Right Before His Eyes

It’s my husband’s birthday today. November 3rd. Our family— minus the Florida part, unfortunately—  is gathering at his favorite restaurant, Il Piccolino, in West Hollywood, for the celebration. Tomorrow, he will board a train at Union Station in VSOEinstationdowntown LA, and head to New York City— a trip that will take three days. He is a very happy man.

It’s a simple train. Nothing fancy at all. Just the necessities really, and he will have his magazines, newspapers, books, and his music (always LauraPausini). He has loved trains his entire life, and he’s been on many trips around the world. Canada, India, and Australia, to name a few. But his favorite train trip, I think, was on the 734923_319646971470521_1252637956_nOrient Express, which started in London and ended in Venice two days later. A short trip, yes, but one that took his and my breath away. (So much so, in fact, that he conceived of and filmed Romance on the Orient Express, inspired by it. It starred Cheryl Ladd, Julian Sands and John Gielgud.)

The Venice Simplon-Orient Express is the world’s most authentic, timeless train. Its 1920s Art Deco cars each glisten with luxury and come at a price of $3,120 a person. But, thank God, this includes the best of champagne, drinks and meals. The day Frank and I boarded the gleaming train that departed from London Victoria station on platform 2, the weather was crisp lonvenmand clear. We had seen so many photographs and read so many articles about the Orient Express, that the prospect of having a very unique experience was swelling large in our souls. We held our breaths as we were helped up the stairs of our first-of-two trains, the one that would take us to the English coast. Our seats on this train were royal-blue velvet, headrests covered in linen towels. We had hardly gotten adjusted to our splendid surroundings and were flying through Kent, when we were invited into the dining room for a lovely brunch on the way to the White Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel.

Once in France, (after, I must say, a horrendous trip on a ferry, not recommended after a meal) we boarded an exquisite royal-blue train at the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Assisted by uniformed and white-gloved attendants, we were shown to our Lalique Beynac-Upper-Villageglass- and wood-paneled room, where a rose-colored velvet couch, chairs, draperies to match, and a vase of blossoms welcomed us into its luxurious arms. As we traveled through overwhelming, picturesque stretches of France, we rested a bit, and then washed up in our small, but well-appointed salle de bain. After a visit from our butler to ask if we needed anything and to remind us that dinner was soon to be served, Frank donned his black tie and dinner jacket and I, my black lace floor-length dress. Soon, we were rocking and rolling—gracefully of course—down the carpeted corridors into the bar car.

NOT the actual Lady in Red...
NOT the actual Lady in Red…

In its wall-chandelier-splendor, it was one of the most magnificent rooms I was ever to behold, complete with a pianist playing music from years ago. Sipping champagne served to us in gleaming cut-glass crystal glasses, we reservedly chatted with other guests nearby. There was a duchess and duke; another couple, royalty from Scandinavia they suggested; and a Lady in Red— that’s what we call her even today. And there were three eighty-some-year-old gentleman train enthusiasts from Texas, who had ridden on every train in the world. After another glass of Dom Perignon, we all timidly brought out our cameras and took pictures for each other. After that we became old friends. Some time later, in a lavishly decorated dining room, we were served a feast, each of the four courses exhibiting culinary skill of great proportions, summoned up in a minuscule galley kitchen.

29E681E100000578-0-image-a-27_1435328416088That night we hardly slept at all, not wanting to miss a thing. Raising the blinds every so often to reveal towns and villages, mountains and lakes and fields of growing things, all lit by dazzling stars and the moon, we finally just left it up and stared out, spellbound.

italy-29634609-1366363719-ImageGalleryLightboxBreakfast, with two of the three men from Texas, found us weaving along contours of stone castles and church towers, finally reaching Vorarlberg, which divided Tyrol by the six-mile Arlberg Road Tunnel. Lunch (with the duchess and duke) was served as the train draped down from a highpoint on the border with Italy, and through clusters of villages abundant with orchards and vineyards. Afternoon tea, (the lady in red was nowhere to be seen, and a lovely gray-haired couple from Jaipur, India asked to join us) was offered, as the train passed by the last major city we would see, Padua,the oldest city in northern Italy, and where my favorite saint, St. Anthony was born.

Venice Grand Canal from Hotel Ca' Sagredo

When the train arrived in Venice we walked out of Santa Lucia terminal, and suddenly found ourselves on the exquisite banks of the Grand Canal. Our feet on solid, firm, motionless ground once again, the past two days seemed dreamlike, pretend, and 10930864_10205521118498060_4253128777442041264_nunreal… until the lady in red whisked by us, trailed by a man with a cart of suitcases, and disappeared out of sight.

As I said, it is my husband’s birthday today. He has traveled many places in this world, by ship, by car and by plane. Sometimes he travels with me and sometimes he travels alone. But his very favorite way to get from one place to another is by train. It’s that sense of being somewhere one minute and somewhere else a moment later that excites him. Seeing it all laid out right before his eyes. He likes to slow down and reflect now and then. And glimpse the view unhurriedly as it goes by.

The Best Review We’ve Ever Received!

Good morning, Kathy,
As a junior reading block teacher, I constantly search for books to appeal to the demographics of my classes.  One boy, Tyron, has told me for two years that he doesn’t like to read. At first, he read the Bluford series for his daily independent reading, but as a junior I wanted him to broaden his horizons.
He saw one of my copies of your book, Secret Storms, and I gave him a brief synopsis of your fascinating story. In three days, he has read nearly half the book, and he reads during any spare moment he has in the class!
Thank you, for writing such an engaging, informative book. Thank you, for providing a wonderful catalyst to engage this student with a higher quality of reading material.

Michele Parent

English/Reader Teacher
Brevard Public Schools

Jupo the Spider Monkey, Part I

Jupo, the baby spider monkey given to me on Christmas Day the year I was twelve, popped out of the wooden crate she was in, just like she was a jack-in-the-box. I screamed. I screamed so loudly that she got scared and jumped back in, covering her tiny head. It took me fifteen minutes of whispering soft, sweet words for her to show her face again. And after that, she never left my side.

Our family had a set of encyclopedias, and my parents suggested I use it to find out about my new pet. Spider monkeys, I read, come from the tropical forests of Central and South 181238-baby-spider-monkey-aaawww-1America, and from southern Mexico and Brazil, as well. Their disproportionately long limbs and long prehensile tails gave rise to their name. They are social animals, and live in bands of up to 35 individuals, but will split up to forage during the day.

As far back as I can remember, I had always wanted a monkey. It didn’t matter what kind. My parents had all sorts of wild animals—a cheetah, an American bald eagle, two coatimundi, several ocelots, pythons, hawks, Guinea fowl, peacocks, a baby fox, a coyote, some bats, a tarantula, a pair of kinkajous, and an otter. We also had domestic animals, like horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, and a little Cairn terrier named Wriggles. But we didn’t have a monkey.  And then, suddenly, that Christmas, we did. And she was mine. All mine.

We lived out in the country in an old stone farm house which was in the center of twenty five acres of manicured lawns, eighty-foot trees, rolling green pastures, an apple orchard, a pond, and a great big, old wooden barn. My brother and I had full run of the place. Since Jupo was with me all the time, that meant she had the run of the place, too.

Spider monkeys primarily eat fruits, the encyclopedia said, but will occasionally consume leaves, flowers, and insects. They are diurnal, so spend 6a010535647bf3970b0134853c556e970cthe night sleeping in carefully selected trees. I knew I could give Jupo fruit and leaves, but I wasn’t certain about the insects. So I called the Philadelphia zoo for help. They gave me a list of things that would be healthy for her to eat, like mixed-together egg, corn flour and meal bugs. I had a floor-to-ceiling enclosure for Jupo in a corner of my room. There was a sturdy tree branch inside for her to climb on, and a blanket for her to wrap up in. But at night, she mostly slept with me.

I don’t know what season Jupo and I enjoyed the most back then. At the end of one season, I was always anxious for the next to begin. Her first summer, however, was the most unforgettable one. I remember taking her out one June day when she was just eight months old, spreading a red plaid blanket on the lawn, and sitting there with her in my arms so she could look around. But her small body trembled so hard I finally took her back into the house.

A mother spider monkey, I read, carries her baby around her belly for the first year. I carried Jupo across my front—her arms, legs Spider_monkey_mommy_babyand tail would wrap around me and she’d hold on tight. Spider monkey mothers are very protective, and they put their young on their imagesbacks when teaching them to navigate from tree to tree. After Jupo’s first few days outside, she stopped shaking. Soon, I moved her from the front of me, onto my shoulder. One day, I went over to one of our Ginkgo trees and stood right next to a branch. Spider monkey mothers sometimes pull branches closer together so the baby can climb for the first time, feeling more secure. So I did that, making a nice little shelf with two branches that she could sit upon safely.

That’s when, out of the blue, Jupo suddenly detached herself from my shoulder and, without even a glance in my direction, jumped onto the branch. In the time it took me to open my mouth and let out a gasp, she had climbed to the top of the 80-foot tree.


To be continued…


Your Ears are Attached to My Mouth

Hi, I’m Andrew. And I’m Aida.

We are the book designer and editor of Secret Storms, respectively. We have worn many hats in this publication process. One of the cool things we get to do is handle correspondence from readers. A common inquiry we receive has to do with the Secret Storms audiobook. We know, therefore, that many of you are curious about the process of recording one. It just so happens that among the hats we wore were those of audiobook Director and Narrator. So we are delighted to take over Julie and Kathy’s blog for the day, to tell you a bit about the experience.

Aida, having worked closely on a daily basis with Julie during the long editing process, was a natural fit to read as the voice of Julie. We had made the decision right from the get-go that this audiobook would only work narrated in two voices, to mirror the experience of reading the book. We needed someone with the grace, femininity and gentleness evident in Kathy’s written voice. It was an absolute joy, therefore, to have the chance to work with actress and voice-over artist, Kimberly Woods.

The entire book was recorded in Kimberly’s home sound studio, where the three of us basically lived for the duration of the Kimberlyproduction. The recording process took an unusually-long two weeks, mainly because the last time Aida acted was in college, and she decided to lose her voice after merely two days of recording and was under strict direction not to utter a sound until the hoarseness went away. It turns out that it isn’t “just like talking” into a microphone. It turns out that it’s a performance like any other, and carries with it its own physical and mental demands. After enduring 10 cups of tea a day, countless spoons full of honey and other atrocities/remedies, Aida returned, and we started to have a rollicking time.

Compared with Kimberly’s professionalism and her ability to get it right in one take, Aida’s antics kept us in high spirits—something that was much needed, especially when in the midst of recording the book’s more melancholy moments. She refused to remember that the microphone into which she was speaking was directly linked to a pair of headphones, Aidawhich were, sadly, snug around Andrew’s ears. When she stumbled over a line or made some other mistake, she found it difficult to contain herself, screaming at the very top of her lungs right into a sensitive piece of audio equipment. We have not yet been able to independently confirm that she did not permanently damage his ear drums. And then there was the one full day in which she could not say a mere two sentences in a convincing British accent…or the time she forgot how to say the word “three”… but that’s another story.

All the silliness aside, the three of us came away from this process having experienced something quite surprising. It was, frankly, magical to see characters and events we had experienced on the page in the individual and private ways that every reader experiences a book, come to life in Aida and Kimberly’s performances. The result is a single tapestry woven together from the narrators’ creative journeys along the emotional threads of Julie and Kathy’s stories.

The final product can be found here (Amazon) or here (iTunes).

Here, you can sample some chapters.

And here, as a special treat, is a little peak behind the scenes—a blooper reel from the recording sessions! Hope you enjoy.

-Aida and Andrew


My Menagerie

The Christmas of my twelfth year, I received a wonderful baby spider monkey, whom I named Jupo. After I opened her crate and let Julie VonZerneck_Page_09her out, she immediately climbed our Christmas tree and wrenched away most of our beautiful family ornaments. A floor-to-ceiling wire enclosure had to be erected in my bedroom, but she cried when I put her in it at night. Also, it was so cold that winter that all the blankets in the world wouldn’t have kept her warm enough, because she would just toss them off. She even ripped off the little doll-sized, red-striped pajamas I’d put her in. So, in the end, she slept with me, inside my nightgown, stretched out across my chest, where she could hear the sound of my heartbeat under her own. Jupo only loved me and would cling to me, her arms around my neck, all day long. She kept my life exciting with all of her antics for five wonderful years. And then it was time for her to find a mate, which she did—Butch, a strapping young spider monkey, who lived at the Norristown Zoo in New Jersey.

Julie von Zerneck in formal wear w- squirrel monkey, MachoWe had a cheetah named Rani who lay out on my bed some afternoons and slept ‘till it was her feeding time.  And of course we also had the American bald eagle, Aguila. We had Otty, the otter, who liked to attack me in the pond and nibble my toes and make me scream bloody murder when I was swimming; and Coy, the coyote. We also had several ocelots, a bunch of skunks, vampire bats, a tarantula that we used a toothbrush to clean, six peacocks and pea hens that cried heeeelp, heeeelp when anyone drove up our quarter-mile drive; eight falcons, an unattractive hyrax, a fox named Tod, whom my father wrote about in one of his children’s books, foxdpmThe Fox and The Hound; and many other animals, including dozens and dozens of various snakes, some very poisonous, that came and went through the years. We also raised rats and rabbits to feed these animals. And then there was the roadkill that we found along the country roads. Our icebox in the shed was filled to the brim with not only the usual chicken and lamb chops, but with square enamel trays of dead furry things that had wandered too close to Route 401 just off Bacton Hill.

When I was little and still living at my grandmother’s house, it was actually safer keeping me inside a cage because so many of the animals my parents brought back had free range; my playpen had a top cover and was made of metal mesh. As a young child, I was not encouraged to have friends, but later, when I was a teenager, school friends would flock to our house because they were utterly and completely captivated BabyJulie-wSkunkby what they and their parents referred to as “the eccentric Mannix family and their menagerie”.

At least once a month there was an article in one of the Philadelphia newspapers about adventurers Jule and Dan Mannix returning from Kenya, or leaving for India, or acquiring a pair of kinkajous, or having just written a new book. I hated when my friends brought cameras when they came to visit and had me take pictures of them with Rani licking their hands.rani


[excerpted from Secret Storms]

Emotional Mojo

As of this writing, according to Emotional Mojo, you still have 15 hours, 18 minutes and 10 seconds to “own this day”! This is a nationally syndicated show designed to inspire and motivate… and we are so pleased that they invited Kathy to be a guest! Here is a little teaser of behind the scenes moments, in anticipation of the segment’s airing.

Outtake with Applause

Recently, we were asked to do a couple of spots for some radio shows and before heading out to the recording studio, Kathy wanted to practice a little. It turned out, of course, that once there, she got it in one take. But we had loads of fun at  Secret Storms Headquarters and thought we’d share a bit of it with you.