Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trading Lederhosen for a Kilt

Growing up, my parents always told me I was a “FBI” or full-blooded Italian. I’m a first-generation Italian-American on my father’s side and a second generation on my mother’s side. Both parents came from the same region in northern Italy, so both considered it was obvious I was 100% Italian heritage.

A recent television ad by got me thinking maybe there’s more to my genealogy story. Many readers have likely seen the ad where a male folk-dancer is wearing lederhosen Bavarian shorts, believing he was of German descent. After completing his DNA testing, he discovers he is predominantly Scottish and is now wearing a kilt, performing highland dances.

This got me thinking: What if I did my DNA testing and my genealogy turns out to be something drastically different? Will I have to trade my Italian lasagna for Greek spanakopita or Irish shepherd’s pie or French boeuf bourguignon?

For my birthday a few weeks ago, my family gave be a DNA testing kit. As much as I wanted to test, I started getting cold feet. What if I don’t like the results?

But ignoring the testing does not result in “better” DNA! I plunged ahead, spit into the vial (gross!) and sent it on its merry way.

The results are in. It turns out I am 80% Italian/Greek with the remaining 20% from different parts of west Europe. Was I disappointed? Not at all. While the results are interesting I concluded I was less interested in where I came from and what those before me went through. I am more interested in where I am going in the future because I can make choices, not so much about my DNA, but choices that leave something positive after I am gone.

For the record, my ethnicity region where my family roots are most present is predominately Umbria, Italy … land of Francis of Assisi and Perugia candies. That may be why I like dogs and Italian chocolate!

Robert Parlante
October 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

What's in a Name?

A family member recently went to Washington DC to attend a concert by some group on tour. When I asked my wife, who was the group, she thought it was something like Princess Snowflake. The last time my family member attended a concert it included well-known rappers. Princess Snowflake is hardly a name for a rapper.

Princess Snowflake sounds like a character in a Disney animated movie.

The actual tour headliner was Alison Wonderland who is into electronic dance music (edm). She is an Australian DJ, a classical musician and a trained cellist. Her stage name has a certain ring to it, and is hard to forget.

This exposure to “edm” got me thinking about what’s in a name.

When you call upon the name Princess Snowflake, I can’t help chuckle. It’s a fun name with political overtones and an unlikely name for a serious musician
When you call upon the name Alison Wonderland my writer side kicks in. The “Alice in Wonderland” tie-in is clever and impressive. I hope my writing could be as unique.

But there’s more. Some name you call upon can have life changing experiences far beyond a fleeting laugh or a clever play of words.

"Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved." (Romans 10:13)

Have a blessed day, enjoy a good laugh,  and take time to hear the music.

Robert Parlante
September 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again

“You Can’t Go Home Again” was a novel by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940. It’s a tale of a character trying to go back to his earlier roots to recapture fond memories and their positive impacts. While the goal was to relive the positive aspects of life, going back in time tempts us to recast personal history to remove the possible downside from some experiences.

My niece recently embarked on a road trip with a similar objective. She wanted more information about the house and the surrounding area where her father had lived. Her dad was the eldest of the three brothers in the family, with I being the youngest. We had lived in a coal mining town, and I had not seen our old house for decades. My maternal grandparents lived several homes away. My niece had lived in an urban neighborhood throughout her early childhood.

Here is what we learned from the road trip:

My niece’s early childhood two-family house was once pristine and was now in disrepair and uninviting. What should have been a time for fond memories was now a time for sadness.

My grandparents’ home was essentially the same except all vestiges of farming and homesteading were gone.

My home where I was born looked picture-perfect with the garden plots and fruit trees being replaced by well-manicured grass.

Life in the coal mining town had clearly changed. My parents lived through the Depression era and devoted all arable land to growing food. My early life revolved around planting and harvesting, neighborly support during the food preserving times and family nearby who watched over each other. As I scanned the picture of my childhood home, I saw warm memories but now they had faded into history.

It is a different time now compared to the past. One cannot go back in time to relive an old memory. Our best option is to place our trust in the Lord and create a new and heartwarming memory today.

Robert Parlante
September 2017

Monday, August 28, 2017

Retracing Our Steps

Received a call from my sweet niece who wanted more information about the house where her father had lived. Her dad was the eldest of the three brothers in the family, with I being the youngest. We had lived in a coal mining town, and I had not seen our old house for decades. My maternal grandparents lived several homes away. My niece wanted information about them as well.

Much likely changed over the decades, so whatever information I remembered was certainly not up-to-date. “Why all this interest in retracing one’s historical steps?” I had asked.

She related her experience when her twenty-three-year-old daughter had lost her life after battling multiple myeloma. The only thing what provided any measure of comfort was recalling old family memories, tales of family bonding and experiences that pulled a family together to fight the battles collectively cast before us. She prayed and meditated on those family memories throughout the final stages of her daughter’s life. My niece’s comfort and strength came from family even though our current family is vastly different than our childhood memories. Time tends to alter one’s memories, good or bad. She now wanted to revisit those memories and chronicle the comfort and strength from those times for the current and future generations.

Faced with a free weekend she came up with a plan. She would drive to each of the family homes in the coal-mining community and try to speak to the current occupants. It’s just a start, and it may end up futile with little new information. But there is still comfort in the process. She is not trying to change the course of the family history. She is not trying to understand all the ins and outs of life.

Proverbs 20:24 reminds us, 
“The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?”

Our comfort does not come from understanding. Our comfort is rooted in the Lord overseeing our lives, and how he uses others, like our families to minister into our lives.

Robert Parlante
August 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Recycled Plastic Water Bottles

Recently started to attend a church where attendees dress up slightly more than I had been used to dressing for services. Once I gave up wearing suits to churches in the south I relished the idea of casual dress for church. But change was in the air.

I decided I needed a new pair of dress trousers. I purchased a pair of navy blue slacks which I thought would match the shirts in my closet. The only problem with them is that they were several inches too long. It was a minor detail given the label description – machine washable, no iron, permanent crease, wrinkle free, virtually indestructible!

Then I read the fine print – fabric was made from recycled plastic water bottles.

What? I now have all kinds of mental images of dressing up in a water bottle getup, sloshing about with waterproof pants in the pouring rain and making crinkle sounds like I’m an empty water bottle being crushed in a closed fist.

But I then thought about where the discarded bottles had come from. What had they experienced on their journey to become a pair of trousers. Were they thrown to the side of the road, flung out of car window like trash? Were they crushed flat no longer resembling its former self?

But I also saw a greater message of a born-again life. Regardless of where we might have come from, placing our trust in our Savior can transform us into new creations. Like a pair of new trousers.
Robert Parlante
August 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Write Like a Movie

I never made the movie connection while writing my series of novels. One reader said my first novel, A Letter from Miss Wingate, read like she was watching a Hallmark movie. Interesting, I first thought. I never started writing the books with that intent in mind. With subsequent novels in the Patch Town series, I received similar feedback indicating the chapter endings propelled the reader forward. Readers used some well-known phrases to describe their reaction like “I couldn’t put the book down” or “the book was a real page turner.”

Every writer would appreciate that feedback despite its frequent usage in book reviews. My wife loves Hallmark movies, and by default, I have seen my share of them whether I like them or not.

Here are my three general observations from the myriad of TV Hallmark movies I have watched. I have tried to apply the principles to all my books.

1)  During the first twenty movie minutes, there are typically no commercial breaks. The primary goal is to get the viewer hooked and committed to stay with the programming to the end. From the writer’s perspective, the object of the first chapter is clear: hook in the reader and introduce the principal characters directly or indirectly by planting a seed of information about a character that could be fleshed out in a later chapter. As well, begin to develop the conflicts of the plot and sub-plots.

When viewing a Hallmark movie, you get the general premise of the main storyline(s) and the central conflict(s) within the twenty-minute commercial-free opening. Applying these observations to writing a novel, one must introduce characters and their relationship to each other, and the beginning of the storyline. Hook readers, provide some background, and do all this within the first few pages of the book.

There are more lessons to be learned by no commercial interruptions at this stage. Every word is precious and cannot be spent on extensive backstories that do not always propel the reader forward if too much is introduced too early
Here’s the opening paragraph, chapter one, from “A Letter from Miss Wingate” to illustrate the points I’ve made.

The unopened letter stood in the middle of the kitchen island where Martin Gilmore had tossed it aside as an unexpected reminder of his past. Since its arrival, the letter felt like a throbbing thorn in his finger. Instead of being a reason to show mercy toward Miss Wingate, as his wife Sarah would likely have encouraged, it was more a reminder of what might have been had he never encountered Elizabeth Wingate.

Here is another example, the opening paragraph, chapter one, about a run-away wife from my book “Finding Emmeline.”
Anxiety rippled through Elsa Delgado’s heart with a damp chill as she tightly held her daughter Ava’s hand. The mother’s body heaved with each anxious breath as she nudged the eight-year-old child back away from the weighty rain drops dripping off the overhead stone archway. No matter how many times Elsa was a courier for the counterfeit documents, the task never got easier over the last eight years on the run from her abusive husband.

2)  The second observation while watching a Hallmark movie is what happens when the storyline is interrupted for a commercial break. A plot twist, new revelations or a cliffhanger usually proceeds a movie break to commercial. Think of the end of chapters as a commercial break, and always include a cliffhanger, major or minor.

Here is the end of chapter one for my book “The Reflection in the Mirror” as Martin deals with a run-away teen.

Martin hunched his shoulders, his equivalent of “whatever”. He was already tired from too many Simon battles.
“Are you regretting your decision to deal with Simon?” Linda whispered.

A ham sandwich war! A stolen protein bar! What’s next?
Martin prayed silently that all would go well on Monday when he registered Simon for school.

3)  The last element to consider while viewing a Hallmark movie is the final moments of the presentation. The love relationship you rooted for now faces imminent collapse. Everything looks doomed, and what you thought would be the ending is now jeopardized. But in the last moment, everything is resolved to your liking. The romance works through its differences. The whodunit is solved in the nick of time. Now apply that concept to your book ending,

Here is part of the closing for my book “Up from the Ashes.” There was an earlier proposal misstep, and now Martin tries to make it right! Ruthie is Martin’s daughter, and Kati is Linda’s daughter.

Martin stood before Linda for a moment before he bent down on one knee. Linda’s eyes were instantly moist with tears.
“Linda, my life began to change that day the Lord ushered you up my driveway and into my life. I have fallen in love with you and would like you to be my wife.
“I promise to do everything in my power to make my love for you a growing part of our life together. Every day, I will try to strengthen our love and our marriage to the best of my ability. I will stand by you no matter what we encounter in life, and I will keep myself for you alone.”
Tears were streaming down Linda’s face. Her right hand reached across to Kati, who was fighting back tears.
Ruthie came into the room, carrying a dozen red roses. She handed the flowers to Martin, who then placed the bouquet in Linda’s arms.
“Linda Petersen, will you marry me?”
[You must read the book for her answer!]

Writing a novel should never be formulaic. These suggestions are given as a general guideline to stimulate your creativity and seek new ways to express your inner story.

Robert Parlante
August 2017
Posted August 1 2017 by Marlena Smith's writers blog

Monday, July 10, 2017

Choosing Friends

I spent most of my career working for a pharmaceutical company. One observation I made relates to the recruitment of subordinates. People tend to do one of two things when hiring someone who will report to them. They recruit someone likely to be a “yes-person”. Or, they hire a less qualified person fearing the recruit would be smarter than the boss and take over his or her management role.

The second scenario is the opposite where one hires a person as qualified or more qualified and not a “yes-person”. People who recruit the best and smartest associates end up with more successful lives because smart people challenge and draw out the best in each of us

Proverbs 27:17 speaks to the similar point: Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

A piece of light-weight wood like balsa cannot sharpen a metal knife. If one persisted in that effort, the knife would eventually get dull through normal use and not be effective since it cannot be sharpened by weak wood. There is a life principle in this Proverbs verse outside of recruiting workers.

Select friends who are honest, challenge you to be better and encourage you to persevere when facing difficulties … in other words, select friends who sharpen you to be the best you can be. It doesn’t mean you cannot associate with those who do not meet the standard. Just don’t expect the same results in the natural. Pray for him or her. Let the Lord to do his work.

You can also apply the principle to your spiritual walk, as well. If you hang with strong believers, you will reap the benefits of that friendship. If you walk with the unrighteous … well, we all know the answer to that!

Robert Parlante
July 2017