One of the weirdest things I had to research for my novel, The Tedescos, was the song “Witch Doctor.” I checked first of all to make sure it had been released before my story took place. The song, performed by Ross Bagdasarian Sr., was released in 1958 by Liberty Records. Bagdasarian is better known by his stage name David Seville.
The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Top 100 and was considered a surprise hit on the chart. “Witch Doctor” became David Seville’s first number-one single and held this position for three weeks. The single sold over one million copies in the United States and finished at the number-four spot on Billboard for 1958.
The ridiculous song tells the story of a man in love with a woman who does not feel the same way about him. In an effort to secure her affections, the man visits a witch doctor for advice. The witch doctor replies with the now-famous refrain, “Oo ee oo aa aa ting tang walla walla bing bang.” This phrase is repeated throughout the song with the alternating endings of “bing bang” and “bang bang.”
And let me tell you, there is heated debate to this minor detail. Some people will sing every line of the witch doctor’s comments as “bing bang” while other sticklers for detail will insist upon singing it the correct way as “bing bang” the first time followed by “bang bang.” I actually watched the video of David Seville singing the song, my eyes narrowed in concentration to read his lips, just so I could settle the dispute.
The witch doctor’s voice is Bagdasarian’s own voice sped up to double speed. This technique was later used when Bagdasarian, as David Seville, created Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Grandma Josephine Tedesco borrows the witch doctor’s famous line when her youngest son, Danny, involves her in a crazy, money-making scheme. Because Grandma Josephine isn’t always aware of what she’s doing, she’s given a pass. However, Danny does not fare so well when his older brother, Joe, finds out he employed their mother in shady business.
Since I don’t want to be the only one with this annoying lyric stuck in my head, I have provided a link to Ross Bagdasarian/David Seville singing “Witch Doctor” on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Joe Tedesco likes his neighbors… as long as they keep the grass mowed and don’t throw loud parties. These standards, to which Joe himself conforms, are most definitely kept by the new neighbors, and yet they still cannot win over Joe to liking them. In a last ditch effort to secure the head of the Tedesco Clan’s friendship, they invite Joe and all the men from the neighborhood over for a party.
The new neighbors are clever and know the way to Joe’s heart is through is stomach. The menu they plan is spectacular and includes the following recipe for classic Reuben sandwiches. These babies are mammoth and worth every savory, saucy bite, so don’t skimp on the corned beef.
Classic Reuben Sandwich
2 lbs. quality corned beef, thick sliced
1 pound Swiss cheese
12 slices Jewish Rye
16 oz. jar of sauerkraut
1 McIntosh apple, peeled and diced
1 – 2 T brown sugar
¾ c apple juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Unsalted butter, softened
½ c mayonnaise
2 T ketchup
3 T finely diced bread and butter pickle chips ***(see below)
2 t finely diced red onion
1 clove finely minced garlic
¼ t sea salt
3 – 4 hearty dashes Tabasco sauce
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator. The dressing lasts for three days stored in this fashion. I recommend making the dressing at least one day in advance to give the flavors time to meld.
To prepare the sauerkraut:
Empty the jar of sauerkraut into a colander and press out any remaining juice. Place the drained sauerkraut in a saucepan with the apple, brown sugar, apple juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the apple is tender. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave on the stove until needed for sandwich assembly.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. I opt for thick slices of corned beef because I find it keeps the sandwiches from sliding around on the bread.
Create a foil packet and place the corned beef inside. Place the packet on a cookie sheet with edges. Add 3 T of water to the packet and seal the meat inside. Put the baking sheet with the foil packet on it in the oven and bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
While the meat bakes, spread one side of each slice of bread with softened butter and toast the buttered side in a cast iron skillet. Transfer the toasted pieces to a baking sheet with the buttered side down. Spread the Russian dressing on the untoasted sides facing up. On six of the bread slices, layer pieces of corned beef, making sure to drain any moisture, until the meat is evenly divided. You may need to fold your corned beef slices in half to make them fit. Place a hefty portion of well-drained sauerkraut on top of the corned beef. Top off with a slice of Swiss cheese. On the remaining six slices of bread, place another piece of Swiss cheese.
Pop the sandwiches into the oven and toast for three minutes or until the Swiss cheese melts. Remove from the oven and match up the corned beef, Swiss, and sauerkraut side with its Swiss cheese only mate. Give a gentle press to hold it all together. You may wish to cut it in half. Serve immediately.
***When choosing sweetened pickled vegetables, there are many choices on the market. Unfortunately, most have high fructose corn syrup in them. Try a farmer’s market that sells products with recipes closer to home-canned goods. I’ve had great success in such stores.
Joe Tedesco is the big-hearted, sometimes clueless, but always lovable patriarch of the Tedesco Clan whose primary job is to bring home the bacon and do his best to not muck things up too badly for his lovely wife, Shirley.
Shirley Tedesco is the savvy, stay-at-home matriarch of the Tedesco Clan responsible for keeping her husband, their brood of eight rowdy children, and her crazy mother-in-law in line. Hers is a difficult task.
Sixteen year-old Joe Jr. is the good-natured, oldest sibling with a love for sports, girls, and food, but not necessarily in that order.
Katherine, the second oldest sibling at fourteen, is a mastermind of manipulation who knows how to play her father for whatever catches her eye.
Thirteen year-old Ava Maria is the saintly, third oldest sibling whose limitless compassion extends to stuffed animals, overworked nuns, and anyone in need of prayer.
Holly and Noelle, ten years-old, are the pink and blue wearing Christmas twins possessing twice the sweetness or twice the mischievousness depending on what the situation requires.
Billy (age seven), Grace (age six), and Pauline (age five) are the youngest three siblings who work as a unit whether it’s planning or executing the next round of trouble they’re going to get into.
Grandma Josephine, Joe’s widowed mother, lives in the twilight realm between long-term memory and reality as she navigates her way through the golden years.
Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the unmarried, shiftless member of the family who is long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic.
Perhaps you’ve noticed some changes taking place at HL Gibson, Author. Just in case you haven’t, I’d like to take this opportunity to point them out. Under Edible Fiction, I’ve started grouping the food posts from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, in a sub file and started a new one for the novel I’ll be querying next, The Tedescos. There’s also a new sub file under Research Road for The Tedescos as I prepare to share information I used while writing. The Artist’s Corner is a new section on my blog where I published posts about some amazingly creative people. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about them if you haven’t already.
I’m sharing this to say that I hope the updated and/or newly grouped posts don’t blow up your e-mail inboxes. I only move a few at a time, and so far, per my husband, he hasn’t received notification regarding these changes. If by chance you do receive notification of an updated post due to a new tag, please forgive me. I must admit that I’m still learning the art of blogging, and when I launched my blog almost four years ago, I honestly did not foresee the need to reorganize it in this way. On the upside, I hope you’ll enjoy revisiting some older posts.
Thank you for your patience and please excuse the dust!
I remember the day I officially launched my writing blog. I went to Facebook and created a post telling everyone where to find me. Then with my finger hovering over the mouse to click post, fear paralyzed me. I realized that from the moment I told everyone I was, and still am, a writer that they would closely watch everything I do. My writing life would be made public. Every success and—gasp—failure would be on display for the entire world to see. It’s no wonder I hesitated.
Then my dear aunt told me to go for it. So I did. What a roller coaster ride it’s been as I dealt with the good and bad of the writing life. I worked hard, did everything right, and my novel didn’t get published. All I could think of was that I had failed out loud in front of everyone. I berated myself for not keeping my goals secret. Why, oh why did I open my mouth and declare that I was a writer?
I spent a lot of time pondering that question as well as many others that threatened to destroy my writing life and my confidence. Thankfully, I kept writing. At times it was painful, but I found I couldn’t stop. When it became too tough, I read. I also cried, begged, and pleaded with God to either help me get published or take away the desire to write. So far, neither has happened. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not, so I’ll keep writing.
Then I came across Heather Webb’s article on Writers in the Storm titled A Writer’s Lessons in Failure. It was as if she had written for my heart alone. I simply had to share what Ms. Webb conveyed so eloquently because it inspires hope. It reminds us that we—the creatives— are not alone. I hope her perspective toward handling failure will encourage you to keep trying, failing out loud if necessary, if for no other reason than to satisfy your soul.
Writing is a mixed bag of emotions. Yet no matter how difficult the journey, writers simply cannot quit writing. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. I heard this sentiment echoed among the women at a private writer’s retreat I recently attended. I also heard the same thoughts expressed in the two writer’s groups I joined.
The great thing about these two particular groups is that everyone is incredibly supportive of each writer’s success. Still, we sometimes communicate our desire to be ahead of where we are. A friend told me he wished he had several novels he was sitting on while waiting for the market to be right for them such as I am doing. I longed for a contract with a major publisher such as the one another friend recently landed. What I hope is that all of us can learn to be happy where we are in our writing lives while maintaining a forward progress.
I mention this because I have just completed an important step in the writing process: the completion of my second novel. I actually revisited this particular manuscript to increase the word count because although I believed I had finished it, the advice of others suggested that there was room to grow the book even more. Turns out these wise people who were able to step back from my work and assess it were correct.
Fortunately for me, getting back into the world of these particular characters was welcome and enjoyable. The novel grew in positive ways and is now in the hands of beta readers. While they read with pencils poised to correct and suggest, I’m experiencing post-writing letdown as I bid a gentle goodbye to my characters. Of course, I know this is not the end of my relationship with them. There will undoubtedly be editing and revisions in my future, but I must switch gears to engage another, less favorable part of my writing life: the dreaded query letter.
I returned to a post I wrote in December of 2014 (The Terror of Querying) where I admitted some things to myself regarding my query letter. While I’m preparing to query another book, the same principles apply. And this time, I find I’m much less afraid when thinking about of the process which, hopefully, will help me when I actually query.
While I’m on the secure-an-agent leg of my writing journey, I’ll continue writing by working on those amazing blog posts I promised you earlier as well as planning my next novel and reading every moment I’m not writing. As always, thanks for taking this journey with me.