A Momentous Occasion!

A batch of paperbacks for Monkey’s Wedding arrived today!

Now I can finally send the book to my brother, Garth, who lives back home in South Africa. He’s been waiting for a copy for twenty-two years, ever since I told him I was writing a book about us. A book that started out as a memoir (and ended up as a mystical, political, historical, family story, with him as a fictional character). You can read about it here.

“Where is your book,” he’d ask in every letter over the years. You could almost hear his slow deliberate way of talking coming through his barely legible text. The couple of years he spent in that small classroom at Frederick Knapp School with all the other “slow” kids in Nkana, Zambia, where we were raised, hadn’t taught him much beyond his letters, which in his dotage has regressed to mostly scribbles. Soon, I would tell him.

It wouldn’t have helped to tell him about all the near misses Monkey’s Wedding had gone through on its way to publication. From being picked up by an agent to a near miss with Time Warner Publishing, to enthusiastic interest from the editor of Harper Collins (until she had to get smart and back off from this niche title that didn’t promise a big payoff). Nor could I have told him how I’d relegated Monkey’s Wedding to a fantasy of being a #1 NYT bestseller (the newspaper clipping I pinned to the wall with Monkey’s Wedding’s blurb pasted over the top bestseller at the time now brittle and yellowed).

“Maybe they will never publish your book,” he finally wrote a year ago.

I’d come to the same conclusion. His health was deteriorating. This was the guy who wasn’t supposed to live past twenty anyway. It was time to fulfill my promise to my brother. I would self-publish. I had the book professionally edited and set about researching the whole self-publishing route. But it was hard giving up my dream of having the book published by an agency. I made one last mad dash and submitted Monkey’s Wedding to Kindle Scout–the American Idol of publishing–with hope in my heart, yet believing that there was no chance in hell my novel would get selected.

Against all odds, Monkey’s Wedding was selected by Kindle Press for publication (of the Kindle), along with more popular titles like Necrospect, Cowboy Sanctuary, Devil’s Glen, Trapped in Love, Eternity Prophesy. Books so unlike Monkey’s Wedding it’s laughable. And wonderful.

With the might of Kindle Press/Amazon Publishing behind me, I went ahead and self-published the paperback. Garth will finally get his book.


Sunshine, Family, and Good Hair

I haven’t posted for three months! I’ve got excuses though: a nasty bout with Shingles (the aftermath of which continues to plague me), and two botched eye operations. To top it all, I contracted bronchitis a couple of days before I left for South Africa to visit my son and his family, and to attend the weddings of my two step-granddaughters. Three weeks later, I’m revived, the bronchitis burned away by the 90-degree South African sun, plenty of sleep and hugs, evening chats by the pool, and hanging out with my hilariously refreshing sixteen-year-old grandson, Daegan. To satisfy my taste buds, I’ve been indulging in my old favorites: biltong, tangy gherkins, Peppermint Crisp, Bovril, fish paste, and nougat.

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Last Thursday, I was treated to a day-long visit to Dinokeng Big Five Game Reserve, outside Pretoria. The 490-acre reserve is partly-owned by my step-granddaughter’s fiancé’s parents. Get this, rhinos are rounded up at night and placed in a protected enclosure because of the poachers. The elephants are tagged and monitored. Definitely not the Africa of my childhood, but back then it wasn’t open season on rhino horns and elephant tusks.

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I was dismayed to discover I  couldn’t remember the names of the buck we saw, except for impala. My dad must’ve turned in his grave. All those trips we took through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, for all those years, when the animals weren’t always in game reserves, with him pointing out this buck and that, and then quizzing me. It has been a while, Dad. (That’s a red hartebeest male below.)

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We spent the night in one of the individual lodges. Something out of a House Beautiful magazine, with air-conditioning in the bedrooms and a jacuzzi right at the edge of the bush. Definitely not the round thatched huts I remember, yet it still managed to maintain its South African identity.

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My last wedding is this evening, an elaborate affair for Illanka near The Cradle of Humankind area, at Memoire, an old farm converted to a wedding venue. We’ll be spending the night, followed by a champagne breakfast under stinkwood, willow, leopard, and acacia trees. And then I’m headed back to Southern California, a nasty 22-hour flight. I’ll sorely miss my family. I’ll also miss  the “good” hair I’ve been experiencing!

Q is For Quagga

Quagga – An extinct South African zebra (Equus quagga) that had a yellowish-brown coat with darker stripes, exterminated in 1883. (Check out the photo at the bottom.)

The only quagga photographed alive was a mare in London’s Zoo in 1870. They were once found in great numbers in the highveld of the Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State of South Africa. The name, quagga comes from the Bushmen’s word for zebra, the sound said to resemble the quagga’s call. Because of the confusion between different zebra species, particularly among the general public, the quagga had become extinct before it was realized that it may have been a separate species.

I blogged about the quagga before, but had to use it again. It’s a cool and unusual word.

Click here to read others’ A-Z blogs or to enter your link to join in the fun for the month of April.



Over The Hill And Faraway

Yesterday afternoon, instead of taking Fergie and Jake on our usual three-mile hike up the dirt road that winds up to the Top of The World (yup, it’s called that), I decided on the “other” hill, the one paralleling Laguna Canyon Road.  Haven’t been there for awhile.  With all the rain, the meadow on the left of the steep tarred road glows with a spring-like green.  A single house halfway up, perches above the canyon.

The end of the road flattens on the left into a spot that looks like a helicopter landing pad, but is actually the remains of a foundation of a house that burned down; a white slat-backed bench and two Adirondack chairs arranged just so sit under a tree complete with rope swing.  There’s a lot of history here, evidenced by the words “1947, Don” carved into a low cement wall.  The property is now owned by someone who, unable to get permits to build on it—access problems—gave it to his dad to maintain as a kind of little park for those who discover it, or so I hear.  I’m grateful for this.

At this point, I usually let the dogs charge around while I admire the view, one of Catalina Island on a clear day, and part of Laguna’s main beach; from this angle and height, the breaking waves look like white brushstrokes.

But then I realized that the hills around me had lost their thick summer shag, revealing that path that leads up to Bermuda Hills Drive.  I’ve taken it a couple of times.  Today, I’m going left.  There’s no path.  I do love an adventure.  Though, with those giant houses peering down from the hills above I’m not exactly in unchartered territory.  It’s the feeling I’m after, the feeling that I found a new path to try.

Jake and Fergie soon take the lead; it’s grabbing-onto-bushes kind of steep.  I pass what looks like a mini acacia, Africa’s umbrella thorn tree.  Trying not to slip as I angle across the incline, I find myself thinking about the time I was nine, looking for gold in the hills around Barberton, South Africa, where my dad made bricks for a short stint.  This is an area that contains some of the oldest sedimentary rock formations in the world, site of a gold rush in the 1880s.  I didn’t find any gold.  Instead, I discovered an abandoned mine shaft filled with vines and a couple of parrots swooping in and out.

I didn’t find anything like that today, not even close, unless you count the acacia look-alike.  Still, I enjoyed an invigorating hike until I came to a gully, newly formed by the looks of it with Jake and Fergie perched on the edge looking back at me.  There’s a way around but it’s getting dark.  Another time.  I turned back, satisfied.

Biltong Weather

For me here in the States, it’s biltong weather: the weather is cool enough so the beef won’t get funky in the heat and kill me.  Of course it might still, because as Wikipedia notes, biltong is a kind of cured meat from South Africa: the “curing” being salt and a brushing of cider vinegar.  My ex built me a Biltong Box with a 60 watt bulb in the bottom, where I hang the beef for about three days using eight-inch cable ties.  The hooks I used to employ rusted out, this is better.  I like my biltong “wet,” that is to say, on the raw side, more taste if you know what I mean.  Of course, you’re probably making a face, unless you’re South African and then you’ll understand.  The biltong back in Africa is much tastier, not sure why—the beef isn’t as hormoned-out?—and the strips much bigger than my dinky little Supermarket specials. The Americans who’ve tried my biltong love it.  Of course, I had them sign a waiver—just kidding, but I probably should’ve.


  • Beef (Preferably Round steak)—1-inch thick
  • Rock Salt
  • Coarse Ground Black Pepper
  • Coarse Ground Coriander
  • Vinegar (preferably Apple Cider vinegar)

Sterilize all your hooks, knives, and working surfaces by washing well in hot water and soap.

Cover both sides of the meat with rock salt and let stand for an hour.  The longer you let it stand the saltier it will become.  Scrape off all the excess salt with a knife (don’t soak it in water!).  Cut into two-inch strips then brush (do not dip) with the vinegar, just so the meat is covered. Let the excess vinegar drip off then sprinkle with pepper and coriander and hang.

Biltong Box
Biltong Box with biltong

Here’s a photo of a biltong maker in South Africa.