Parkland Tales Is Here!



I’ve written a book of bedtime stories for adults. No, no, it’s not a titillating romance or pornography but stories for those of us of a certain age who find ourselves wide awake in the middle of the night. Yeah, you know who you are.


Here’s my (shameless) pitch on why Parkland Tales is your kind of read:

Parkland Tales by Melissa Powell Gay

  • You loved The Little Golden Book bedtime stories as a child.
  • You love stories with animals. To name a few, Charlotte’s Web, Watership Down, Redwall, The Wind and the Willows, Moby Dick, The Call of the Wild. I could go on.
  • You wake up at all hours of the night, can’t get back to sleep and want a little something to distract you.



Parkland Tales also makes a fantastic holiday or birthday gift to all your reader friends.

Find Parkland Tales and my novel When Are You Leaving on Amazon Books.

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Parkland Tales: A pleasant distraction on sleepless nights.


Parkland Tales by Melissa Powell Gay

I am excited to introduce the cover for my new book Parkland Tales, Stories for 3 a.m. Readings. 

The book features a series of connected stories about the furry and feathered residents of Parkland, an urban park surrounded by concrete and asphalt. Inspired by city parks and classic literary characters like Don Quixote, Bambi Deer, Romeo and Juliet and others, this book is for every adult who still likes a good story to escort them into sleepy times.

Parkland Tales, Stories for 3 a.m. Readings will be available on Amazon Books and other book sellers by October 16, 2016.

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And they live happily ever after, sort of.


Tragic lovers, they’ve been on my mind lately. I re-read William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as research for a short story I wrote called “Howlin’ at the Moon Kind of Love”.

The master playwright just couldn’t leave it at true love found. Oh, no, he had to go and make it all fateful by including a double suicide. (His play was inspired by stories written by 16th century Italian authors.)

But, Melissa, you say, the story is a tragedy. The characters are supposed to die.

Ever since its creation circa 1597, the play’s DNA has been passed down through most boy-meets-girl love stories. To satisfy the 21st century reader’s tastes, the true love gene has been modified to block out the play’s unbearable ending. After all, if the hero is dead, it’s kind of hard to imagine the character stumbling into another adventure after turning the last page.

AnneFortierMPGAuthor Anne Fortier manages to satisfy both the literary elite and the common reader in her book Juliet (published 2010). She creates a story true to the original format of tragedy and woe and a companion happily-ever-after tale. Similar to Lauren Willig’s The Pink Carnation series, Ms. Fortier’s novel uses a double narrative format with chapters alternating between present day and 14th century Italy.

In chapter one we meet young Juliet Jacobs who directs summer plays for pre-teen thespians. When Juliet is called home to Virginia to bury her dearest great-auntie Rose, she is presented with a mysterious letter informing her that her real name is Giulietta Tolomei and her future awaits her in Siena, Italy. Off she goes in search of fortune and, perhaps, true love.

Juliet_MPGLike her main character, Juliet, Ms. Fortier has a devoted love for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. At times, her prose feels as if the Bard himself directed her fingers as they must have flown across the computer’s keyboard.

If you’re looking for a modern love story with a classical pedigree, Juliet is the stuff. To heighten the experience, humor your inner geek and read the play as a companion to Ms. Fortier’s delightful novel.

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Finding True Love in a Bookstore

Al and Mr. Chuck

Al and Mr. Chuck


My friend Al and I trade book titles. Her recommendations are profound, the writers are clever and usually on the verge of becoming famous. Al can surely pick ‘em.  Here are her impressions of author Lou Berney and his novel The Long and Faraway Gone.

“I was driving home from work one cool evening in March listening to a story headlined “The Final Chapter of a Tale of Books, Love and Mystery in Minneapolis” on NPR’s All Things Considered. As the stop light changed from red to green, I turned the corner listening to Ari Shapiro interview Pat Frovarp, the 75-year-old co-owner of Once Upon a Crime, a basement bookstore in Minneapolis.  Pat was reminiscing about meeting her husband Gary Shulze in a bookstore, falling in love, and marrying. With the help of friends, the two purchased and ran Once Upon a Crime bookstore for fourteen years.

I said to myself and the traffic surrounding me, ‘True love. Pat and Gary have true love.’

At the end of the interview, Pat recommended a book by author Lou Berney titled The Long and Faraway Gone. As I crossed Brookland Park Boulevard, I repeated, ‘The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney’ over and over so I wouldn’t forget to make a note, when I got out of my car, to purchase the book. It is now one of my favorites.


Lou Berney takes you into the minds and souls of his people from beginning to end.  Sounds, colors, smells, tastes, passions and fears keep your hands gripped to the paperback like a white knuckle drive in a car.  Although I have never been to Oklahoma, I can see the clear shimmering heat coming off of the pavement in his story. I take an imaginary back seat ride through 1986 when life in retrospect was so simple yet so cunningly evil.  Lou’s people become real, living people who cannot shake their mind’s burdens no matter how hard they try. The Long and Faraway Gone brings you to the here and now by making you accelerate your reading adventure like you have a tornado on your tail.  It’s a true crime twister.”

Lou Berney


Look for Mr. Berney’s books on his website or the local library.

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On Reading Books about Writing


As we’ve all been told, perspective employers, customers, and friends skulk around our digital profiles to determine if we have pre-existing conditions like “bad spelling-itis” or “incorrect word usage addictions”. However, for me, life is too short to spend time thumbing through The Chicago Manual of Style to verify the proper placement of quotation marks. For publications on the golden rules of grammar and punctuation, I prefer brevity and entertainment.

AllrightKris SpisaKris Spisakk’s ebook Alright? Not All Right! is a quick reference on common mistakes we all make on our social media feeds while pinning, posting or tweeting about puppies and politicians. Want to avoid bad first impressions and improve your day-to-day written communication skills? Download Ms. Spisak’s 100 Writing Tips for the Curious and Confused.

Here are some other writing reference publications which meet my brevity and entertainment criteria.

For grammar and punctuation, try:

Harbrace College Handbook (7th edition) by John C. Hodges and Mary E. Whitten. The indexing format of this comprehensive guide enables me to find answers fast. This 7th edition was issued to me my freshman year at college. In 2013 the publisher celebrated the book’s 70th anniversary and published an 18th edition titled The Hodges Harbrace Handbook by Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Learning the correct way to use a semicolon is actually fun when reading Ms. Truss. Using jokes (a panda walks into a bar with a gun and orders a bamboo shoot) and real life bad examples, she shames us all into becoming better writers.

For the craft of writing, there are hundreds of books on the subject. Here are three classics I have enjoyed:

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. Only 105 pages long, I re-read this one each time I start a new writing project.

On Writing by Stephen King. Part memoir and part writing craft advice, this book reads, well, like a Stephen King novel. A page-turner until the end, the book is a must for the novice novelist.

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. According to the cover of my copy, more than a million readers think this book offers good advice on writing nonfiction. Tips from this book helped me with business and technical writing when I was a product development manager.

Ref Bk_0416

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Channeling The Bard


Is there really anything new under the stars when it comes to creating love scene dialogue?

You had me at "hello".

You had me at “hello”.

Remember the run away line from the movie Jerry Maguire?  Showing up unannounced, Jerry (Tom Cruise) professes in a garrulous soliloquy his undying love for Dorothy (Renee Zellweger). She patiently listens then delivers her love punch, “You had me at ‘hello’.”

Something about the understated line rings true for those struck with the “love at first sight” fever. The phrase inspired country crooner Kenny Chesney to write a song titled “You Had Me At Hello.” And when the opportunity arose in which he met the object of his song’s affection, the lovely Ms. Zellweger, he, like Jerry Maguire, howled at the moon then declared his eternal love for her with a marriage proposal.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that this wonderfully simple claim of one’s instant devotion had been written before. That’s right, William Shakespeare’s Juliet used the same sentiment on the obviously clueless Romeo when he showed up at her residence unannounced.

487009351Upon Juliet’s insistence that it is time for the love-struck and babbling lover to leave, Romeo asks, “O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?”

To which she replies, “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?”

And he begs, “The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.”

Then she asserts, “I gave thee mine before thou didst request it: And yet I would it were to give again.”

In other words, Romeo, you had her at “hello.”

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Mary Dulcie’s Jam Cake and The Christmas Lasagna Mutiny


IMG_8478By the time I was old enough to boil water, my mother welcomed an extra pair of hands into her kitchen. At twelve, I was promoted to holiday cookie baker. However, my mother entrusted no one but herself with the baking of her mother’s Christmas jam cake. Think English figgy pudding meets American candied fruit cake.

According to Mom the Christmas season wasn’t upon us until the old fashioned Bundt brick was resting under the cake tent in her dining room cupboard drying out nicely for the big day. And every year, all but a slice or two of the dense block of nuts and dried-out cake dough managed to survive the entire two weeks of gluttonous jubilations. The cake, along with the half-eaten, mint jelly centered Whitman samplers, was always the last holiday fare eaten, sometime between the waning days of January and Fat Tuesday.

Chef Iris at Christmas

Chef Iris at Christmas

As it came to pass, the year I turned eighteen, Chef Mom gave me free reign over the Christmas Dinner menu. By then, I estimated, our mother had prepared over 23,000 meals; for her, the excitement of preparing a holiday feast had lost its luster. On this most high of culinary occasions, she abdicated her favorite whisk and mixing bowls to me.

These were pre-Martha Stewart-Paula Dean times, ya’ll, but like those culinary trend setters, I was ready to shake things up in the kitchen. The first item knocked off the menu was, you guessed it, the jam cake and the second item was the standard, ho-hum roasted turkey. Both were banished. In their place, I smugly announced to the family, we would be supping on lasagna on December 25.  “She’s joking,” they said, “No turkey at Christmas? That’s madness. Heresy!” When the day of celebration of the birth of baby Jesus arrived, the lasagna was paraded around the dining room and placed at the table’s center among the yuletide side dishes my parent’s English and German ancestors had handed down to their daughters over the ages.

The diners grumbled over the absence of giblet gravy and mashed potatoes as every morsel of the lasagna disappeared. My sister still refers to that particular holiday supper as the Christmas Lasagna Mutiny. But, as I recall, no one asked for a slice of jam cake.

They were right, my ancestors and my family, and I was wrong. Christmas isn’t Christmas without our holiday memory comfort foods like the roasted turkey and all its trimmings or simple sugar cookies shaped as Christmas trees and angels. The act of baking the cake, rather than eating it, was Mom’s way of celebrating the season’s traditions, the experience which connected her to warm memories of her childhood Christmases. Since she passed away, I’ve baked the cake at Christmastime to honor her and her mother and to connect with my own Christmas Past.

Come January, when the days are their darkest and the cold wind pits freezing rain against your face, I invite you over for a cup of coffee and a slice of Mary Dulcie’s jam cake.  Don’t worry, there will be plenty left over from our Christmas celebrations for you to enjoy.

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Memoirs: They’re not just for celebrities


Doug Jones_PlaywrightDoug Jones says a memoir is not an autobiography, which requires research to verify events and dates. No, he says, a memoir is the story of your life or, perhaps, a milestone event you’ve experienced. Your story must be what you believe is the truth—in all its warts, pain and glory. To borrow from The Bard, “To thine own self be true” is the key to memoir writing. Doug’s a playwright, too.

“Why are memoirs so popular?” Doug asks. In the class my brother-in-law Bob and I attended, Doug says we read memoirs to connect with others, to assure that we not alone. To know that our fears, doubts, and joys are universal feelings; that every human has them.

“Who would want to read about my life?” Everyone in the class asks. “There’s nothing special about it.”

Doug disagrees. Guiding the class through a series of timed writing exercises then asking us to share our “interior monologues”, he proves to us that our stories can be interesting.

“Don’t worry. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. Just keep moving your pen,” he advises.

The exercises are designed to help find the “nugget”, or common theme, which can lead to scenes, or chapters, and, eventually, a story others may want to read.

On memories of being four years old, Brother-in-law Bob hit one out of the park by writing the phrase “on my side of the street.” This sweet expression conjures up all sorts of images and questions: What does this four-year old’s voice have to say about Bob the man? Or, what’s so special about his side of the street? Will he ever cross over? If he does, what’s waiting for him there?

Try it out. Starting with the phrase “I remember…” write for ten minutes, non-stop. Then read it aloud to a friend, roommate, spouse, or to yourself. Then, repeat.
Or, better yet, sign up for Doug’s memoir writing class this fall at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

 Memory_Story_intersectionMemoir Writing
Tuesdays, Sept 15-Dec 1, 10 am – 1pm at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


Here are some memoirs I’ve read over the last year or so. About the author’s stories, one’s funny, one’s heartrending, and every young woman pursuing a career in public service may want to consider reading the third.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleeza Rice

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What came first, writing or reading?


This Common Reader spending time with Gus and Woodrow

If you ask, any writer will tell you he was a reader long before he wrote the first sentence with intentions of publishing.

Like Scout Finch, I was reading before my momma packed me off to first grade. By the time I left for college, I had devoured most of the books in the tiny library in my hometown. Through the years, I’ve managed to hang on to the first book given to me and my mother’s Universal Edition of The Works of William Shakespeare. Everything else, I’ve borrowed from the library or friends and, lately, have asked Mr. Bezos to send along.

In my freshman year of college, I had my heart set on becoming a poet. My writing professor suggested I pursue another vocation as I would surely starve if my livelihood depended upon my sonnets. So economics and commerce it was. Then the years zipped by at the speed of a snapped finger. But as I’ve pinged my way through my own private accelerated time tunnel, reading has remained a faithful travel companion.

And now I’m ready to write my own stories.

Becoming a member of James River Writers has given me the opportunity to meet some of the Commonwealth’s many talented writers—poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, journalists and non-fiction writers. Members have encouraged and supported me as I pursue my dream of creating my literary legacy.

James River WritersJoin us for our Writer’s Conference October 16-18, 2015 at the Richmond Convention Center. If you’re a reader, chances are you’re a writer, too, and just haven’t admitted it to yourself.

Check for updates on conference activities and our “Reader’s Package.”  Come and meet the rest of the tribe.

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Hats off for respect



Mr. G and the Pacific Coast

Mr. G and the Pacific Coast

l love a man who wears a hat. A man wearing a hat badly, not so much.

Recently, my husband and I watched a re-broadcast of In Performance at the White House, the episode  in which some of the nation’s most talented folk and country singers serenade the President and First Lady.

Mr. LovettDressed in his usual made-to-measure style, Lyle Lovett stepped up to the microphone on the East Room stage and sang his western love song, “Cowboy Man.” I’m betting he checked his hat with the butler at the front door because, unless he’s portraying a scurrilous lawyer low-life (The Bridge), you’ll never see this Texas gentleman wearing his John B. Stetson indoors, especially at the White House. Why? ’Cause his mama said so. In his song “Don’t Touch My Hat”, he mentions her lesson:

My mama told me

Son to be polite,

Take your hat off

 When you walk inside

Later during the show, the man from Massachusetts walked on stage sporting what haberdashers call an open road rancher. Where was his stylist?  His mama?

Whatever happened to the practice of removing one’s hat to convey recognition and respect? And, boys, learning good hat etiquette isn’t hard. On Emily Post’s website there is a simple list of where and when a man should doff his hat, with “in someone’s home” at the top. (And there’s a list for the ladies, too.)

In these times of popular music performances, a cowboy hat, or any other kind of lid, worn on stage in a football stadium, a roadhouse or bar, OK, I get it. But the White House? Hear the sportscaster’s plea for common sense, “Come on, man,” and show a little courtesy.

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