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SARATOGA SPRINGS – Susan Hale strolled the streets of her ancestors, one recent weekday afternoon.
“My family originally came from Boston, and it goes pretty far back,” she said, tracing a lineage from 20th century Union College Professor Edward Everett Hale Jr. to 19th century artists Susan Hale and Philip Leslie Hale; 18th century American patriot Nathan Hale – who famously said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," just prior to being executed for spying on British troops - to Massachusetts minister John Hale, whom the history books remember for his involvement during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. More than 250 years later, his fictional portrayal appear in Arthur Miller's play “The Crucible.”
It was at some of Saratoga Springs’ most prominent venues – most gone, some still in existence – where her great-great grandfather, Rev. Edward Everett Hale, delivered popular sermons in the late 19th century during biennialUnitarian Conferences that drew attendees from across the northeast.
It is Hale’s own talents, which stretch across a broad spectrum of the arts, that brings her to Saratoga Springs on this day. One project in particular – a children’s book she wrote and illustrated titled “Follow Your Dreams!” – Hale hopes will inspire an audience with Oprah Winfrey. The media giant is slated to speak at Skidmore College’s commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on May 20.
“I want to give a box of books to Oprah’s school in Africa. How do you do that? When I heard that she was coming to Saratoga…I don’t know, it would be a dream to get my books to Oprah, because the story is about positivity, and persisting in spite of bullies,” Hale said.
In 2007, Oprah opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a competitive boarding school in Johannesburg, South Africa, that offers education to disadvantaged students from across the country, Skidmore College will recognize Winfrey's commitment to education through her academy. One of the graduates of Winfrey’s school will also be receiving a Skidmore degree.
The protagonist of Hales’ illustrated book is “Pickles,” a real-life pot-bellied pig who the author took in, in 1997.
“I always wanted a pig - since I was a little kid, like Arnold on ‘Green Acres.’ She was a perfect house pet. She rode in the car with me across the country, from here to L.A., and after the book got done Pickles would come with me to school assemblies and book store signings,” said Hale, who received a bachelor of music degree in classical organ performance from Wheaton College in Illinois.
“Pickles is the neglected one who no one ever hears and who struggles to be heard. She sees a Fairy Pig Mother, who says to her: don’t let them get you down, just follow your dreams,” explained Hale, whose own markers of a lifetime of achievement spill out from the confines of her oversized briefcase. They include flyers promoting “The Pickles Power TV Show” that broadcast on Schenectady’s cable access, clippings from Los Angeles newspapers about her potbellied pig trying to make it big in Hollywood, images from Pickles’ media photoshoots, and prototype T-shirts emblazoned with the words: Dare To Dream - Pickle Power!
“I dream big,” offered Hale, whose oil paintings have been exhibited and classical concerts performed from the South American country of Ecuador to the northern climes of Saratoga Springs. (A clip of her performance at The Grove last summer of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G Minor” may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36LEhH7-NKg). In October, she is slated to perform at Carnegie Hall. “That’s been a longtime dream,” Hale enthused.
After Pickles passed away, the book project went on the back-burner, but Hale said she has a renewed interest in updating the illustrations and re-issuing the book.
Pickles’ dream is to be a singer and the book illustrated the challenges she faces and overcomes to reach her goal. Hale also sings a narration in an accompanying CD. “Follow your dreams,” Hale asserted.” I’m living proof.”
Burnt Hills Native Returns to Northshire for Third Novel Release
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Kara Storti has been blessed with the gift of articulation – the ability not only to communicate – but to reach into her own soul, and touch yours. This has been evident since her high school (Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake) days, when, as a young songwriter, she dazzled audiences with her original, introspective lyrics, a sweet, yet powerful voice, and melodies that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.
It was obvious that, despite not being old enough to buy a drink at some of the places she played music (such as Gaffney’s, during songwriter nights) with her band, or solo behind the keyboard, that she could more than hold her own with seasoned veterans twice her age, maybe more. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that saw her perform that she would be a pro – and a successful one at that.
Fast forward just over a decade, and we find that Kara done just that – become a professional who has taken her craft of writing to a new level, with the publication of her third novel, Tripping Back Blue, that will have its New York release next Thursday at Northshire Bookstore. This ‘homecoming’ to her native area will include reading, Q + A, and book signing.
In addition to being a novelist, Kara has applied her craft to professional outlets. After high school, she migrated to Boston (her current home), where she logged a stint at Harvard University’s office of correspondence for Harvard’s then-President Lawrence Summers, and currently does medical writing for Vortex, a pharma company that develops drugs to combat cystic fibrosis.
“I love medical writing,” Kara noted, “After Lawrence Summers left/got booted at Harvard, I stayed around for a bit during the search for his successor in the Provost’s office, but I needed to get more stimulation from writing.” This came from the medical field, but more importantly from writing fiction as well.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, and in the same vein, don’t let Kara’s sweet persona and her good-natured sense of humor (laced with a nice bit of deadpan sarcasm) fool you – this is gritty writing in the realism mode. In Tripping, set in the urban, mostly inner-city areas of the Capital Region, Kara writes from the perspective of Finn, a male drug dealer and his own personal struggles with addiction, and life in general.
“The inspiration for this was real,” Kara said, “I was in a relationship with a guy from Burnt Hills who struggled with a drug problem. I had started to develop some of the themes of the book before I became aware about his battling these demons. Actually, the main character began as a female, sort of a female Harry Potter, who defeated dark forces with components of magic. But once I did learn the truth about him, the words just flowed in a different direction. It turned out to be a catharsis of sorts for me.”
Some brief excerpts tell the tale:
“All I’ve got to do is just get through this ordeal. Push through it; be a man…
“Stupid car. Stupid neighborhood. It’d be one thing if I lived in New York City, where there’s violence, sure, but tons of opportunity to become a better man. Not the case here. Instead I’m north of Albany, in rotten Dammer-f-ing-town, where there is no other side, where no great life is waiting for me, where the earth threw up and walked away.”
- From ‘Tripping Back Blue’
By Kara Storti
Published by Carolrhoda Books - April 1, 2016
I asked her if she still composed songs. “I still write them, from time to time, when I can,” she said. “I find that it is good to combat writer’s block – switching disciplines can unclog the mental log jam.”
These and other tips will be shared with a Saratoga Springs High School Senior class earlier that day, while you get to enjoy the finished product of her hard work and effort later that evening.
As a music programmer, Kara Storti made me look like a very discerning, smart judge of talent. You will feel the same way if you recommend her appearance next week, as an accomplished author, to friends. As big a thrill as it is to spot a young person with a gift, it’s even a bigger thrill to check in later on, and see how that ability and flair has blossomed. And that, simply, is what you have before you next Thursday.
Speaking of which, if you read this far, you have migrated to our PULSE section, where Rebecca Davis does a great job letting her talent blossom. I highly recommend that you read the rest of this section as long as you are here - always a nice counterpoint to the dreary news of the day.
“An evening with author Kara Storti” will take place at Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway in Saratoga Springs next Thursday, May 26 at 6 p.m. Kara will be conducting a Q & A, reading and signing copies of her new novel – “Tripping Back Blue” – which is suitable for mature teens and adults.