Caller Number Nine

Book cover containing pink phone handset

It’s the spring of 1967, and 13-year-old Laura has one goal: to get beyond busy signals and play the Jet Set contest on radio station KHJ. What she doesn’t count on is winning. And then she does. One Monday morning before school Laura wins a trip for two to Hawaii with L.A.’s coolest D.J. and host of the Saturday night teen dance show on TV. Instant 15 minutes of fame!

Caller Number Nine begins on a Princess telephone and shines under Hollywood lights and the glow of a Waikiki sunset. Yet how can something this exciting lead to so many problems at home and at school? And why is it important anyway, when a family friend is killed in Vietnam and feminism is raising questions that aren’t as straightforward as a radio contest?

Caller Number Nine received a QED designation from F+W Media for Quality, Excellence and Design. In other words, my novel will read well on whatever eReader you choose to use!

Where to Buy

Buy from Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble Nook | Apple iTunes/iBookstore

When Molly Was in the Hospital

Book cover showing girl looking at toddler in hospital bed

When Molly Was in the Hospital is a fictionalized account of what my older daughters, Jennifer and Allison, went through when their baby sister, Molly, was in and out of the hospital before and after her diagnosis of celiac disease. Molly won the 1995 Benjamin Franklin Award for best children’s book published the previous year by an independent press.

“This true-to-life story captures the reality of how a sibling’s illness, hospitalization, and surgery affects family dynamics and the range of emotions—including fear, anger, jealousy, love, and frustration—that siblings of patients often experience. Beautiful black-and-white illustrations.”

Contemporary Pediatrics

“This unique offering will be welcomed by stressed relatives who do not want to overlook the emotional needs of siblings during a difficult time.”

School Library Journal

Where to Buy

Buy directly from the publisher Rayve Productions | Buy from Amazon

Joy of Reading

Book cover yellow text on blue background

I share my family’s success stories (as well as a few flops) and our favorite books in Joy of Reading: One family’s fun-filled guide to reading success. Joy came out in 1997, a year before we all started reading Harry Potter. While hundreds of new books have been added to our library since then and my daughters are all now in their twenties, the books and essays about reading are still relevant to 21st century families.

“Weaving in anecdotes and commentary, (Duncan) has created far more than an annotated reading list. Reading Joy of Reading is more like having a conversation about books with a good friend.”

Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot

“. . . browsing in it (Joy of Reading) will give you years of titles to look for, and a contagious enthusiasm for the way Duncan and her husband, Bill, have turned their three daughters into bookworms.”

San Jose Mercury News

Where to Buy

Buy directly from the publisher Rayve Productions | Buy from Amazon

Filled With Glee

Book cover containing megaphone against auditorium backdrop

I’m a theater geek. My kids were in dozens of children’s theater shows. I’m the co-author of three children’s musicals. So of course I love Glee. I jumped at the chance to enter a contest I heard about on Twitter to write an essay on any aspect of my favorite TV show. And I won! Every Girl Needs a Kurt is included in the fun new book perfect for any Gleek, Filled with Glee.


Where to Buy

Smart Pop Books | Kindle edition from Amazon

The World According to Twitter

Book cover containing globe in blue and white theme

I don’t mind saying I love Twitter. Why? It helps me make contacts, leads me to good (most of the time!) information, allows me to interact with other writers and reporters in real time and find out what’s going on at the moment. It’s also fun. David Pogue, who knows all things tech, was one of the first tweeps I followed. He started posing funny, or sometimes poignant, questions every night, then retweeting the best answers. I laughed my way to bed. I also submitted a few replies. He liked my answer to the question “What’s the weirdest job you ever had?” and that’s how I ended up as a co-author of The World According to Twitter. I’ve left this book out on our coffee table. People who don’t even like Twitter giggle their way through it!

Where to Buy

Amazon | IndieBound

Everlasting Daylight

(August 7, 2017) Hear the audio version

While you were adjusting to the changing climate or catching up on the latest White House scandal, the state Assembly, once again, considered scrapping daylight time. After all, Arizona and Hawaii don’t have it. Springing forward in March and falling back in November is disruptive: traffic accidents and heart attacks go up, productivity dips. But … it turns out getting rid of an hour of light at the end of the day is wildly unpopular with parks and rec departments, Little League, surfers, runners and other casual exercisers, and the Facebook group “Save the Light.” Contrary to folklore, farmers don’t care one way or another.

So the latest proposal is permanent daylight time for California.

Seriously. That’s about as likely to happen as Calexit, the on-again, off-again idea for California to secede from the U.S. Did state Assembly members consider the complications before voting in favor of Assembly Bill 807 and sending it on to the state Senate?

Let’s stop for a moment. Under permanent daylight time, the sun wouldn’t rise till 8:25 AM in January when kids go back to school in the dark after winter break. Also, imagine being in a different time zone than Oregon and Washington—but only from the first Sunday in November to the second Sunday in March. Heck, most people now don’t realize it’s PDT, not PST, until November 5th.

California operates in a global economy. Do we really want to make it harder for the rest of the world to do business with us in order to have everlasting daylight saving time?

For this goofy idea to become reality, the bill needs approval by the state Senate. Then it would go on the ballot—because Californians can always use another issue to vote on. If that passed, Congress would need to approve the change. And we all know how much the U.S. Congress loves California. I don’t know whether it’s time to shake my head or laugh. I think I’ll laugh.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Update: the California legislature failed to pass this flawed bill in 2017. Woohoo!


(October 18, 2016) Hear the audio version

At first I thought it was just me.

When I heard Donald Trump bragging in a 2005 videotape of being able to sexually assault women, to “do anything” to them because he was a star, my heart began to race. I had an immediate flashback to the week before my high school graduation, when the senior minister of my church groped and chased me. An ordinary school night ended up with me managing, barely, to lock myself in a room and call my parents for help.

It didn’t take long to learn I was not the only woman having flashbacks. I read, then joined the “tweet me your first sexual assaults” Twitter stream started by writer Kelly Oxford. Many of us shared stories that have haunted us for years, of teachers, ministers, family members, bosses or other co-workers, ex-boyfriends, men on public transportation, drunk party boys and the like grabbing us where they shouldn’t, of exerting their power over our bodies because they felt entitled to do so. The New York Times called the result “a kind of collective, nationwide purge of painful, often long-buried memories.” Within five days, Ms. Oxford had received more than 30 million replies.

The hashtag for these personal stories is #notokay—because every person, not just men who have wives, daughters or granddaughters, must acknowledge that sexual violence is wrong. We need to make sure our children of all genders know it.

I was more fortunate than many survivors of sexual assault. My mom and dad believed me. I left for college 3,000 miles away. I did not accuse the groper publicly, though he also never ran for president.

Let this be a moment of national reckoning on rape culture. We have an opportunity for a turning point—to use the madness of this presidential campaign to help end sexual violence. Because that is, and always will be, #notokay.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.


(September 3, 2016) Hear the audio version

A year ago I had a scary heart incident, called Takotsubo, that landed me in the ICU. Thankfully, I recovered with no long-term damage. Because Takotsubos are thought to be stress-induced, my cardiologist encouraged me to learn to manage stress.

I began by taking the eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course, which got me to start meditating. I discovered I’m not very good at silent meditation. I think too much. Yet I stayed with it, and for the first time in three years, I didn’t get a migraine two days after Christmas. Hmm. So I took another class at the hospital: Mindful Qigong. That practice has changed my life.

I’ve known about tai chi, the martial arts form of qigong, for quite a while. I used to see old people stand in poses in the oak grove outside my office on Friday afternoons. In qigong, we move as we focus on our breathing. I may have failed to finish three yoga classes in the past year, but qigong I can do. The exercises are slow and rhythmic, and have been used for thousands of years in China to preserve and restore health. My mind is quiet when I practice qigong. Nothing matters. It’s awesome.

So now I am one of those silly looking old(er) people. I drive 25 miles to get to class at the rec center by 9:00 Saturday mornings. My fellow students and I follow along as Marcy, or Sadao, leads us in a series of simple movements that both relax and energize. For me it’s like acupuncture without needles. And I can do it myself!

Every evening before bed, I follow a qigong YouTube video or DVD for 15 minutes. That’s all it takes. I’ll also stand up and swing my arms between innings at a Giants game, or in an airport lounge. I’m not shy. My heart is back to normal, I sleep better, and I have migraines under control.

Stress? Thanks to qigong, I’m getting better at it.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Something Smells in the USA

I wrote this Perspective in the Summer of 2016. My editor thought it was too political to put on the air, but I like it so I’m putting it on my website. I was right, damn it!

It smelled like a good idea at the time.

You see, I love the scent of fresh honeysuckle. After repeated failures to grow plants in my yard, I started harvesting flowers from wild bushes in the neighborhood when honeysuckle blooms in late spring. I float the fragrant blossoms in bowls on my kitchen counter.

So when I saw honeysuckle-scented essential oil diffuser sticks at a local clothing store in June, I bought a box. That evening I immersed the reeds in the oil and turned them upside down in the vase, as instructed. My daughter emerged from her room. “Whoa! That’s strong.”

“Maybe it needs to … diffuse,” I said. My eyes watered as I carried the vial and sticks out to the far corner of the living room, behind closed doors. Alas, the overpowering, decidedly non-honeysuckle scent traveled through and under the doors. I didn’t dare leave the thing in the house overnight, so I relocated it to the garage. Next morning, it was as if I had to breathe in a toxic cloud to get to my car.

Clearly, I had to admit I’d made a mistake and dispose of the liquid. I couldn’t pour it in a sink or even down a storm drain—that flows to the bay! So I held my breath and flung the elixir onto the ivy in front of my house, where it stunk up and down the street for weeks. I was too embarrassed to apologize to my neighbors.

My honeysuckle debacle reminds me of this year’s presidential election. People are hurting. Government in Washington is dysfunctional and the middle class is disappearing. A major party nominee who has never held elective office promises, without providing specifics, that he alone can fix the problems. Trust him, he says. And that smells good to a chunk of the population, no matter what else the candidate says or tweets. Yet if enough voters buy what he is selling, will we, a year from now, have to apologize to neighbors and allies for the stinks a temperamental president has gotten our country into? That’s a risk someone who knows about mistakes at the checkout counter is unwilling to make in an election.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.


(October 12, 2015) Hear the audio version 

It was a hot September night a few weeks ago, the evening after construction noise had kept my family awake beginning at 2 AM. When the decibels rose at 9:30 PM, I went out to investigate.

Klieg lights illuminated the site across the busy street behind our back fence for all-night digging by a huge tractor-like jackhammer. I managed to get the workers’ attention. “What are you doing?” I hollered. “People are trying to sleep over here!” They got off the tractor and went to confer with co-workers. I took pictures with my cell phone to send to the police. When I turned around to walk home, I got a sudden pain in my right jaw. I stopped. I’d read recently that women’s heart attack symptoms could be different from men’s. Was jaw pain one?

Yes, it was. By the time I had a blood test in the ER an hour later, my cardiac enzymes were 300 times normal. I was having what’s called stress-induced cardiomyopathy. I had a heart attack even though I exercise every day, eat all my fruits and veggies and have normal cholesterol. (I am on medication for high blood pressure, which is why I went to the hospital without ever having chest pain or shortness of breath.) After a night in the ICU, my new cardiologist’s suspicion that this was stress-induced was confirmed by an angiogram. He saw ballooning of my heart muscle. My arteries are “pristine.” This was not my grandfather’s heart attack.

Japanese doctors identified this type in 1990 and called it Takotsubo. It wasn’t even recognized in this country until 2001. Ninety percent of Takotsubo patients are female. It’s usually triggered by a sudden, stressful event to a woman who is already dealing with stress or sorrow. In my case, it was probably my brother’s recent death. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is sometimes called broken-heart syndrome. Although it can be fatal, I expect to recover in weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve signed up for mindfulness-based stress-reduction class at the hospital. And when workers return for overnight noise-making, we close the windows.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.