Preview Giant Tales Beyond the Mystic Doors

Giant Tales Beyond the Mystic Doors, a 16-writer anthology of 61 short stories, is getting fantastic reviews on Amazon.  They’re all 750 words, and cover many genres, including adventure, romance, and science fiction. Here’s one:

Adieu to the Piano

By Gail Harkins

Across the rolling hills of Spain, sunflowers tracked the time as surely as any clock. East to west, sunup to sundown.  Inside the hacienda, the time was measured not in days, but in years, by the quantity of music books that filled the cabinets near the piano and the silver strands in Lucia’s once-black hair.

At the piano, Lucia’s fingers tripped over a passage, transforming complex harmonics into discord. “Again!” she muttered to herself. She leaned forward, examined the troublesome section, then broke it a part, playing first the right hand and then the left. Resettling herself, she began the sonata again and, once more, misplayed the measure. Reaching up, she readjusted the music stand, pulling it far forward, then pushing it back. She did the same with the piano bench, and then with her body. The notes remained blurry.  Frustrated, she snapped the music book shut, closed the keyboard cover and left the room.

Outside on the veranda, the sun warmed her cool skin and soothed her spirit as she watched the field of sunflowers track that golden spotlight across the sky.

“Mamma? I brought you some lemonade.” A woman in her mid-30s set a tray on the table. “Did you get the passage worked out?”

The older woman sipped the lemonade, then finally answered. “Life used to be like that for me,” she reminisced, nodding toward the golden fields. “I was the sun, and peopled flocked to hear me play.  Vienna, London, Prague… I filled the concert halls. But you know that.” She paused, then turned to her daughter. “I can’t see the music anymore, Juliana. The notes blur on the page.”

“But I heard you earlier, playing Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse. It was beautiful.”

“I memorized it 30 years ago. If I had to check the notes today, I wouldn’t be able to see them.”

Juliana heard the sadness in her voice. Her face went taunt in sympathy.

Lucia tapped the book in her lap. “I opened it again today.”

“What appeared?” she asked in concern.

“The same thing it’s recommended for the past month, ‘Adieu to the Piano.’”

Juliana frowned. “One of Beethoven’s last compositions.”

Her mother nodded. “It’s time. Bring Cecilia to me tomorrow after school. I’ll introduce her to the book.”

“She’s so young…”

Lucia smiled slightly. “No younger than I, when the maestro passed the book to me. It’s time for a new star to rise.” She stayed on the veranda till the sunflowers dropped their heads. Her career as a concert pianist was over. Like the sunflowers, it was time to look in another direction.

The following afternoon, a young girl raced up the walk and into the hacienda. She found Lucia seated in the courtyard with a thin book in her hands, and threw her arms around her in a childish embrace.

“Mommy says you can’t play piano anymore. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too, my dear. Your mother tells me you practice constantly. That’s good. Will you play for me?” She gestured to the grand piano just inside.

A Bach invention flowed effortlessly from the child’s nimble fingers. “Well done! Now play me another piece.”

The child played for the next hour, working through her repertoire. Finally, Lucia called Cecilia to her.

“You play beautifully, child. You could be a concert pianist one day. Would you like that?”

Cecilia nodded.

Lucia caressed the book in her lap, tracing the face of the sunflower on its cover. “When I was very young, a great pianist gave me this book. A great musician had given it to him at the beginning of his career, too. Now I’m giving it to you. It contains all the world’s most beautiful music.”

Cecilia laughed. “That’s impossible. It’s too thin!”

“No. Not impossible.” When Lucia touched the book, it seemed to flash, replacing the sunflower with musical compositions. Lucia touched it again and the page turned. “Thousands of pages of the greatest piano pieces ever written are in this tiny book. Use it wisely, and you can become great.”

A year later, in Brooklyn, an aging father worked the New York Times Crossword puzzle as his son surfed the Internet.

“Hey Dad! Come here! You’ve gotta see this!”

“Another YouTube, Joel? What is it? Dancing penguins?” he asked, leaving the patio and the upturned faces of his wife’s small orange sunflowers.

“No, it’s some Spanish kid playing piano.  The newscaster called her a modern Mozart!”




Regency Regards – Searching for Pemberly

This year, 2013, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Peppered with wit and love, the enduring appeal of this book has spawned a veritable cottage industry of writers continuing the story, modernizing and expanding as they go.

One of my favorite newer takes on the Pride and Prejudice phenomena is “Searching for Pemberly,” by Mary Simonsen. This tale is set immediately after World War II and is told by Maggie Joyce, a young American working in London. When visiting a friend’s family home, it’s casually mentioned that the local manor is thought to be the “real” Pemberly  — Austen’s model for the fictional estate. Entranced by the thought, she digs deeper, building an enduring friendship with a local couple and their RAF pilot son, and a promising romance with an American pilot

Multiple love stories are woven together beautifully and tenderly. This is a page-turner, whether or not the reader is familiar with Austen’s seminal novel. I highly recommend this book.

Oldies But Goodies – A Princess of Mars

In the rush to read today’s greatest hits, don’t overlook the favorites of yesteryear.


I just completed “The Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs and utterly loved it! Romance, action, adventure, fantastic creatures…it has it all, making this a real page turner — after you get past the prologue and early set up (30 pages).

Written in 1917, the notion of Mars as a moss-covered planet is hilarious to modern readers. Overlook that. Focus on the story — an Earth man finding his way through alien, warring cultures to rescue himself and a human-like princess from a higher civilization. I”d love to tell you more but can’t without spoiling the surprises. The love story is tender, the action swift, the story exciting. All in all, it stands the tests of time.

Download it for free through the Gutenburg Project, or find it at your local library. It’s also available as an audio book at the Gutenberg Project.