Category Archives: Memoir

Welcome, Christie Wood!

We’re excited to welcome Christie Wood to spotlight her life-changing journey through the dark world of Alzheimer’s. Her novel exposes the enormous struggles alongside the fleeting triumphs of caring for a loved one who suffers of this disease. For those who believe there is a reason for everything, enjoy the feature on A Town of Mabel’s–Jo Grafford, Highlighted Author Co-Hostess



All About Christie

DSC_0032 (cropped) (2)Christie Wood traveled through the world of Alzheimer’s with her Mother. She is currently on that journey with her sister. She lost her sense of humor on the first journey; she is determined to recover it on this one. Christie lives in southern California with her husband of 36 years and is about to become a grandmother for the first time.










A Town of Mabel’s

A Town of Mabels CoverI began to write a book about my mother’s life. As she descended further and further into a disease called Alzheimer’s, my writing morphed into questions of: Why her? Why this disease? Why our family? Am I at risk, my daughter? It became a search to get to know a woman and her history, not only to honor her, but to understand her disease. It’s my story of how I met her with a smile; a willingness to accept her wherever she was on any given day. Without a doubt my story leaves me one conclusion, although I am my mother’s daughter, I do not need her disease.

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“How is your mom doing?” friends often ask. I never ever know what to say. It is my nature to always try and make people feel better. I used to believe this was my way of being liked, but I have learned it is genuine of me to actually want to be kind. So to answer this question with any amount of truth is next to impossible for me.

So I say, “The same.” She is in this or that stage of Alzheimer’s, but her appetite is good. She is happy, content. Some folks want me to elaborate, or there is a lull in the conversation mostly because they have no idea what to say next, so I sometimes throw in details like these: “She lights up when she gets ice cream.” “She has never gone through that angry stage, so we feel blessed.” This is not exactly the truth. I was with her as we withdrew her (cold turkey) from antidepressants. She was angry then, and she just missed my face with her clenched fist. Immediately she stopped herself and reached for me, saying that she was sorry, that she would never hurt me! She had no idea who I was, but like most visits she knew that I was someone she loved and someone who loved her.

Prior to my cold-turkey visit I had spent five days with her and thought those days would be my last time spent with her. I thought this almost every time that I saw her. I was reduced to uncontrollable sobs alone in my car after I left her on the fifth day. What was the trigger for the depth of my rage? She sat at a table with three other Alzheimer’s patients eating their dinner. Some needed assistance; she did not at that time. This would change by my next visit. I had knelt down beside her and told her that I had to go. She said, “I wish you didn’t.” This like almost everything that she said surprised me. My family and I were not accustomed to her talking much, and when she did, it did not always make sense. Although at that time, it still sounded like English. This, too, would change by my next visit. I replied that I would be back. As I did, she reached for my face, cupping my cheek in her palm. I felt the softness of her hand, my eye caught the wrinkled spotted skin—her hand, with its long, boney fingers, nails painted red, a color applied by the staff that she had not worn on her nails since the forties, and I let the tears run down my cheeks. I reached up and gently placed my hand over top of hers as if I was moving in slow motion, and I let it rest there on my cheek. I moved toward her and leaned into kiss her cheek and told her that I loved her. As her dinner mates, my sister, a speech therapist, and a wife of another patient looked on we all were captured in a moment so much more powerful than any disease. This was a moment of pure love, and nothing could keep it away, not even Alzheimer’s. By the time I reached my car, I could barely walk. I was shaken to the core with grief. In the safety of my car, locked in, sound-proofed and alone, the rage I felt at this disease poured out of me as if I were bleeding it.





  • “Shared memories sew people together. “In a Town of Mabel’s,” Christie Wood tenderly but honestly faces the reality of the disease which cruelly and callously unraveled the memories and finally took the life of her mother.  As much a story of family as of Alzheimer’s, Christie reweaves another tale, one of courage, care and ultimately, unconditional love.  I love this book and its beautiful message of faith and kindness.” —Maria Hall-Brown, Executive Producer, PBS SoCaL | PBS for Greater Los Angeles
  • This book is open and honest about family struggles. The writing is personal. You are invited into the family experience of a daughter coming to terms with her mother having Alzheimer’s and then coming to find her sister on that same difficult path. The story places value on love and understanding to help to endure and overcome family trials. It’s an encouraging book, as it shows how relationships can grow in new and meaningful ways. A worthwhile read. —Myra Mycena PhD, Speaker, columnist for The Orange County Register and Radio Host “Wake up & Live Your Life.”
  • A Town of Mabel’s is a heartfelt step into the world of Alzheimer’s and a walk into the early life of the author and her colorful family. Within the first 5 pages I was caught up in the story and could not put the book down. Many kudos to this new author. —Linda Axtell Thompson, South Orange County Women’s Book Club



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Welcome, Niki Smart!

Highlighted Author is excited to feature Niki Smart – both singer and song writer. I think you’ll find her feature to be an extra special treat as we step behind stage and delve into the first days of her amazing and eclectic career. From music to the live screen to picking up the pen at last…it all started in South Africa.

Enjoy! —Jo Grafford, Highlighted Author Co-Hostess


A Note from Niki:

pieces coverI’ve been playing guitar and singing for many, many years. I started my music career in South Africa, where I grew up, and had great success there, signing a huge record deal and playing at all the biggest venues and stadiums. My songs charted and I was spoilt rotten, going on tours up and down the South African coast – lucky me!

I then moved to California and worked in a music studio where I learnt to be an audio engineer, which helped me record three CDs. I got to sing the IHOP commercial that aired across USA and played many more fun gigs, had my music used in several commercials and indy movies.

My next step was writing a book – a memoir entitled “Hell Camp” which won 2 x eLit Awards and now there is talk of Hell Camp being made into a movie (hold thumbs for me)

At the moment, I’m busy working on my second book and writing more songs – life is good!


The World of Niki Smart

nikismart2Niki started her musical career in South Africa where she played with many different bands, recording with Chess, Outland, Steve Hofmeyer, Oh Boy!, Ralph Martin, The Affections, Outland and countless others. Niki had her song “White Sugar” get to #1 on the local charts and was one of the first locals to perform at the Sun City SuperBowl. Niki appeared in many music videos, including a big budget video made for “White Sugar”. She has many radio interviews and TV appearances under her belt.

On moving to LA, Niki recorded her first solo album “Seems so Peculiar”, which the OC Register said was “One of the best local releases”. Her second CD “Untethered” received rave reviews and was on XM’s most played list and is available at iTunes, Walmart, Best Buy and many other outlets. The third CD “Pieces of me” received airplay on NPR for the song “Falling” and is also available on iTunes and yahoo music. All of Smart’s music in available on iTunes, and several songs are on Pandora radio.

Niki has opened for many national acts including The Bangles, Kool and the Gang, The Stranglers, Alannah Myles, Chris Botti, Joan Armatrading, Colin Haye, Rita Coolidge and she has played at venues throughout Southern California including The Orange County Fair, The Palace, The Coach House, The Musician’s Institute and Niki was asked to play at Andre Agassi’s New Year’s Party, and played in front of the White House for the ending ceremonies for Lance Armstong’s “Tour of Hope”.

Songwriting Awards

Winner – Battle of the Bands (Best vocalist and Best original song)

Winner – National Hymn Writing Contest in South Africa

Winner – Civic Theater’s Music Competition

Winner – Spree Song contest

Winner – Demo Derby online contest

Winner – Best of the Best International contest (best vocalist)

Second Place – Woodrum Studio Contest

Finalist – included in Music Connection’s Top Ten demos of the year

Nominated for JPFolks “Female singer/songwriter of the year” and “Pop song of the Year”

Nominated for “Best Indie artist” OCMA


Music Connection: A multi-award-winner with her finger on the pulse of female pop-rock, Smart’s writing is strong and memorable and her performances are skilled. There is so much quality here…

Orange County Weekly: “We like her because she seems to change modes with each song… the title track kicks in, a rapturous, gritty tune… it’s terrifyingly good, a perfect meshing of Smart’s summery. sweet-and-sour/tough-and-tender voice that tumbles over loud, strangly guitars and skull-spanking drum rolls, shying away from anything remotely wimpy. There are several other choice cuts here too, which makes us wonder where she has been hiding herself all this time…”

Live Magazine: “Niki has found the ability to touch the core of those who are fortunate enough to hear her. She paints an emotional, magical picture with words…”

Smart was also voted into the Top Ten unsigned artists by Music Connection Magazine.

Niki on Social Media

Niki’s website On iTunes On Pandora TV appearance Hell Camp Award blurb

Writing has been Smart’s therapeutic tool for many years, even though she got her start in the form of “song” writing. After putting down her guitar, Smart began writing and “Hell Camp” is her first book. She has also written 8 screenplays and countless magazine articles.

Smart currently works part-time at a youth shelter for emotionally disturbed teenagers and teaches yoga.

Hell Camp, a memoir:

91azBEJNvML._SL1500_A fast-paced, slap-you-in-the-face journey through a bizarre childhood with a crazy mother; a mother who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. A mother, who crashes cars, beats up the maid, extinguishes cigarettes on her arms, sleeps with the neighborhood, attempts suicide and eventually kidnaps the author’s toddler.

And all this takes place within the violent upheaval of the “end of Apartheid” era in South Africa.

“Hell Camp” is laugh-out loud funny and heartbreakingly sad – a tragicomedy of momentous proportions. A story of love, determination, betrayal, violence, sex, abuse and utter madness.

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The Buzz about Hell Camp

“Hell Camp” earned a spot at the Los Angeles Festival of Books, won 2x eLit Awards in 2013, and made it onto the Top Ten Best Seller list for Laguna Beach Books where it is prominently displayed amongst the top authors – yay!

Smart has made appearances at bookstores, has been invited to several book groups, and has done multiple live radio interviews and several pre-recorded ones promoting Hell Camp.

Laguna Beach Magazine also recommended “Hell Camp” as a “hot summer read.”

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Welcome Wally Wood

Join me in welcoming Wally Wood to Highlighted Author.


WallyPhotoWally Wood is a full-time, professional writer. For several years, he made his living as a trade magazine editor, and then became a developmental writer. He has helped a number of company executives develop their books, publishing 19 general business books since he began. He has always seen himself as a creative writer, however, and earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the City University of New York. His bachelor’s degree is from Columbia University where his major was philosophy.


Welcome, Wally. Please tell us about your feature book.

The Girl in the Photo is my second novel. It comes out of my experiences of being a brother, being stationed at an Army hospital in Japan, being faced with the death of a father. While I draw on all my knowledge and experience, the novel is fiction. Indeed, one of the themes I played with in an early draft is the question of memoir versus fiction. Is even the most factual memoir a form of fiction? The Girl in the Photo is fiction, and the memoir embedded in the novel is fiction.

I write fiction because it is a way of expressing truths that are either difficult or impossible to express in non-fiction. In fiction, we can actually enter a character’s head to listen to her thoughts, while in real life we cannot know another person truly thinks or feels—another them in The Girl in the Photo. I hope that readers who are interested in other people and other cultures—in this case Japan’s—will find pleasure in the book.


What they’re saying:

“The part of this book that interested me the most was the book within the book – Dr. Emmerling’s retelling of a part of his past he had kept a secret from his family. Those sections were extremely interesting and attention captivating. Most of what he told was truthful, and the way he embellished the end of his story was creative and read like fiction. His grown children, David and Abbie were believable characters, and there was much insight and information about their lives. They found it hard to accept their father had written a book, but were more surprised to find out it wasn’t fiction. An emotional rollercoaster, and a whole lot of information come with this story, while David and Abbie deal with their father’s death, discover they have a sibling in Japan, and then try to find her.”— Tinamariesays



The Girl in the Photo


In this novel about love and longing, regret and renewal, a brother and sister discover a surprising secret after the death of their father: a photo of a young woman who was his lover decades before and half a world away. Even as they mourn their father, an eminent surgeon, David and Abbie question what they thought they knew about his life—and theirs—as they struggle with conflicting memories, unexpected emotions, and new possibilities.




Chapter 1

Abbie talks to her brother, David


Girl in the Photo As soon as Abbie pushed the button to connect with line two, David said, “Somebody died?” He sounded rushed.

“I just talked to Sophia,” said Abbie without preamble. “She found Dad on the floor of the bedroom when she came to work this morning.” Abbie felt as if balancing on a very thin edge. One misstep and she’d tumble into hysteria.

“This morning?”

“Yes. This morning. Just now.”

“Is she sure? It’s not a false alarm?”

“Oh, she’s sure all right. She says he’s cold. What more do you want?”

Abbie had to stop to blow her nose. Her father might have died any time during the weekend. They’d asked him to wear one of those emergency I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up alarms, but he wouldn’t listen. He was fine. When had she talked last to him? Less than forty-eight hours ago. He was fine. Never better. He was looking forward to his Sunday afternoon book group. They were going to discuss David Mitchell’s novel about the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki. He liked the story and the writing although he thought Westerners writing about Japan usually got it wrong. Abbie said something about his having lived in Japan so he should know. He said that was entirely different and changed the subject.

“I told her to call the police and we’d be there this afternoon.”

“We? What do you mean we? I can’t just drop everything.”

Yes, you can, you selfish, self-centered bastard. If I can drop everything to hop on a plane to Cleveland, so can you. She should have expected his reaction.

David had never been a spontaneous person. Even as a child, he had to be primed for an occasion that was not part of his regular routine. Even if the occasion were something he wanted—a trip to Euclid Beach amusement park, for instance. He needed time to think, to absorb, to adjust. No spur-of-the-moment decisions for David Emmerling. One more unattractive trait he’d absorbed from their father.

“Why not? I am.” She was certain her position as director of New Prospects was more demanding, more responsible than David’s as a cog in a corporate communications machine.

He didn’t answer immediately, trying, Abbie knew, to devise a reasonable-sounding excuse. She’d never visited his Hartford office in the corporate headquarters. She imagined it sterile and efficient, the only personal touch a color photo of Evelyn and the children, Kayla and Keith, in a silver frame on David’s credenza.

“I have to close the November newsletter today.” He announced this as if it were important, but she thought she could hear the beginnings of distress.

“It’s our father, David. He’s dead.” She wanted to slap him.

His voice was petulant. “I know it’s our father. But I can’t just walk away without closing the employee newsletter.”

“Why not?”

He thought for a few seconds, but could only come up with, “Just because I can’t.” Then he added, “The way things are going here.”

Abbie said nothing. Let her silence tell him what she thought of his stinking employee newsletter. Let him think about the situation for a minute. What employer wouldn’t let him go immediately to his dead father? If David wanted to stay in Hartford, that was his decision. But he couldn’t blame the heartless corporation. Just tell your boss you need the time off. Abbie was prepared to wait silently for him to say something more until the car service appeared in front of the New Prospects office to take her to the airport.

David blinked first. “Okay, okay. You’re right. I’ll get a plane tonight. First thing tomorrow if I can’t.” She could hear him reluctantly shuffling his priorities. “But, I can’t just walk away right this second. I really can’t.”

Conscious of her resentment—did she always have to take the responsibility? Was she the only adult here?—she asked, “You mind if I start making arrangements with a funeral home?”

“No, no. You decide what’s best. I trust your judgment.” She could hear relief in his voice. A responsibility he wouldn’t have to assume. “I’ll call Kayla and e-mail Keith in Thailand.” Abbie’s niece worked in New York City; her nephew was a Peace Corps volunteer.

David assured her he had her cell number, but she gave it to him again. Olive set a printout of her itinerary in front of her. Abbie scanned it and told David she expected to be at the Shaker Heights house by five. Let her know when he was coming in. She paused to let him absorb everything.

“David . . .” Abbie was abruptly washed by a wave of grief and her voice broke. She had to swallow several times. “Aren’t you a little sad?”

He didn’t answer immediately. “Yes. Of course I am.” He didn’t sound sad. He sounded as if he couldn’t wait to hang up and to return to his newsletter. Then, typical David, he tried to explain the feeling away. “But, after all, Dad was, what? Eighty-five? Eight-six? It’s a surprise. It’s a terrible shock. You can’t say it’s unexpected.” The words sounded exactly like something Dad would have said.

“It was a full life,” said Abbie speaking to herself as much as to her little brother.

“It was a very full life,” he agreed. “Look, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“At the house.” As if they’d be meeting anywhere else.

He couldn’t let her have the last word. “At the house.” Then he was gone.


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