Tag Archives: Author: Diane Piron-Gelman

First Christmas by Diane Piron_Gelman

“At 70 years old, if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words ‘fuck off’ much more frequently.” —Helen Mirren

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” —Robert Frost

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” —Mark Twain

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” —Elmore Leonard

“Only connect.” —E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

And, please, enjoy the Christmas story that follows …


It’s still dark out when Annie wakes. She didn’t mean to fall asleep. She meant to stay up all night, or at least long enough to hear reindeer hooves on the sloping roof of her house. The chimney is closest to her room—she eyeballed it Christmas Eve morning, just to make sure. If only she could’ve stayed awake. She imagines how the reindeer might have sounded. Little pitter-patters, like rain.

Her clock says five a.m., squarish numbers glowing in the dark. She sits up, keeping her puffy comforter close around her so the cool draft only hits her back, and peers out the window near the foot of her bed. It’s getting lighter, isn’t it? It’s not her imagination, the dark sky is starting to fade to silver-gray. Morning is here. It just needs time to catch its breath. Soon it’ll be here for real, and they’ll all be downstairs, her and Joel admiring the Christmas tree while Dad makes pancakes and Mom—

A soft knock comes at her door. Then Joel’s voice, hushed: “Annie?”

She scoots out of bed, the comforter wrapped around her like a princess cloak, her favorite stuffed lamb tucked in the crook of one arm. “Coming.”


Joel sits next to Annie at the top of the stairs. The staircase leads down into the dim grey shadow-light of too-early-for-Christmas-presents. Joel wishes it would hurry up and get lighter. Beside him, Annie stirs under her pink-striped comforter. “I wish we could go down now,” she says. “I want to see Santa!”

“He’s not there.” Joel wishes he’d brought his own comforter, with the baseballs and mitts on it. His bathrobe doesn’t feel warm enough, even though he can hear the bump of the furnace kicking on. “Santa starts at the North Pole, remember. He covers North America first. We’re pretty early on his route.” He tells himself this every year, to banish the sneaking dread he doesn’t dare confess to his little sister. She’d laugh if she knew he was scared of Santa Claus. No self-respecting twelve-year-old boy should even still believe in Santa, and most days this year, he didn’t…until he woke up this morning just before five, and heard the subtle little noises their old house always makes, and couldn’t shake the sudden conviction that the Jolly Old Elf was lurking around downstairs. Jolly. Hah. What’s jolly about a guy who knows what you’re doing every minute, and you can’t even spot him?

Santa is the spirit of giving. That’s what makes him real. The thought comes in his mother’s voice, clear and sweet and so vivid it’s almost audible. He huddles deeper into his bathrobe, tight around a cold empty feeling he doesn’t want to admit to. Annie holds out a corner of her comforter. “You can share my princess cloak,” she says.

“Thanks.” He drapes half the comforter over himself. Annie nestles in, like a puppy. Sadness washes over him, and he shuts his eyes tight. Annie shouldn’t see him cry. She’s only six. This Christmas, this first one After, will be hard enough for her. He’s her big brother. Mom asked him to look out for Annie, and he will. Right now, though, it feels like his little sister is looking out for him.


Annie leans against Joel, both of them wrapped up warm in her princess cloak. She can hear the house talking to itself, see the dimness downstairs ebbing like waves on the lakeshore in summer. Mom used to take them to the lake, Before. But now it’s After, and Mom is gone. The thought leaves a hole in Annie’s heart where Mom used to be. Sitting here now, with her big brother next to her trying hard not to cry, she has a glimmer of how—maybe—to help him out.

She nudges his shoulder. “Race you to our stockings in…what time is it?”

He swallows hard, opens his eyes, checks his watch. “Five-thirty.”

She screws up her face, trying to remember how long it is until six a.m., the earliest they’re allowed to go downstairs and start Christmas. “Half an hour?”

He looks at her, with a grin that’s almost like the one she remembers, even though his eyes are wet. “Sure, Annie Banannie. I’ll race you.”

“Don’t forget ‘on your mark, get set.’”

“I won’t.” He ruffles her hair. “I won’t forget anything. I promise.”

She finds his other hand beneath the comforter and slips her own into it. He squeezes and keeps hold. Together in the silence, they wait for Christmas Day to begin.


  1. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, writes mystery, historical and general fiction when she isn’t editing manuscripts, reading out loud into a mic, watching endless episodes of Farscape with her husband, or teaching her two boys how to fend for themselves in our crazy mixed-up world. http://www.dmpirrone.net/


The Magic of Apple Pie by D. M. Pirrone

pie slice 2

Late September brings with it my favorite season of the year. No, not autumn—though I do love the onset of crisp, cool evenings after the sweltering humidity of a Chicago summer, and the slow turning of leaves through their glorious annual palette of yellows, oranges, golds, and reds. No, the season I’m talking about is the one that foodies like me eagerly anticipate along with the Fall Equinox—apple pie season.

My family and I go apple-picking every year in late September or early October, along with as many friends as we can haul. What follows is two hours of bliss. We amble up and down the rows of trees, discussing which varieties of apple to pick and whether we have enough of this or that one, stopping every so often to sample Nature’s luscious wares. There is nothing like the succulent, tart-sweet savor of a Honeycrisp or Suncrisp apple picked straight off the tree, and nothing like the flavor of said apples when combined with a quarter-cup of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, some flakes of fresh ginger, and a few dabs of butter, all enclosed in crust and baked until the softened fruit bubbles out of the slits in the top. (Yes, I just gave you the basic recipe. You have no excuse not to go bake now.)

It’s calming to bake an apple pie. Baking anything is a terrific stress reliever, but there’s something special about pie. Peeling and slicing the apples, mixing them with the flour and cinnamon and sometimes a touch of vanilla or apple brandy, arranging them in the glass pie dish, drizzling the honey and scattering the ginger on them, then gently laying the top crust over the whole thing and crimping the edges…there’s something Zen about the textures and scents, the way the apples smell like sweet wine and the raw crust mushes like Play-dough under my fingers. It makes me feel like a kid again, only now my kitchen is my playroom, and my creation actually tastes good when I’m done. (Unlike Play-dough, which every little kid on earth has eaten at least once. Some mysteries are not for us to fathom.)

Apples and apple pie have numerous associations, some of which contradict each other. The apple is the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, the thing that tempts both Eve and Adam (with a little assist from the serpent) to break the rules of Paradise. (And then they each blame someone else for the choice they made, which to my mind is the real reason they got kicked out, but that’s a whole ’nother blog post.) On the other hand, apples and honey are traditional foods at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, eaten to symbolize the blessing and the hope of “a sweet year” to come. And America claims apple pie as a cultural icon of wholesomeness, right up there with motherhood.

Temptation, forbidden knowledge, new and happy beginnings, hearth and home…the apple symbolizes all of these. Yet in the end, it’s a piece of fruit. A fruit meant to nourish us, most deliciously when we add just the right things to it to make a pie. Serve it with ice cream, drizzle it with caramel, have an unadorned slice for breakfast (fruit’s healthy, right?), top it with sharp cheddar cheese if you’re old-fashioned. No matter how you slice it, apple pie is magic…and never more so than when late September rolls around.

A regular contributor to The Write Room, D. M. Pirrone writes mystery/suspense, horror, historical and general fiction. Her historical mystery, Shall We Not Revenge (Book 1 of the Hanley & Rivka Mysteries), was named a Notable Page Turner of 2014 by Shelf Unbound magazine. Book 2 in the series, For You Were Strangers, is forthcoming from Allium Press of Chicago. You can find more of D. M. Pirrone’s work at her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes (http://www.wordnrd.wordpress.com) and her website (http://www.dmpirrone.net).

A Summer Memory by D. M. Pirrone


“Dad. Dad, wake up.” A nine-year-old’s whisper in her father’s ear. “It’s morning. You said we’d go to the beach. I’m all ready. I have my towel.”

My father stirs, lifts his head from the pillow. “Mmmph…? What time is it?” He squints at the bedside clock. “Sweetie, it’s not even seven. Come back in an hour, okay? We’ll have breakfast and then we’ll go.”

“I ate already.” I keep my voice low so as not to wake my mother, whose soft breathing makes a rhythmic counterpoint to this early-morning conversation. “Should I make coffee?” I’ve no notion how, but I do know my father loves his morning cup. Every Saturday and Sunday he lingers over it, savoring its fragrant warmth as he peruses the New York Times and grumbles about the foibles of politicians. He’s gone too early on weekdays, up and out of the house by half-past six, on his way to the Criminal Courts at 26th and California, where he interviews people accused of crimes to see if they’re fit to stand trial. In my head, his job is mixed up with Nancy Drew, the plucky amateur sleuth, her two best friends, and her little red roadster. I think of Nancy, Bess and George solving a crime, and then my dad talking to the criminal in a room somewhere at the courthouse.

My father groans into his pillow. “No, sweetie pie. Go watch cartoons. I’ll be up in a little while.”


“At eight. We’ll leave for the beach at nine. I promise.”

Nine o’clock. Two hours away. I don’t see how I’ll be able to wait, with the sun-edged blue sky and the fresh breeze that smells of summer beckoning through the open windows. Still, two hours of cartoons is a windfall in our one-hour-of-TV-a-day household. I am wise enough not to squander it.

“Okay.” I slide off the bed and head downstairs, making a brief detour into my room for the watch I got last Christmas. My first one, to help me keep track of time so I won’t come home late from a friend’s house yet again and get grounded. I will keep the watch on my lap while I watch Bugs Bunny and Pink Panther, to make sure my father doesn’t oversleep.


Heat rises from the sidewalk as we leave the house at nine sharp, sunblock smeared over our pale skins and thick beach towels slung around our shoulders. I’m carrying a green plastic bucket and two mismatched shovels, one orange, the other pink. My father carries a book. It’s thick and dog-eared, as if it’s been read into becoming real like the Velveteen Rabbit. I squint at the title: Collected Poems of Robert Frost. A funny name, I think, like the talking snowman. The breeze is still cool as we walk down the dappled pavement under the green and whispering trees, but there’s a scorcher ahead.

The scents of sand and water hit me when we arrive at the beach—one hot and burny, the other fresh and wet, a perfect balance. There aren’t many people here, mostly mothers with their toddlers, splashing in the waves. My father shows our tokens to the lifeguard, and then we walk hand-in-hand across the scorching, slippery sand toward the sparkling, blue-green lake. The hot sand stings where it slides inside my sandals, but I don’t complain. We find a spot a few feet from the towering white lifeguard chair, and my father helps me lay out my towel before spreading his own. A stiff wind off the lake is churning up whitecaps. I can play dolphin, my favorite game. Too bad there’s no one to play it with.

My father settles on his towel, opens his book, nods toward the water. “Looks rough. Don’t go out too far.”

“I won’t.” I walk slowly down to the shoreline, hoping my father will catch up even though I know he won’t. He’s like a cat—he hates water, unless it comes out of a shower head, and doesn’t care for getting mussed. Yet he brings me to the beach every Saturday in summer, because I love the beach and he loves me. Even at nine years old, I know this in my bones.

At the shoreline where the sand turns wet and cool, I glance back at my father. His head is bent over his book. Then he looks up and waves. I wave back, take off my sandals and place them carefully just above the waterline, and run shrieking into the cold, cold lake. My ankles ache, but I can take it. Better than my big brother, who’s fifteen. Kevin’s such a chicken, he always runs out of the freezing water first. Not me. Bone-cold though it is, I could stay in Lake Michigan forever while minnows nibble at my toes and gulls wheel by overhead.

A wave surges over me, briefly raising the knee-deep water to ribcage height. I take a breath, watch for the next whitecap, and jump into it. The frothing water soaks my stomach. I land on my feet and wait for the next one, hands together and pointed in front of me like a dolphin’s nose. Jump, jump, jump. Cold water, warm air, the smell of the lake and the cries of the gulls on the wind… if this isn’t heaven, I don’t want to go when I finally get old and die. The only thing missing is someone to share the glory with.

Someone calls my name. My father. I turn and see him standing ankle-deep in the water. He looks pale as a fish fillet and awkward in his swim trunks, but he’s smiling. “Pretty cold,” he says.

“You get used to it.” I head toward him, thinking it can’t be time to go yet. We just got here.

“So how do you do this dolphin thing?” he asks.

It takes a minute for that to sink in. Then I’m grinning, like my whole self is full of sunshine. “Easy. Watch me.” I turn toward the whitecaps as my father wades up beside me. I pick my wave and crouch down, hands together and pointed forward. He crouches too. The whitecap rolls closer, closer, closer…

“Jump!” I yell. And we do, together, belly first into the wave. Laughing as the water splashes our faces, happy together on this perfect summer day.


A regular contributor to The Write Room, D. M. Pirrone writes mystery/suspense and historical fiction. Her historical mystery SHALL WE NOT REVENGE was named a Notable Page Turner in 2014 by Shelf Unbound magazine. Feel free to check out her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes (http://www.wordnrd.wordpress.com), her website (http://www.dmpirrone.net), and her Amazon Author page (http://www.amazon.com/D.-M.-Pirrone/e/B0058M3MUK/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0)


Strawberry Girl By D. M. Pirrone


 For the past six years, ever since my best friend Laura gave me a single strawberry plant for my backyard garden, I’ve had a running fight with the squirrels over just whose strawberries they are. Strawberries are replicators, so every year the patch grows. Every year, more plants produce more berries. And every year, the squirrels beat me to every damned one of ‘em.

It got frustrating. I love local strawberries in our too-short season, and there’s nothing more local than picking them from your own backyard. Yet here were those greedy squirrels, depriving me and my family of that pleasure. Last year, when the patch covered nearly a fifth of the garden, there were so many berries—white and unripe when I first went to look—that I was certain we’d get some. There were plenty to share. Surely the misbegotten little critters couldn’t get them all. Surely I’d beat the squirrels to a handful or two, enough to scatter across my cereal or let my husband and sons snag a few from a communal bowlful on a lazy Sunday morning.

But they’d wait, those sneaky bastards, until the first blush of pink on the berry deepened to an almost-ripe red. They’d watch me kneel and run my hands through the leaves, eying the berries I knew would be ready to pick the next morning… and sure enough, when I got back out there, those berries would be gone. Eaten clean off their stems, or bitten in half with the remainder left in tatters just to torment me. We got two, which I dutifully gave my boys (a mother never loses a chance to get her kids to eat fruit!). And I resigned myself to the painful reality that my strawberry patch belonged to the bushy-tailed creatures with whom we share our neighborhood. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the danged varmints had just asked first…

So this year, with the strawberry patch big enough that I ripped out some to make room for tomatoes and peppers, I didn’t have high hopes. Even when I saw a bumper crop of white berries waiting to ripen, I didn’t think I’d get more than half a dozen. If I was lucky. I waited a week and then moseyed outside on a Saturday afternoon just to see how many ripe berries the squirrels had already devoured.

I found two berries half-eaten. A third, miraculously whole. A fourth and fifth, likewise untouched. Then more and more, until my cupped hands were too full to hold them all, let alone the others I glimpsed, rounded red sides peeking out like Nature’s rubies beneath the broad green leaves. Stunned and delighted, I dashed inside the house for a plastic container. By the time I was done picking, I had four cupfuls of ripe berries. The final score: me 60-plus, squirrels 7. I carried my harvest into the house and treated myself to a handful. Sweet, tangy, perfect. An unexpected grace note to the start of summer.

Life abounds in unexpected graces. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that. But every time I look out my back window, I can see the carpet of deep green, tooth-edged leaves that sheltered my bumper strawberry crop. A reminder written in the earth, in air and sunshine and water, that bounty exists where we find it if we know where to look.

D. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, is a writer, audiobook narrator and editor. Her latest book, SHALL WE NOT REVENGE, received a Kirkus starred review and is forthcoming in August from Allium Press of Chicago. Feel free to check out her author website at www.dmpirrone.net and her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes, at www.wordnrd.wordpress.com.

In Search of Amazing Grace By D. M. Pirrone


BDay Cake

I turned fifty last September. A mere half-century. A spring chicken. They say the first sixty years are the hardest. Or is that the first seventy? What with advances in medical technology (for those who can afford it), is eighty the new forty? I should ask my mother. She’s eighty-three and recovering beautifully from surgery for an arthritic knee. Tough old bird, my mom. I should be that robust when I’m her age.

Age hasn’t been a fun subject for me recently. I had no problem turning forty. Forty didn’t feel old. Actually, it was kind of fun. I finally qualified as a “middle-aged crank”—old enough to demand that mannerless, random strangers pick up their litter or put their grocery carts away properly instead of leaving them any old where in the parking lot. “The rules don’t apply to you, do they? Your mother is not here to pick up after you. What, were you born in a barn?” Not that I ever did any of this, but it was amusing to think about. In my real life, I’d been married a decade, just had my second kid, published my first novel and finished my second, and felt like I was hitting my stride. Forty gave me gravitas without making it a synonym for decline.

Fifty is different. Fifty is weird. I bless my friends in their latter fifties or sixties who scoff gently at me when I talk of feeling old. They are dynamos, these women and men. As energetic as any youngster of thirty-something, but with a lot more grit because of the life lessons under their belts. I want to be where they are, aware of their years but not letting it matter a damn. I want it not to matter that, barring extremely good luck in the genetics department, I now have less time remaining to me than I’ve already lived. I’m on the downslope, and all of a sudden it seems there aren’t many years left to accomplish things. Write all those novels, see all those foreign places, learn to speak Gaelic or read Hebrew or play the Celtic harp. Where did the time go? How do I carve out enough of what’s left between writing, earning a living, running the house, being a mom, and everything else on my daily to-do list?

I know why fifty is weird. Our family lost my mother-in-law and my dad, in late 2011 and 2012 respectively. Mama Sylvia right before Thanksgiving, my father two days before Christmas. We’re down by half in our vanguard generation—the parents who stand in the gap between us and death, with our children coming up on the road of life behind us. We still have my mother, and my father-in-law, but I can see myself moving toward the vanguard spot, and I’m not ready. Is anyone, ever?

Part of life is that it moves on. Usually, though, we’re not so aware of how relentless that process is. We bury that knowledge under ordinary joys and concerns, taking each day for granted. Until something happens—a loss, a life-change, a birthday with a certain number attached—and awareness bursts through like light through clouds. “I was blind, but now I see.” Amazing Grace.

Maybe it is an amazing grace, to see that downslope and not be afraid of it. Or to be something else as well. Inspired, energized, courageous. Determined not to drift, to make what we can of our moments and treasure them as they pass. Even the ordinary ones. Maybe especially those.

Okay, fifty. I see your gauntlet now, thrown down at my feet. Time to step forward and pick it up. I hope… oh, I hope I’m ready.

D. M. Pirrone, aka Diane Piron-Gelman, is a writer, audiobook narrator and editor. This is her first personal essay for The Write Room blog. Feel free to check out her author website at www.dmpirrone.net and her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes, at www.wordnrd.wordpress.com.

The Quality of Mercy by D. M. Pirrone

Diane Piron-Gelma p]hoto

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Sarah said.

The breeze that ruffled her hair smelled of lilacs and cut grass. The gardeners must have gotten here early. At the edge of her field of vision, a scattering of fresh earth made a dark smudge amid the green. A flicker of movement from the same spot caught her eye—hold your horses, she thought—but mostly she ignored it.

“I didn’t think they’d find out. You didn’t think so, either. But you can’t hide the truth, not forever.” She gave a small laugh, more air than mirth. “I should have known.”

Sarah fell silent. The silence weighed on her, as it had ever since that day. The absence of another person’s sounds in her little house: the shuffling footfall, the creak of bedsprings, the occasional thin-voiced call in the middle of the night. She’d gotten used to them, found now that she missed them. She hadn’t thought of that, not before.

In front of her, the gray stone slab stood mute guard over mounded grass. He wasn’t really here, Sarah knew that, but it was as close as she could get. “Anyway—,” she said. It was harder to talk now, knowing the end was coming, knowing she wouldn’t have even this much for a long time. Knowing they were waiting for her to finish. Her throat ached and her eyes stung, but she had a thing to say still.

“Anyway, I forgive you.” Her voice rasped. “For asking of me what shouldn’t be asked. For knowing I would do it. For…” A tear worked its way down her cheek; she brushed it away and kept talking. “For being the kind of father who’d do anything for me, no matter what the cost. How could I be less for you when you needed it?”

She laid a hand against the gravestone and fancied for a moment that the warmth from the sun that had soaked into it was something more. A silent benediction, ego te absolvo. Sarah turned and walked toward the two cops who waited by a mausoleum not far away.

“I’m ready now,” she said.

The younger one, the sympathetic one, took her arm. His mother had myeloma, she recalled from their first conversation. Maybe that accounted for it. His arm gave her gentle support.

They left the cemetery, a cop on either side. Already she was counting the years’ worth of days that would pass before she could return.

Author: D. M. Pirrone writes mystery and fantasy-horror. You can visit her website at http://www.dmpirrone.net