Change is Constant

We are in the process of down-sizing. Hubby wants to retire to move on to his next thing, whatever that is. My first book is coming out in APRIL. Oldest daughter is happy and healthy in NYC. Youngest daughter is about to graduate from college.

All these things indicate change. Change of life, change of situation, change of circumstance.

Another thing happened in the past week that has me dwelling a little more on the past.

My last great-aunMs.-Dorothy-botht, Dorothy, passed away at the age of 96 and a half. She was widowed in 1976, so she was a widow longer than she was a wife. Her life wasn’t perfect, but when you put it all together, she was amazing. Spending time with her always brought stories that you’d never heard before.

My favorite is a story of her oldest sister, Thelma. Neither I nor my mother had ever heard it until my great-uncle passed away and the family gathered at her home.

The entire family was at church where revival services were being held that week. My great-grandfather was the song leader, and Aunt Thelma was the pianist.

The service came to the end, and the invitation was given. Granddaddy Phillips was perplexed. Where was Aunt Thelma?

She had sneaked out of the church to run away with Uncle Henry to get married! Aunt Dorothy was VERY upset at the entire thing — It had utterly spoiled her fifth birthday!

If you don’t know your family stories, ask someone. Some of those stories might never get told if YOU don’t know them and pass them on! There are stories of using bread sacks for snow boots, of identical pairs of shoes (of different sizes) mixed up by a pair of brothers, of mismatched earrings, and so much more.

Life is a rich tapestry of stories. As your life changes, hang on to the constants and take comfort and enjoy the stories of change in your past. Share them!

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When Canada hands you record snows…

What’s a Canuk to do but make the best of a snowy situation? We’ve had record snowfalls this year. Seriously it snowed and snowed and snowed and…Well, there’ a lot of snow lying around up here. We can either ignore it or use it for the greater good.  Me? I’ve pretty much got the ignore thing down pat as long as I have a good book in hand. But the more hardy souls are getting out there and having fun in the snow.

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Like making a snowman. This is Chubby from Halifax. I wonder how long it took to make him?

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Lot’s of Canadians enjoy skating on the longest skating rink in the world in the nation’s capitol.

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And why wait for summer when you can hold ice dragon boat races in winter?

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And then there’s always snow sculptures. We go for them in a big way in winter festivals all over the country.

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When the snow threatens to take over your yard, why not build a really big fort? That’s what an Ottawa dad did, though the city made me tear it down because they felt it was a safety risk for children in the neighbourhood.

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No worries about making a maze for your dog though. With all the snow they’ve been getting in New Brunswick this owner dug out a maze in his backyard so his pooch could still get his daily exercise.

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Ice sculptures are pretty popular too. Naturally, hockey is frequently portrayed. Canadians are hockey crazy. Kids play it on the street and in neighbourhood rinks. When I was a kid I used to lament the lack of figuring skating time.

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But the best part of a Canadian winter are Beavertails! They sell them year round but it’s become a tradition to have them sold at winter festivals. Fried dough topped with your choice of decadent extras. My favourite is cinnamon and sugar like this one here. Served piping heart — the perfect way to keep your fingers warm…as long as it lasts!

How about you — any popular winter activities happening in your neck of the woods?

 

 

 

Winter or Spring- Straddling the Line

It’s that time of year.Early spring, or six more weeks of winter? Here in the upper South, we can go either way.

The one and only snow day in Central Arkansas so far fell on the day last month when hubby and I were scheduled to leave for a Caribbean cruise! Around here, just a little bit of snow can shut down roads and cause havoc. Since we live around 20 miles from the airport, we spent a little extra money to stay in a hotel just a hop and a skip across the freeway from the runway. This gamble paid off for sure, as we were able to sleep confidently. Roads leading to the airport are among the first to be cleared. The next morning, there was just a dusting of white stuff, and no ice underneath, so we navigated the overpass, left our car in the cold, and headed for warmer climates.

When we connected in Atlanta, the terminals were buzzing with talk of an ice storm. Ours was one of the last planes to leave for Florida before the weather shut things down in Georgia’s busiest city.

Even in Florida, and on the ship, the weather was unseasonable. Temperatures in the 50s and 60s and strong winds made for choppy seas, and even a change in our schedule. But we did have a sunny day on the beach, and another warm one on a fishing excursion.

Back at home, there has been no more below freezing weather. Just a weekly roller coaster of winter, back to spring, and even summer. The plants are confused. Flowers and shrubs are blooming earlier than normal, and we go from shorts and flip-flops to scarves and boots with little notice.

I’m not complaining. It certainly keeps life interesting. But, I am just hoping that the beautiful blooms won’t be bitten by that last icy blast that always seems to arrive just before Easter Sunday.

God has a plan.He just keeps the weather men guessing in the Natural State!!!

25 Ways to Say “I Love You” on Valentine’s Day

I’ve got a secret to share. Are you ready? We romance writers like romance.

Are you shocked? Probably not, but this time of year we are joined by the masses as Valentine’s Day nears.

However, for some of you, the very idea of forced romantic creativity is terrifying. You don’t want to disappoint your spouse or your family, but how do you say “I love you” in some special way?

I’m here to help. Below you will find 25 Ways to Say “I Love You” on Valentine’s Day to your spouse and your family. Please, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments. The more things to love, the better!

  1. Order food from a take-out restaurant or get a heart-shaped pizza and share it with all of your Valentines on the living room floor with an indoor picnic.
  2. Show up at your spouses office and take him out to lunch. Wear something “special” under you clothes and hint that he can see it when he gets home, and you’ll be waiting. I’m sure he won’t be late today!
  3. Put heart candies everywhere for your spouse and children to find–their pockets, their lunches, their shoes, etc. It will be fun for them to keep discovering your love all day.
  4. Take your honey on a scavenger hunt with the last clue leading to your final Valentine’s Day activities.
  5. Remember where you had your first date? Recreate the it. Go to the same restaurant or watch the same movie.
  6. Put fun notes around the house for your hubby like “Hey, handsome” on a mirror or “You drive me crazy” on his car’s steering wheel.
  7. Start our the day with an  “Why I love you” note. Give him more throughout the day. Deliver each with a kiss.
  8. Dip your own chocolate covered strawberries and enjoy them with sparkling grape juice in goblets. Don’t forget the candle light.
  9. Get foil wrapped hearts in enough colors for each of your children to have their own color. Leave a trail of the foil wrapped hearts to a special Valentine’s Day present like a stuffed animal or game.
  10. Buy Mylar balloons at the dollar store and put one in each person’s room during the night. The first thing they’ll see in the morning is that you love them.
  11. Text your spouse sweet messages throughout the day. You can text sweet messages to your children, too.
  12. Each of you take a $10 bill and go to Wal-mart, Target, or a dollar store. Divide up at the door, and after 30 minutes, see what fun, creative Valentine’s gifts for the other.
  13. Surprise your kids by picking them up after school and taking them out for an ice cream treat.
  14. Gather up a lot of blankets and build a family fort. Use flashlights, not candles, to create some ambiance and gigle while your picnic inside, read books, or eat popcorn No kids? No problem. All men love forts.
  15. Have a game night with your spouse, but adjust the rules a little. For example, Trivial Pursuit takes on a whole new meaning when you have to remove something every time your spouse gets an answer right.
  16. Fill your spouses car (or your teenager’s car) with red and pink balloons.
  17. Put a collection of red items in  your family member’s lunches. Red jello, strawberry applesauce, pasta in red sauce, and  fresh tomatoes will do the trick. Don’t forget a yummy red dessert like red velvet cookie.
  18. Fill a jar with nuts and give it to your Valentine with a note that says, “I’m just nuts about you.”bacon roses
  19. Make him a bouquet of bacon roses. You can find out how on the internet. It’s pretty simple and they are very cute.
  20. Buy matching aprons and cook dinner together.
  21. Get out the homemade ice cream maker and celebrate with the family. Provide Valentine’s Day themed toppings like strawberries, heart sprinkles, etc. Don’t forget a can of whipped cream.
  22. Snow on the ground where you live? Fill a spray bottle with water and tint it red with food coloring. Spray the words “I love you” in the snow. Too much work? Just make a big heart.
  23. Get active. Go for a walk, holding hands. Build a snowman. Bike ride. Hike to a special spot.
  24. Check out your city’s guide for special events and attend one with your spouse and/or family. For example, our local garden has a Lego display going on.
  25. Bake a cake, cookies, or cupcakes that fit the day’s theme and deliver them to him at work. Don’t have time to bake? How about bringing him a heart-shaped doughnut? You can make a special delivery to your children’s school or their teacher’s, too.

Okay, that ought to get your creative juices flowing. Are there any of these you’d like to try? Do you have any ideas to share? We’d LOVE to hear them.

‘Tis The Season . . .

The Christmas season is definitely upon us. If you’ve shopped (I laugh at this – of COURSE you’ve shopped!), you’ll know that Christmas stuff is on the shelves along with Halloween. If you have a Hobby Lobby in your life, you’ll know that there are some Christmas things out year-round. And that’s OK. Crafters can’t wait until October to start projects.

My projects at Christmas revolve around two areas – decorating and cooking.

2016-12-03-23-08-38For some reason I feel the need to decorate most of the nooks and crannies of my house. Every year I say I’m going to cut back, not have my house look like North Pole South, but once you get all those boxes OUT, I mean, you may as well do SOMETHING with it, right? I pick up a Santa or a Snowman and remember where I got it, a funny anecdote that happened in years past. When the ceramic nativity scene comes out, I remember that my sister-in-law got that for us early in our marriage, and that it was crafted by a special-needs sheltered workshop in the area. The mantle just doesn’t look right without the Holy Family in the center.

2016-12-03-23-08-08And then there are the Christmas tree ornaments. SO. MANY. ORNAMENTS. We’ve had to start putting them on from most important to least important. For some reason the Cracker Barrel store and the Scrabble board ornaments always make their way on to the tree when I’m not looking.

But the cooking – I’m talking fudge, peanut butter snowballs, truffles, spiced nuts, party mix, cookies. It’s the candy I love the most, although I have a new recipe for spiced pecans that are out of this world. Really.

spiced-pecansThe best part of the holiday prep, though? Getting ready to have both my daughters home for the holidays. This week the youngest finishes her next-to-last semester of college and will be home, and next week my oldest and her boyfriend will be flying in from NYC.

So, I have candy to make, more spiced nuts to make (because my husband and I have demolished the first batch), gifts to wrap, Christmas music to sing and play, and a house to prepare.

Then, I will rest. I will enjoy my family. I will sit on the couch and look at the twinkly tree and Nativity on the mantle. I will love the life God has so graciously given me.

I hope you all have a Merry, blessed Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Warm hugs,

Regina

merrickchristmas2014P.S. Selfies and bifocals do not mix well – but I love this pic of us!

 

And then there was none…

…as in books. Not a one gracing my cute antiquey wicker footstool which is actually my TBR shelf. It’s usually brimming with books, all carefully arranged in reading order. It’s situated at the end of my bed and is guaranteed to send a thrilling tingle up my spine first thing in the morning when I set eyes on it. Oh the sweet promises all those stories hold. The lure of adventure and romance. Countries to visit. Mysteries to solve. Heroes to fall for.

Yes, I might derive a bit too much comfort from my TBR pile as I learned all too well last week when…gasp…my gaze lit upon an empty footstool. All the books were gone. Read. Nestled in their permanent home on a Keeper Shelf. And that left me…GASP…bookless!

Well, not really bookless since I have hundreds of book-friends crowding my little home. But no new friends. Not a one. It was…traumatic. And frustrating since I should have seen it coming. I should have prepared more. Calculating the approximate number of reading hours on that pile and then divided it into days so I’d have plenty of time to stock up before I reached that last book.

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But I didn’t. Despite this clever tracking system. Isn’t it pretty? It’s my Must Read list for 2015 – 2016. Those tabs each represent a month and then I write down the new releases I absolutely must read. Nothing like keeping your reader love totally organized, right?

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Here’s a glimpse inside. See the way I check off the book once I receive it? And I make a notation about where I got it — review group, library or bookstore. Is that a little too organized for y’all?

Despite my efforts I never seem to manage to read every book on my list by the end of the year. I come close though. Now’s the time I make a new, abbreviated list. “The Ones That Got Away.” and then I lay hints on friends and family and I make a desperate last minute order from an online store, or head out to the local bookstore…okay, I usually do both…in a last ditch effort to read everything on my list.

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This one looks so intriguing — and who can resist the lure of historical and suspense?

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Two words: Irene Hannon — need I say more?

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I’ve wanted to read one of Pepper’s books for ages but they are hard to come by in Canada. And super expensive to buy even from Book Depository (the Canadian dollar being what it is and all.)

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I can’t resist a good Amish story…and this is a new-to-me author.

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This is the Christmas story that got away and it looks too sweet to resist.

So, how about you? Is your TBR pile hail and hearty? Are you as compulsive about tracking your reading life as I am? And what are the books that got away from you this year?

 

 

 

 

 

One More Song To Sing

Today I’d like to introduce you to a new author friend of mine, Lindsay Harrel. I met Lindsay through a Facebook friend who liked her post about her new book, One More Song to Sing, and after reading the blurb, I was hooked! So without further ado, I’d like to welcome Lindsay to you.

Lindsay, please tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, Dawn. Thanks so much for having me! I am the 30-something stay-at-home mom of a toddler boy, with another little blessing on the way. I’ve worked in education, marketing, and editing, and still do some freelance work during my son’s naptime. My husband and I have been married for 10 years and live in Arizona. We’ve got a busy life and I wouldn’t trade a moment.

What inspired you to become an author?

I’m one of those people who loved reading and writing as a child. You could always find me with someone else’s book in my hands or with a stack of stapled-together papers writing my own. Somewhere along the line, I kind of lost my zeal for writing fiction and decided to pursue journalism instead. But when I was working on my master’s degree, I took a fiction writing class as an elective, and my love for fiction came careening back into my life.

Do you have a favorite food that you could eat all of the time and not get tired of it?

I know I sound like a little kid, but pizza. Buffalo wings are the bomb too. LOL.

Preference: small towns or big cities? Why?

I’ve lived in the suburbs of Phoenix almost all my life, so that’s a hard one! There is so much to admire about small-town living—the intimacy, the simplicity, the quirkiness (if Gilmore Girls is to be believed). But I’m not sure I could go very long without immediate access to some of my favorite stores and restaurants, so I suppose I’d probably be more on the side of favoring big cities.

Are you a coffee drinker or a tea person?

I despise coffee and tolerate flavored iced tea. I didn’t even like that until I was trying to kick my soda habit and needed some caffeine to conquer headaches!

When you write characters, do you put yourself in any of the roles?

(such as I see myself as the protagonist, or I’m more like my antagonist.) I think I can usually see a bit of myself in every character. I like to dive into a character’s motivations, and so many times, they come from a place of hurt or fear. I can relate very well to both of those emotions.

onemoresongtosing-cover-finalHow did you come up with the idea for your newest novel, One More Song to Sing?

I love music (I’m a singer) and I love stories about redemption. Still, I don’t know if there was one “aha” moment when coming up with the story. But the first scene I envisioned is now the third scene in the book, when Ellie—a young performer struggling to make ends meet—is singing and playing guitar in a somewhat seedy joint in Nashville. She is dejected and hopeless, and I immediately asked myself why. The fun part was figuring it out, and the story unfolded slowly from there.

What is the most fulfilling part of being an author?

For me, it’s just such a privilege to get to share God’s message of hope, redemption, and love with others. It’s also satisfying to do something that makes use of my passions and abilities. I love doing something I feel like I was made to do, you know? Even during the hard days, that sustains me. Well, that and God.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about One More Song to Sing?

I would share more specifics about the story itself, but I don’t want to give too much away! What I can say is this—I hope that every person who picks up the book will come away with a little more hope, a little more love, and a little more belief in God’s power to redeem our lives.

Thanks so much for having me, Dawn! It’s been fun chatting with you.

You, too! We wish you great success on One More Song to Sing.

To purchase One More Song to Sing: Amazon and B&N

Lindsay Harrel is a lifelong book nerd with degrees in Journalism and English who has worked in both education and marketing. She lives in Arizona with her young family, and two golden retrievers in serious need of training. Besides writing, singing, and hanging out with family and friends, Lindsay enjoys making a fool of herself at Zumba, curling up with anything by Jane Austen, and savoring sour candy one piece at a time. Lindsay loves to watch God work in ordinary lives to create something extraordinary, and she writes to bring hope to those who may have lost it along the way. Connect with her at www.LindsayHarrel.com.

Christmas- the Ultimate Comfort Zone

Before you really get started reading this, close your eyes for just a minute, and picture yourself on Christmas morning. Really. I promise I’ll be here when you get back. One, two, three, close ‘em.

Open again? Okay. So where were you? What were you doing. What did you see, hear, smell?

I’ll share first. I am at my grandmother’s house. The house is quiet, except for my Granny’s humming as she cooks. I can hear the clicking of her basset hound’s toenails on the linoleum floor as she follows Granny around the kitchen. The smell of corned beef hash wafts through the living room. The little aluminum Christmas tree glows brightly in the reflected light of the round multi-colored light machine. Unwrapped toys still sit under the tree, with neatly folded bathrobes and slippers and other warm clothes nearby. We would have a quiet breakfast, just my Mom and sister and me and Granny (and Sam the Basset hound). Soon, my aunt and cousins will return for dinner and playing outside in the South Central Kansas snow.

Your memories are probably much different. But it is not hard to conjure up a Christmas memory. They stick and stay in our heads, and we bring them out when we need to be in a happy place.

If I try again, and fast forward to when our kids were small, the scene will be similar. Some presents are unwrapped under an artificially green tree in our living room, but Santa’s special surprises: a Cabbage Patch doll, a Pound Puppy and a new pair of cowboy boots wait proudly for the first sleepy-head to emerge from the bedroom. I sit with my cup of hot tea and soak up the precious silence. Santa had come through once again, though my husband and I had wondered how he would manage with our meager paychecks. Outside, the Arkansas sun shines brightly, and I am actually thankful that there is no snow. Here in the foothills of the Ouachitas, slick roads would keep the grandparents from coming over later to watch the kids enjoy their new things. The big dinner the night before had been at their house, and I will most likely serve sandwiches today, along with any leftovers that might arrive with them. For now, heavenly peace.

Yes, the faces around the tree change, the size and value of the presents vary, but there are constants. Things seem familiar, comfortable.

Now  that our kids are grown, our new normal is that we very rarely manage to have all of our offspring in the same room at the same time. We enjoy each one when we get to see them, no matter the date on the calendar. The tree goes up earlier, stays up longer, to accommodate their schedules. That is fine for me, as I have more of those quiet moments, more time to remember Christmases past.

Not everyone adjusts to changes in the Christmas routine as easily. The same memories that bring us joy, also cause pain. The absence of familiar faces diminishes our joy. We need to be aware of this, and reach out to those who suffer during the holidays.

The first Christmas was not comfortable for the young couple who had traveled a great distance to find a “No Vacancy” sign, and a baby who was born in a building intended for animals. They knew, though, that something amazing was happening, having heard from angels, and visitors who came to gaze in amazement at the future king. This story is the constant that keeps Christmas so special for all of us. The realization that no matter what else happens in this world, God keeps His promises. Whether in a festive room full of friends and family, or alone in the flickering light of a fireplace, Christmas encourages us, prompts us to look around, to reach out to each other. Let’s remember the hope that filled that tiny, smelly stable so long ago. Comfortable or not, enjoy your Christmas celebration this year!

 

 

What’s Your Texas Ranger Nickname?

Last week, I had the chance to be part of a super fun Release Party for Seven Brides for Seven Texans. We had over a hundred guests at our party, along with games and prizes. It was such a fun way to kick off this book!

Seven Brides for Seven Texans is beginning to appear on the bookstore shelves and at big box stores. If you see it, snap a photo and post it on Facebook. It’s fun for me to see where it’s showing up.

For my segment of the party, I made up a little game called “What’s Your Texas Ranger Nickame?” My hero, Chisholm Hart, is a dimpled Texas Ranger with wit, grit, and charm. In the words of my friend Shannon Vannatter, “Y’all might like to piddle around with the game, too.”

Oh, by the way, I described Chisholm with “dimples as deep as canyons.”

 

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Y’all need Ranger nicknames.

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And here’s the bookmark that we ended up choosing, mostly because the one with the seven riders ended up being a screen shot from the Magnificent Seven. Ooops.

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So what’s your Texas Ranger nickname? Do dimples make you swoon? Oh, I sure hope so. And if you’d like some book marks to share with friends or place in your local library, leave me a note below. I’d love some help from my “posse” in spreading the word about this fun novella collection.

Behind the Music

Working for a symphony orchestra, I come across a lot of interesting characters. From the musicians who make up the orchestra to the patrons who attend our concerts, the full spectrum of humanity’s quirks are on full display.

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But one of my favorite parts of my job is reading and writing about the people who wrote the music we perform today. From Beethoven’s hearing loss to Mozart’s mysterious patron requesting what would be his final Requiem, the real life stories of the composers whose genius birthed the greatest music we’ve ever known is often stranger than fiction.

For example, this past weekend, my orchestra performed a piece called Symphonie fantastique, by French composer Hector Berlioz. While the music itself is beautiful, haunting, and bewitching (especially the final movement), it is the story behind it that is the stuff novels are written from.

In 1827, Berlioz was a 24-year-old struggling composer in Paris. After attending a performance of Hamlet put on by a troupe of traveling English actors, he fell immediately in love with the play’s Ophelia, a beautiful young actress named Harriet Smithson. Berlioz wrote her countless love letters, to the point of filling her dressing room with them, but the actress, frightened of this obsessed stalker’s fan’s attentions, never answered them.

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For three years, Berlioz held on to his unrequited passion for a woman he had never met, despite becoming engaged to another young woman who ultimately broke it off (Berlioz actually planned to kill his former fiance and her mother, but got cold feet. That’s a story for ANOTHER day.). The composer eventually found an outlet by writing Symphonie fantastique, the story of a young artist in love with a beautiful woman. The artist attempts to kill himself through opium, instead producing a horrible vision in which the artist kills his beloved and is surrounded by a hideous throng of sorcerers and devils before he awakens (cheery stuff, eh?).

When the work premiered in 1832, Smithson just happened to be in the audience. Upon realizing the piece was written for her, and that Berlioz still loved her, she relented and met the composer the next day. Get this: Smithson and Berlioz ended up getting married a year later. Crazy, right? (FYI, they didn’t live happily ever after, since Berlioz didn’t speak English and Smithson didn’t speak French, and apparently Berlioz eventually realized that worshipping his lady love from afar was much more fun that actually living with her.)

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Take another composer, Franz Liszt. Insanely talented as a pianist and composer, Liszt gave concerts across Europe, often four or five a week, and was showered with honors and adulations. A true showman who had a mesmerizing stage presence, Liszt’s audiences adored him. Women fought over silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves that Liszt had worn. Broken piano strings from his concerts were made into bracelets. Swarming fans tried to attain locks of his hair, and even fought over his coffee dregs and cigar stumps. Women fainted and went into hysterics in his presence (kind of like the reception Elvis had in his day).

Medical professionals even coined a term for the hysteria in 1842: “Lisztomania.” Unlike “Beatlemania” of the ’60s, Lisztomania was believed to be an actual contagion, and doctors sought to immunize the public against it. Of course, Liszt was just the rock star of his day, and much like “Bieber Fever,” it died out when his popularity waned.

I just adore learning the stories behind classical masterpieces and the people who created them, much like finding out what inspired my favorite authors to write my favorite books. Since I’m writing a symphonic murder mystery, I’ve considered having a blog on my future website dedicated to anecdotes about composers. I’d love to call it The Decomposing Composer. What do you think?