Category: Upside Down Kingdom, my first novel


This is one of my favorite conversations from Upside Down Kingdom:

“What is your thesis about?” I asked.

Francesca refreshed our wine and sat down at the table. “Basically, it is about how we set our goals and how we learn, or not, to achieve them, specifically in language acquisition, but it includes life goals as well.” She gestured with her hands in front of her, as if presenting the information to me or trying to carry a tray, then she curled her fingers up, and swirled her hands in circles. “You see, we are all created in the image of God. Therefore, we are all little gods.” That brought a smile from me, but she kept talking. “Ah,” the first finger up in the air, “but let’s admit it, we are blessed. And keeping with that, we have been given our own answers. Think about yourself, do you agree?”

“I suppose,” I thought. “Well, for me,” I said slowly, “Any time I’ve known what I needed to do, the problem is the ‘how to do it’ part. It feels like I’m locked behind a door that I can’t open.”

bookAt this, Francesca got very excited. She picked up a blue booklet on the table and leafed through it, turning to a page with a sketch of a man unlocking a door with a skeleton key, with words written in Italian above it: “It’s not the key, it’s the way your turn it in the lock,” she translated. “Being little gods, I believe we already have our own key, and we’re wasting time searching for the keys to unlock the answers. Have faith. The key is right there, just…” she gestured this, “Turn it.”

Live like little gods. Turn our own keys. I was pretty sure my own answers were hiding from me. But maybe Francesca’s way was worth a shot.

~
Check out the rest of the book on Amazon.

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Why is it that when the weather turns nice we think thoughts of winter? Today, I’m reminiscing about New Year’s Eve, specifically, NYE in Dupont Circle. Here’s what I’m talking about. This is an excerpt from my first novel, Upside Down Kingdom:

I had no idea what New Year’s Eve would be like, but I was sure I couldn’t handle it…

“Okay, quiet down,” Stuart said as he stepped out of the office and walked toward us. “Alright, this won’t take long. We’re well stocked on everything tonight, so sell like crazy. It’s gonna get tough, gonna get busy, gonna get rough, so be prepared, be flexible, keep moving, and ask for help if you need it. Drunks: cut ’em off, get ’em out of here, hail ’em a cab. We brought up all the extra tables and chairs from the basement which should help you guys, but we’re gonna be busy as shit tonight. And when we reach full capacity, hit the point of no return, make ’em wait. Alright. New guys Raul and Amy: you’ll be downstairs here with T.J. and Charlotte. Jessica, Katie, Carlos, you’re upstairs. Any questions? Ready to open the doors? Let’s do it.”

In Virginia, the most we ever got out of a manager before a shift were the occasional “we’re out of something” talks. This was different; nerve-wracking. It was the moment before the big show. And what a show it was. New Year’s Eve wasn’t just busy. Mobbed was more the term for it.

By five, every chair was filled, including the extras from the basement. It was hard to maneuver through the serving floor, and even harder to keep up with all the demands. I was moving as fast as I could, breaking a sweat, and still never less than three tables behind. And yet, I was having the time of my life.

Unlike in Virginia, we didn’t have a pastry chef for desserts or someone taking care of our soups or plain coffees and teas. We did all of that ourselves from a two-by-two countertop which was covered in mess within an hour. After that, we used any available space we could find, and by the end of the night we’d have things thrown and stuffed everywhere.

We were creative about it: using the shelves of the refrigerator as counter space for slicing pies, lids of the soup well as drink holders, the ice bin as a tray stand, and everywhere served well as a garbage can. There weren’t busboys to help us out, so our priority was cleaning up the tables to make room for more customers, not cleaning up after ourselves.

bookBy ten, most of our customers were in costume, from pixies to vampires to celebrity look-alikes, to Baby New Year—a grown man dressed in a diaper—to cats, strippers, and even a man in black with a lampshade on his head. The line waiting to get in was trailing out the door and along the sidewalk outside. “Standing Room Only” turned into “Stand Anywhere You Like.”


For more, check out Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon.

photo-3When you’re awakened in the middle of the night to clean up after a sick child, or in my case, a dog with indigestion, you’re suddenly granted all those groggy thoughts that cut right to the chase and refuse to mince words.

Last night was such a night. Here’s what I thought: Support System. We have support hose, support bras, hell, even suspension bridges. But how much thought do we give to our own personal system of support? I’m talking here about the people who show up when you need them.

Years ago, I stayed with friends for a couple weeks. Anytime I walked in the door, they’d stop what they were doing and ask me how I was. They’d ask how my day was. And what’s more, they’d ask specific questions about my day—how that important meeting went, how my friend liked the birthday present I got her, etc. They knew what was happening in my life, and they asked me about it. Sometimes we’d open up some wine and sit down together to chat for a while. Other times, they’d invite me to look at the newest artwork they were creating. I was spoiled; they even made sure to have some of my favorite cheeses or cookies on hand. I felt very, very welcomed. And very supported, even though money never changed hands. Support system: Something of a patchwork quilt made up of family, and friends who’ve become family.

Last night I handled the mess myself, like a big girl. And I didn’t begrudge it–too much. Instead, I thought about those late night talks, and I thought about how, this week alone, I asked a friend for a really silly favor. She did it, and never thought twice. She laughed, of course, but made the favor happen. The very next night, a neighbor asked me to care for his pets while he’s gone. I now have my very own key, which made me realize that on my key ring right now, I have four keys that belong to friends’ houses.

When I didn’t have a support system, I didn’t miss it. I didn’t think about it. But once it was in place, those friends and family members who would lend an ear, lend a hand, or simply remember you, even, well, life changed significantly: It stopped being so damn hard.

Don’t wait. Take a good, hard, groggy look at your own support system. First of all, make sure you have one, and then make sure there aren’t any holes in the fabric, any patches missing. Then take a good, hard, groggy look at the support systems of your friends and figure out if you’re a patch missing to them or if you’re sewn in. Again, don’t wait. The middle of the night comes every night.

~
My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon.

bookThis morning, I woke up replaying this scene in my mind. It’s one of my absolute favorites from Upside Down Kingdom, where main character Amy is at a late-night birthday party in Dupont Circle with her restaurant coworkers. At little kid birthday parties, we tend to eat too much cake and run around. At adult birthday parties, we tend to drink too much and dance around. I like that about us.

Anyway, here’s a simple and poignant conversation, which is not only a great moment in the “Katie’s birthday party” scene, but in my opinion, it’s one of the best moments of the entire book. I’ll write it here exactly the way I originally wrote it:

… “He adores you,” Patrick repeated. “I’ve known Dante a long time and I’ve never seen him this happy.”

“How much have you had?” I asked.

“It’s not the alcohol talking, Amy, really. You are beautiful. If I were straight like Dante, I’d be in love with you, too.”

“Now Dante’s in love with me, is he?” I asked, completely amused.

Patrick nodded. “He is. And so am I. Really, you’re beautiful,” he said, reaching across the table for my hand. “And I am in love with you right now,” he declared. “I just can’t do anything about it because it’s not a straight kind of love.”

I offered him my other hand as well, and slowly smiled at him. It was the strangest, and most honest, compliment of my entire life.

~
Find more from Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon.

I found this today—it’s a scene from my first book, Upside Down Kingdom. But those of you who’ve read the book won’t recognize this. I wrote an entire back story that ultimately got cut–though, it helped shape our main character, Amy. This deleted scene makes me laugh, especially that last line.book

…My breathing was getting shallow and a little forced, but Brandy didn’t notice.  She kept smoking and was driving as fast as she was talking.  “A long time?  Yeah, Jack and I go way back, long before you two became an item. When we met, he took it pretty hard that I was dating another guy at the office. But then I broke up with that guy and Jack and I dated off and on for, what, two years I guess.”

He told me he never dated Brandy, that I was seeing something that wasn’t there. Unbelievable.  But there was more.  “We finally called it quits when I started dating Brad.  He and I are such a good match.  I’ve never been happier,” she waved her hand to dismiss the topic, and took one last drag on her cigarette and tossed it out the window.  “So you can imagine my surprise when I found out he was dating you.  You just seemed so different from his usual type.  I hate to say it, but I thought you were a prude.  I’m sorry about that, Amy.”

I made a noise, something between “uh” and a grunt.

“It’s silly, but I thought, you know, that you wanted Jack all to yourself or something, like you were his one and only.  But then you were cool when he went took Lilah out on Valentine’s Day, so it really wasn’t until then that I thought you and I could be friends. But, dating Brad for a few months now, and planning for our wedding–I totally get what they mean about spending time with only one person.  I’m sorry I thought you were nuts.”

I am an idiot.  The pieces started coming together.  Jack told me he had a study group on Valentine’s Day, the look that passed between Jack and Lilah when she said she’d helped him pick out my necklace, the panic that crossed Jack’s face when I mentioned Brandy at the party—he wasn’t covering for the cheating Brad, he was covering for himself so yours truly wouldn’t catch on.  And what was he doing in January for three weeks when we didn’t see each other?  Brandy prattled on but I couldn’t hear anymore.

It was all there, weeks of arguing and knowing something wasn’t quite right, weeks of feeling like an outsider looking in, only to have the simple truth revealed in the time it took to smoke one cigarette.

“You know, I would like a cigarette,” I told her.

She smiled.  “Ah!  Now that’s what I’m talking about!  I’ll join you,” she said, grabbing the pack and pushing in the car’s lighter.  “I think we’re going to be good friends!”

We smoked together, she in her reckless cigarette-swinging style and me in my don’t-drop-it-it’ll-catch-the-upholstery-on-fire way.  I fought the urge to cough until my eyes watered.  I hadn’t had a cigarette since college when my roommate and I would go out for happy hour and end up staying to close down the bar.  After that many drinks, I was a good smoker.

I now found I was an unnatural smoker when sober, my hands were shaking, and I was trying to remember whether nicotine steadied that or made it worse.  But the cigarette was something else to concentrate on for the moment, something other than all the information I now had.  One thing I could tell you, I was starting to like Brandy…

~

For the final cut of Upside Down Kingdom, click on over to Amazon.

When describing my crazy life in D.C. to a friend of mine years ago, she remarked how she had no idea how I could live there. That’s pretty much how Upside Down Kingdom got started. book

Living in Washington, D.C., and specifically in Dupont Circle, taught me not to judge others but to accept everybody the way they are, good and bad, and love them for it. I learned to open up, and I learned to let go.

I knew then that I would carry a part of the Circle with me always, that I was forever changed. I wrote it all down, in the hopes that others would feel what I felt.

Upside Down Kingdom is my own love letter to Dupont Circle and the things that I learned there. Pick it up if you get the chance, and drop me a line and let me know what you think.

-J.B.

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I received a card from my friend and former boss, Mr. French, today. (Well, it probably came a couple days ago, but I’m lousy about checking the box.) His familiar handwriting brought back great memories of him, his ideas, and his humor. I put him in my first book, Upside Down Kingdom, as the witty head-of-the-helm, Mr. Watters. This is one of my favorite Mr. Watters scenes. While it’s fiction, it did mostly happen. With Upside Down Kingdom, the closer you got to the truth, the more bizarre it got. Be sure to check out Amy’s reaction to a promotion, which is not fiction. Oh, writers!

“Amy, I want you to start doing the newsletters on your own from now on,” Mr. Watters said. “I think Chad’s input is getting in the way. And the company is prepared to compensate you for this extra work.”

“Really?” I was braced for the worst and maybe this was it. I wasn’t being fired after all, not being set free, forced to abandon my lease, rid of hearing Chad complain about me every day. I was being given a raise.

“Thank you. I’ve already got a jumpstart on the newsletter,” I assured him.

“I figured as much. Chad has been reporting to me how difficult it is to work with you on the newsletters. But when I ask you to draft letters or anything of the kind for me, they’re always top-notch. Then Chad comes to me with some changes, and I could tell these changes had ‘Amy’ written all over them. I let him play his game. But taking credit for someone else’s ideas, that’s a no-no. That’s why he’s in Brussels right now.”

“What do you mean?”

bookHe laughed. “It’s a little ploy Harvey and I invented. This week as you know, the House is set to vote on the retail legislation. There are two key Members that we have to sway our way. Harvey and his team have one, and I’m working with the Hill office on the other. But with Chad following my every step, calling the Hill office every hour for updates, wanting to talk about the upcoming election predictions, it’s a nuisance and a distraction. The kid needed a vacation, so I sent him to one of Harvey’s cousins in Brussels for a ruse.”

“A ruse?”

“He’s going to pitch Watters and Company to Larson Jones, Ted Harvey’s cousin, and get a week out of my sight in the process.”

“You just paid for him to have a vacation?” This was ludicrous and I couldn’t help it, “Send me on vacation!”

“I can’t do that. You’d enjoy yourself. Chad’s not going to have any fun—it’s not his way.”

~

Thank you, Mr. French, for a great walk down memory lane!

Indulge me on this windy Sunday… Grab a cup of tea and read on. This is an excerpt from [my life and] my first novel, Upside Down Kingdom, at the end of Chapter One:

book…I passed the Upscale, watching the manager try to deal with the angry people I left behind. “Alright sir, what did you order?” I heard through the open door, and then the commotion started as the entire section realized someone was being helped. Some of them called the manager to them; others rushed toward him to get is attention. This being the first time I ever walked out on a job, I stopped to watch. The manager hadn’t heard “Mr. Red Shirt’s” order and asked him to repeat it. At the same time two more malcontents approached from his left flank and stared yelling their version. Somebody dropped a tray of glasses in the back of the restaurant, an hourly event met with cheering at the Upscale, and the confusion was only getting started. Part of me, the responsible part, wanted to go back in there and finish the job I’d started. That part even felt bad for the people I left behind.

But then I spotted my tray, still on the coffee girls’ table where I’d left it. I was finally on the outside looking in again. I’d come full circle, and going back in there was the last thing on earth that I would do. I willed my feet to keep moving. I heard, “has anyone seen Amy?!?” just before walking out of earshot.

The drumbeats were getting louder as I approached the Circle, and I found the drum guy at the Metro entrance banging away on his buckets. He worked up a distinct rhythm using buckets of various sizes that he wheeled around from corner to corner in a liquor store cart. You could recognize his sound from blocks away, especially when he worked in his signature blasts from a lifeguard whistle tied around his neck. I stopped and watched for a little bit, bouncing to the beat with the rest of the crowd. A few drunken people stepped up to dance and the drum guy paced his beat to their movement. When they stared falling on each other I decided to move on.

I crossed into the park, which was easy this time of night because the circle traffic was nearly at a standstill with bar hoppers and cabs bumper-to-bumper. Dupont Circle boasted a park in the circle’s center, with a fountain and trees, benches and grassy spaces. It was a gathering place for all types of people, for good or ill, twenty-four hours a day while the traffic circled around. The neighborhood surrounding the park was also known as Dupont Circle, gay capital of Washington, D.C., and a sort of happenings hot spot. There were plenty of tourists by day, but the nightlife was full of people who went out to see and be seen.

When I first debated living in Washington, D.C., I was given specific and strange warnings about Dupont Circle. Specifically: “Stay out of the park, especially at night. You’ll probably get shot.” And strangely, rumors warned of cross-dressers wandering the Dupont streets, and of drag races on certain holidays. That was men dressed as women running toward a finish line, not car races. These things were in addition to the usual crime, corruption, and prostitution of typical cities. Dupont Circle was a crazy place, with its own set of rules that would defy logic if it were anywhere else. But here it worked. It was Washington, D.C. like no one outside this town had seen.book

I found an empty space on the west side of the fountain where I sat down to consider my options. It had been two years since I moved to the nation’s capital. It was in my first year that, thankfully, my life went to shit. That’s when things started getting good.

That’s just about the time I’d heard of the Upscale…

~

Read more of UDK on Amazon.

resumesOver the weekend, I put together an Art Resume for myself as part of a grant application I’m completing. I’d never done an Art Resume before. I have a variety of resumes, and until recently, I thought everyone did.

So I started asking around, and I found that my friends with “practical” careers have one resume, while my “artsy” friends have multiple. (That’s one distinction, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. One missing piece is whether these friends are comfortable in a job that serves them well or whether they’re still looking. Some of us are always looking. But that’s another blog.)

My list of resumes: The Secretary highlights my office manager experience along with the secretarial and personal assistant work I’ve done. The Bookkeeper talks up my work and knowledge of payroll systems and accounting. The Writers (a whole family of these resumes) focus on the different kinds of writing I’ve done from journalism to fiction. They’re all resumes about me; all include the same employers and the same timelines, just highlighting different skills. Over the years, the Writers are the only ones I thought included anything important.

But this Art Resume is my own artistic Curriculum Vitae, a sprawling list of writing I’ve published, awards and honors I’ve received, talks I’ve given, degrees I’ve completed, and continuing education in all things written, imaginative, travel- and language-based. Unlike the Secretary and Bookkeeper resumes, this one includes anything that feeds the soul. It’s a comma by comma breakdown of lifelong learning, artistic endeavor, broadening of the mind, and taking things in through all senses and turning them into something tangible and creative. Unlike the Writers, which are bullet points of my written work experience employer by employer, this Art Resume is me on paper–not just what I do, but a picture of me as a person, what speaks to me, what drives me. It illustrates heart of what I’m about. stairs

Follow me on this: Since Upside Down Kingdom came out, I get asked more and more about my writing process. Lately, my writing process is something I call Waiting for the Love. I figure out what I have to say, and I say it. When re-reading, sometimes it says exactly what I want the first time. Other times, it’s just words on a page. They’re spelled right, lined up in full sentences, they impart a message, but there’s just no love. Skeleton, no flesh.

So, I leave them and I write something else. I re-visit, minutes or months later, and this time as I write, I feel the excitement, saying something new and relating it to the bony framework I’ve already written. Flesh. Then comes the moment when I ask cliffmyself, “Can I really say this?” This is the moment, regardless of whether I’m writing an Art Resume or a poem or a blog about making reservations at Söntés, where I feel as though showing this piece to another person would leave me exposed. That’s The Love: I love what I’m writing about, CVs and poems and reservations alike, and I can pour my heart into them.

When you ask a poet, by training, to write a technical manual in human-speak, like the Service Training Book I wrote for Söntés Restaurant last year, you get poetic tips along the way, things like “Always smile when you answer the phone. The person on the other end can hear it.” It’s absurd to think you can hear a smile. But with those small words, you instantly know the elevation I’m talking about.

That’s similar to The Love. You know it when you hear it, when you read it, when it walks in the door.

My resumes to this point have all been skeletons. Framework. This new Art Resume,tuscany my little art CV, has not only been a wonderful walk down memory lane, it’s been a walk finally feeling the wind in my hair, smelling the flowers along the way, absorbing the sunshine, and tasting the wine. It’s a portrait of me, with love.

~
Join me this Friday, June 7 at The Salon in Rochester for the Cracked Walnut reading. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

Belated Happy Earth Day, All! Here’s a little thinking outside the box… Upside Down Kingdom is sponsoring a straw bale this summer! Söntés Restaurant in Rochester, Minnesota, where I work, write, and because my office is there, essentially live, is creating a rooftop garden this year.

A rooftop garden means that the Chef can literally pick fresh produce and serve it immediately. The Söntés summer menu will be created around the herbs and veggies that they grow. This coincides precisely with Söntés’ From Farm to Table motto. logoThey’ve talked about doing their own rooftop garden for years, and this year they’re marching forward with intrepidation.

Some of the challenges a rooftop garden presents have been eradicated with the Straw Bale Gardening technique, honed by Joel Karsten and overseen by Daniel Heublein and Söntés staff member Bekah. Söntés is the first in the nation to attempt the Straw Bale Garden on a rooftop—the results of which could be boundless for urban gardening. They plan to reduce water runoff from the building in order to irrigate the garden, and to use food waste as compost. At the end of the season, area farmers have already offered to take the straw bales to use for their fields. Recycling, Söntés style!

The Straw Bale Gardening technique is a really interesting concept. Essentially, straw bales are placed onto the roof, and plants are plugged into the bales allowing for a nearly dirt-free and thus weed-free garden. Here in Minnesota, the roof is already structurally sound enough to hold the weight of snow (actual analysis was done by a structural engineer to ensure the building’s health), so adding the straw bales won’t require structural upgrades to the century-old Söntés building.

Söntés will need to build the irrigation system, pay the structural engineer, and provide shade cloth and the bales, which is where Upside Down Kingdom comes in. skyline[1]Söntés is looking for donations to help cover these start-up costs, and is offering the public a chance to sponsor a straw bale or to write their company name on the shade cloth. As the restaurant is downtown, the rooftop garden will be visible from multiple hotels, parking ramps, and even from the Mayo Clinic.

Upside Down Kingdom will be named on my bale, and though it may not be visible to the public under the shade cloth, Söntés will feature whatever my bale grows as a UDK herb or veggie on its summer menu and Facebook page. I’m drawn to this not just because Söntés lets me keep a shelf of UDK books for sale in the restaurant, but because it’s different, it’s green, and it’s innovative. No one has attempted a project quite like this… Yet!

I’ll keep you posted and bring you updates about how little UDK Bale is doing throughout the summer!

For more information about this urban garden project, or to donate (donations start at $10!), check out this link: Söntés Uprooted.

The rooftop garden schematic was done by 9.Square architect Adam Ferrari.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

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