sit with me, his own father.
            People are starting to line up, file past the coffin. It’s like a big rock forcing them to choose sides. Some lady stops in front of my pew and waves her hand, like she knows me.
            “Grandpa, you need to go to Communion.” Tina’s nudging me again, tugging at my elbow. I walk toward the space this guy keeps waving me toward. My God, he’s impatient. Can’t he see I’m getting there?
            I stick out my tongue, taste the yeast of the wafer. No wine. “I don’t care if they do wipe it, it still has germs. Just walk by it, Frank. She always knew how to keep me healthy all these years. Two heart attacks and seventy-seven radioactive seeds fighting cancer in my prostate, the woman always knew how to keep me alive.
            I’m looking for Eddie. He’d be late, it’s his trademark. He’s like his mother on that one, poor planner when it comes to being on time, but I always thought it had to do with wanting the center of attention, too, if only for his entrance.
            I spot him. He’s walking up the aisle toward me. I knew he’d make it. A row of perfect, white teeth greet me as he bends down and sticks his face within inches of my own. It hurts when he clasps my shoulder.
            “Hey, Uncle Frankie!” His voice is a low growl.  He wants to say more, but the line keeps moving and he moves along with it. He manages to shoot a look back at me, like he’ll catch up with me later, before he sticks his tongue out at the priest.
            Eddie doesn’t have perfect white teeth. None of us Lillos do. We’re stuck with those little pointy ones crowding out the front ones.
            “Let us all give thanks to the Lord as we sit in silent offering.”
            It sounds like a wave crashing the shore when everyone sits back in their seats. I stay kneeling. My legs can’t take all this up and down stuff.
 “His teeth aren’t perfect.”
Tina’s holding the baby in one arm, my hand in the other. We’re walking real slow behind the coffin with the lilacs and pink roses. I look around. Everyone looks real familiar, but I can’t place them. I raise my eyebrows to the guy who called me Uncle Frankie, the guy with the perfect white teeth.
“Looks like him, but it isn’t him.”
“Who?” She shifts the baby to her other hip.
“Who doesn’t have perfect teeth?”
She tilts her head. “You mean my dad?”
I wave my hand at her. I don’t want anyone to hear. It’s enough they put us at the front of this parade, her holding a baby, not being married.
I’m surprised at how quiet Mamie’s been through all this.

Stories from the The Natalie D. Craumer Writer's Workshop at the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA:

1.             Hunting Season - Rayne Ayers Debski
2.             Take Care - Margaret DeAngelis
3.             Angel in the Mist - Laurie J. Edwards
4.             Survivor Barbie - C.A.Masterson
5.             A Soldier's Gift - Don Helin
6.             Operation Pumpkin Patch - Gina Napoli
7.             A Cautious Life - Larry C. Kerr
8.             The Green Eyed Monster - Catherine Jordan
9.             Smoke - Lori M. Myers
10.          Number 11 - Maria McKee
11.          The Things She Chose to Keep - Susan Pigott
12.          The Surprise Party - Carol A. Lauver
13.          an excerpt from "Oops," Said God - Duffy Batzer
14.          Swan Song - Ann Elia Stewart
15.          Dragon Riders - D.A.Morrow
16.          Free as a Bluejay - Madelyn Killion
17.          4:30 - Bob Walton
18.          Fade to Black - Kathryn Grace
19.          The Nature of Sin - Maria McKee
20.          Dead Letters - Susan Girolami Kramer
21.          Dissipation - C.A.Masterson
22.          The Mirror - Susan E. Bangs
23.          Betsy's Delight - Marlene Ross
24.          Moving Targets - Debra A. Varsanyi
25.          Creature of Habit - Don Helin


  1. It's so great to have you at TBR, Ann! I'm grateful to be one of the writing students you mentored, and so excited for your release!

    1. What you do for authors is amazing, Cate! I am honored to be part of TBR.

  2. It's very interesting how the different facets of the arts are very similar in the things that help those involved find success...such as perserverance and loving what you do.


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