Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker


Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Rules of the Lake

Rules of the Lake, my fiction debut, is a collection of linked stories about growing up on a lake in "pre-Disney" central Florida in the 1960s. It is the prequel to Ashes to Water

The stories trace the maturation of smart, funny Annie Bartlett, who recounts her childhood on Widow Lake. She's obsessed with the desire to learn to breathe underwater, believing it to be the key to becoming a "real" mermaid. In pursuit of this fantasy, Annie grapples with the constraints imposed by her father's lake rules (No Swimming Alone, No Swimming After Dark, No Diving in Unknown Waters) and is forced to confront, among other things, her own mortality. The interplay of characters from story to story reveals the underlying fragility of this family as it simultaneously evokes the milieu of humid and semi-tropical central Florida.

I adapted Rules of the Lake for the stage, and it won the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award in playwriting. (See Other Works.)
 Ordering:
Rules of the Lake can be purchased from your favorite independent or online bookstore. To order multiple copies, call 1-800-826-8911. Or you can contact me directly. I have a few I can sell at a discount.
Excerpts from Rules of the Lake:

Lake Rule #1: No Rolling the Canoe.  

When my sister, Leigh, was in junior high and still enamored of Widow Lake, and I was in fourth grade and still enamored of Leigh, one of our favorite things to do was paddle our canoe to the middle of the lake, and roll it . . . It was dangerous, I suppose, which is why it became a rule of the lake:

The canoe was made of fiberglass so it wouldn't sink. Even filled with water, it hung just beneath the surface so when we sat in it, only our heads showed above the water. We discovered we could sit facing each other at either end of the canoe then roll it over and over like a log. To do this, we worked up a side-to-side momentum until the canoe rocked mightily with our efforts. After a few good rocks, we’d count to three and throw our weight to one side to send the canoe over. Once under water, we stayed with the canoe’s movement until we rolled upright, then over, then upright again in an eventually effortless whirl.

Remembering the years between 1965 and 1972, I am flooded with images of water. I close my eyes, and I am out Widow Lake, watching my sister Leigh and myself as we roll over and over in the canoe. Each time we roll upright we burst into laughter and gulp for air. Each time we go under, we rise again.

As I watch the water churn and the lily pads dip and bob, the day goes to black, and still we roll, Leigh and I, in that fiberglass canoe, so fast and furious we can't stop it,, now that we are really going, now that it has us. We can't get out of it, either,I see now, not for anything, not even if we wanted to.
Lake Rule #2: No Using Dad's Reel
My father hated for me to use his rod and reel. 

One time, when we were on vacation in Key West, I was casting from a dock and the reel popped off the rod and fell into the water. I thought my father would disown me. 

“No using my reel!” he’d yelled at me.


It became a rule of the lake. No Using Dad’s Reel.

My father had a number of these lake rules, and whenever I remember the years between 1960 and 1965—on Lake Byron in DeLand, Florida, where I grew up—I remember the Rules of the Lake. 

 
No Using Dad’s Reel. No Leaving a Hook in a Fish. No Swimming Across the Lake. 

 
There were more.
 

No Using Dad's Reel was a hard rule to obey. There was a six-pound bass in our lake who hit our bait so often his entire lower lip was torn away from being caught so many times. We named him Poor Dumb Charlie.
 

Poor Dumb Charlie couldn”t leave a hook alone. Every time we caught him, we threw him back, and every time we threw him back, he came back, like a bad penny, my father once said. Poor Dumb Charlie was sort of a pet.
 

When you fish, you never know what will hit your bait. It could be a turtle—
 

“The turtle left the water as if it were flying. Its long neck was fully extended beneath the weight of its body as I swung it up and over. It landed on its back six feet away from me. It was a big soft-shelled cooter, the color of mud and so slick it looked oily.”
 

It could be a mermaid—
 

“The dancing mermaid was pressed against the glass, staring directly at me. Her arms were above her head and her fingertips touched the glass, like the tree frogs that regularly suctioned themselves to our sliding glass door.”
 

It could be the thing you wish you could throw back.
 

“He kept saying things like, 'I”m a bad man, I'm a terrible man,' in a voice too soft to be his. 'I know what you”re going to do,' he breathed. 'You”re going to tell on me, aren't you, Annie?'"
 

Annie is a character I created to put through the stories of my life. Exploring your past through storytelling is one way to reinvent yourself.
 

Drop a hook into this dark pool of memory, work it around a little bit, then pull it up and take a look at what you’ve snagged.
 

Many scientists believe humans used to have a third eyelid--a transparent membrane that moved sideways across the eye from the corner nearest the nose--that protected the eye under water. We all still have a left-over, functionless reminder of it--the small pink fold of tissue at the corner of our eyes, where pap and tears collect.
 

Mermaids have a third eyelid--if they're real mermaids. That's one of the ways you can identify impostors. 

When a real mermaid is underwater, the third eyelid closes over her eyes like a window shade pulled sideways from the sash. It has a murky transparency so the eyeball is still visible when the lid is engaged, but the eyeball appears foggy and blurred, like the eyes of a dead fish.The mermaids at Weeki Wachee were impostors.
 

Anybody who needs a garden hose to breathe is not a real mermaid.
 

Maybe they really were gone, the real ones, like the third eyelid I was supposed to have but was born without. Maybe all that remained of them was a fake underwater show with women who wore face masks and fake smiles.
 

One Saturday, Pamela Hoke”s mother took Pamela and me to Weeki Wachee Springs. It was Pamela”s birthday, and for some reason, Pamela had chosen me as the one friend she was allowed to bring along. Pamela was my age, but that was all we had in common. I thought her stupid and boring. The only reason I put up with her at all that day was because she had a new Instamatic camera which she wore dangling from her wrist by its slender black strap.
 

A: Hey, Pamela, can I see your camera?
 

P: No, I don”t think so.
 

A: Why not?
 

P: I”m still using it.
 

A: No, you”re not. It”s hanging off your wrist, doing nothing.
 

P: Well, that”s where I want it right now.
 

A: I just want to see it for a minute.
 

P: Um, no.


A: Ah, come on, Pamela--
 

I stopped myself. I wouldn't beg.
 

P: This place is a rip-off. I like Cypress Gardens better. They have peacocks there, and you can pet them and once one of them followed me everywhere I went.
 

A: That's because you smell like its mother,
Mrs. Hoke shot me a warning glance.
 

P: And they have these ladies who wear these really big dresses like in the olden days with hoop skirts and ruffles, and my mother is going to buy me one.
 

A: Uh huh.
 

Something was going on behind the glass. I turned my attention to the mermaids.
 

P: And I like DeLeon Springs, too, because you can swim there and the water is clean and blue, not like your smelly old lake.
Man, was she pushing it. I'd wanted to punch her for an hour now, but if I did that, she wouldn't let me look through her camera. One mermaid broke from the underwater routine and was swimming around looking distracted. What was going on?
 

P: And they have a concession stand there and my mother gives me five dollars, and I can spend it on anything I want.
 

A: I guess that explains why you're so fat.
 

Pamela wrenched open her incredibly large mouth as far as it would go like a snake, unhinging its jaw to swallow something bigger than its own head, and the sound that came from her could have shattered glass. It was an amazing tantrum. I was horrified. You would have thought the glass barrier holding the mermaids and the spring apart from us had exploded and vomited its contents in a violent gush, sending fish and mermaids careening, their white bellies flashing as they sailed by us with fins and arms twisted, landing with a wet thud at our feet where they flopped about helplessly and screamed and gasped for air, and all because I called Pamela fat. Her mother pressed Pamela”s face into her belly. I could barely hear myself over her shrieking.
 

P: I want to go home!
 

Mrs. Hoke: Yes, I think we should.
 

A: No! Wait! I apologize! Please, Mrs. Hoke, I want to watch the mermaids! We just got here! Pleeeeease!
But she was already moving toward the exit with Pamela leeched to her middle, and I knew I could yell and holler all I wanted, but it wouldn't do any good.
 

A: Hell damn fart!
 

Somebody's father glared at me. I turned back around to face the glass.
 

The mermaid I'd noticed earlier was engaged in some sort of solo performance, a kind of mime show, but with ballet-like movements of her arms and sudden, surprisingly powerful lashes of her mermaid tail which propelled her slowly and gracefully around the spring.
 

Though I couldn't see them perfectly, her eye's were open, a little too wide, it seemed to me, and there was about them a foggy quality I hadn't noticed before.
 

I watched her, mesmerized, as she tried to communicate with hand gestures and mouth movements, and though I had no idea what the specifics of her message were, I thought I knew what she was saying.
 

She was saying, save me.
 

She was saying, get me out of here,
 

and she was talking directly to me.
 

The dancing mermaid was pressed against the glass, staring directly at me. Her arms were above her head and her fingertips touched the glass, like the tree frogs that regularly suctioned themselves to our sliding glass door. Where was her air hose?
 

What? What is it?
 

A family of four surrounded me suddenly and pushed me from my place. I got squeezed behind a tall man and almost fell down. I groped and clutched and elbowed until I could see her again, and just before I lost my grip on the railing, the mermaid blinked.
 

Her eyelid moved sideways and open, then sideways and shut,
 

and I let go of the railing.

 
The Human Pyramid at Cypress Garden

My Florida, the one I grew up with, is fading.

Old-time roadside attractions, like Dr. Crocker’s Snake and Monkey Cove, are mostly gone. So are the acres and acres of orange groves in rows so straight they used to played tricks with my eyes. Natural wonders, like the Blue Springs boil, have fallen into the protective hands of the state government, which has tamed its wildness like a fussy mother who plasters down her small boy's fly-away curls.
 

Weeki Wachee is still there, but barely, having had in the last decade, several 11th-hour reprieves from nostalgic Floridians like me, who can’t imagine Central Florida without the distinctive kitsch of the Weeki Wachee mermaids.

Marine Land is still there. The famous glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs were still afloat the last time I checked, but I don”t know if the stunt skiers still perform the Human Pyramid at Cypress Gardens
 

My mother used to perform in “The Human Pyramid” ski show at Cypress Gardens when she first graduated from nursing school back in the 50s. They were famous for performing “the Human Pyramid.” It was difficult to do. You had to be in top physical form, and petite. My mother was told she could keep her job as long as she stayed under a hundred pounds, but she only did it for two summers. She wanted to be a nurse. And she became a good one.
 

I never went to see a doctor when I was growing up because my mother could splint a broken bone or bathe an oozing laceration without blinking an eye. Other mothers turned the color of faded wallpaper when their children approached them with hands covering their mouths and noses, blood seeping through their fingers, eyes wide.
 

My mother squinted when she saw me coming, lowered her head slightly, and waited.
She was unflappable. Blood, flesh wounds, a tooth hanging by a thread, she squinted and lowered her head and went to work on it while I screamed and danced like a mad puppet beneath her small, restraining hands
 

It's lucky for me she gave up her dream to become a nurse. It wasn't so lucky for her.

(Want to know why? Rules of the Lake is available at Amazon.com) 
 

So You Want to Become a Mermaid: Step 1) Breathing Underwater
  
I used to want to be a saint, so I fasted by hiding my meals in my napkin until I fainted from hunger and cracked my head on the cinder block stairs. I wanted to fly, so I jumped from Mr. Lombrini's toolshed and bit off the tip of my tongue. I wanted to capture a bobcat, so I dug a hole until my palms bled.
 

But most of all, more than anything, I wanted to be a mermaid. And I believed I could actually learn to breathe in the water of Widow Lake. 

This notion came from visiting Weeki Wachee Springs, where I spent many Saturdays in rapt awe of the mermaids. You sat in front of a giant glass wall that let you see into the spring itself and watched the mermaids gambol among the few real fish that stumbled onto this weird underwater theatre. When the mermaids needed to breathe, they retrieved what looked like a garden hose, curled their sequined tail fins like shrimp, and tossed back their heads to receive the elegantly descending hose, held at arm”s length above their heads. As they took in the air, thousands of air bubbles sped upward and exploded somewhere you couldn't see.
 

Here's what you do if you want to breathe underwater.

First, you take a big gulp of air so you can stay under a good long time. You have to learn slowly, so don”t get discouraged if it takes several tries and several gulps of air.

Then, you have to let the air out in small amounts while you”re underwater, until your lungs are empty and you sink to a sitting position on the lake bottom.

This next part is the trickiest. Ever so lightly, inhale through your nose--not enough to pull the water up into your head--but just enough to feel the water begin to travel up your nostrils.

Don't let it come up too far!

Then breathe out.

Then try it again, keeping the water where you want. You have to train the water. You have to be in control. You have to decide when you are ready to pull the water in, because if it gets in before you're ready, your lungs will fill up and you'll drown.

Remember, it is a slow process and learning takes time, but if you are vigilant, and truly dedicated, and want to breathe underwater more than anything else in the world, you will succeed. 
Denting the Brain: Memory and Storytelling

Annie is a character I created to put through the stories of my life. Exploring your past through storytelling is one way to reinvent yourself.

Drop a hook into that dark pool of memory, work it around a little bit, then pull it up and take a look at what you’ve snagged.

I remember . . .

I remember learning in biology that memory is a dent in your brain. Some of those dents get smoothed out over time as you cease to retain certain details which, like your long lost sixth toe or third eyelid, stop being useful to you. Others remain deeply impressed for reasons you may never know.

Memory allows us to dream, and those dreams, in turn, “redent” the brain, much as a potter slips a finger into a crevice to redefine its shape. Dents may stay suppressed or ignored for a long time, but they don't go away; they merely wait for an opportunity to assert, and if they have been suppressed long enough, they can reassert with the power of an underwater volcano.

The stories in Rules of the Lake are my memories of a world and a way of life that is quickly disappearing.

Florida. Heat and sand.

Tall oaks dripping with Spanish moss. And water. So much water you start believing you can walk on it, when really, that's just the sunstroke talking.

It is the place of my childhood. It is the ocean in my ear. It is sand in which I wiggle my toes.

It is central Florida, pre-Disney.

My Florida, the one I grew up with, is fading. Old-time roadside attractions, like Dr. Crocker’s Snake and Monkey Cove, are mostly gone.

So are the acres and acres of orange groves in rows so straight they used to play tricks with my eyes.

Natural wonders, like the Blue Springs boil, have fallen into the protective hands of the state, which has tamed its wildness like a fussy mother who plasters her son’s fly-away curls.

Weeki Wachee is still there, but barely, having had in the last decade, several 11th-hour reprieves from nostalgic Floridians like me, who can’t imagine Central Florida without the distinctive kitsch of the Weeki Wachee mermaids.

Marine Land is still there. The famous glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs were still afloat the last time I checked, but I don”t know if the stunt skiers still perform the Human Pyramid at Cypress Gardens.

My mother used to perform in “The Human Pyramid” ski show at Cypress Gardens when she first graduated from nursing school back in the 50s.

But when I ask her about this, she says my memory is playing tricks, that my brain is "going smooth" on me. But I don't believe it.

Because I remember.