Book Review: KooKooLand

KooKooLand Book Review

About the Memoir

Gloria Norris, the author and main character, writes about her upbringing in the projects of Manchester, New Hampshire. Much of the book chronicles her life in the 1960s with her mother, Shirley, father, Jimmy, and half-sister, Virginia.

Norris’s prose is hilarious and poetic. Though some may find some of it offensive, it captures the slang of the 60s and her deadbeat dad who’s a well-read but deeply disturbed, volatile, ex-merchant mariner, of Greek descent. A low-level criminal, he threatens to kill people and degrades every person, no matter their race, creed, sex, or heritage.

Gloria pals around with him on hunting and fishing expeditions to put food on the table. They visit the race track to bet on nags hoping for the big payout, and she rides along with him when he goes to manicure the lawns for the rich people across town.

He refers to Gloria as Dummkopf, Pipsqueak, Dracula, because of her crooked teeth, Slowpoke, because he challenges her to a race and never let’s her win, and Egghead, because she’s smart and makes straight As.

Gloria fantasizes about becoming rich and getting out of the projects like her father’s friend, Hank, who owns a gun shop. Hank’s daughter, Susan, bright and beautiful, becomes Gloria’s idol. Susan wants to be a doctor and move to KooKooLand, says Jimmy about California, to save poverty stricken, children. Gloria sets her sights on becoming a doctor too, “to get the hell out of the projects.”

Violence reaches the climax half-way through the book when two people are murdered. Against the odds, Gloria manages to persevere and create a life void of poverty—a life in KooKooLand.


I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 because I was only mildly disappointed in the last several chapters. Norris’s voice from her childhood was replaced by her adult voice. Though appropriate for the pacing of the book, and her age, I missed the verbiage she through around as a child.

I found this book on BookBub, and I was hesitant to purchase it because it was only $0.99. This was a steal! The book is riveting, dark, and hilarious, I couldn’t put it down! I have a Book Hangover!

Purchase the Book on Amazon or BookBub

Buy on Amazon: KooKooLand or Buy on BookBub: KooKooLand

More About the Author

Gloria Norris Website

Fitness Friends Host a Chemo Party

Chemo PartyThis time last year I was going through my first rounds of aggressive chemo. Today, I am leaving you with a short excerpt from my journal, The Journey of My Jugs. My support system, otherwise known as my Fitness Friends, helped me through many milestones. This excerpt is about the party they hosted just days before my treatment began. Thank you Fitness Friends, and thank you to the rest of you for following my journey and supporting me along the way.


After I found out my chemo schedule, my Fitness Friends hosted a chemo party. A party for chemo may sound odd, trust me, it was a good thing. We gathered at 5:30 p.m. at Sarah’s house and talked and laughed. I enjoyed food that night like a hiker who had traversed a 14er with nothing more than a few dried fruits and nuts. I knew food may be an issue in the coming months, so I savored every bite.

The party took my buzzing mind off of the looming chemotherapy. My friend Kellie brought her five week old baby. I am not a baby person because I feel like I might break them. Their little heads bobble around and they make me nervous. Plus, they might poop, vomit or sneeze and that was out of my realm of comfort. However, the little bundle brought hope to that party. Her innocence and hope made me giddy. The baby was passed around like a bong at a frat house. Everyone wanted a little piece of the innocence and no one wanted to give her up to the next person. I sat in awe checking out the tiny little toes and toe nails. She was beautiful and perfect.

The food line started with me. I filled my plate and walked out to the patio. It was a gorgeous fall evening. Everyone had their chance to give life updates. We discussed vacations, jobs, childbirth and so many things. We laughed and laughed, and for the first time in a while, I was happy. I was happy to have another day on the planet with so many beautiful women by my side.

I wanted to remember to take advantage of those days. Savor each moment and learn to be grateful for everything. I have heard cancer changes your life. Cancer made me slow down and be grateful. My life was filled with so many things to be grateful for.


Have a beautiful day!


Breast Cancer Diagnosis: A Wave of Sadness

When I was diagnosed at age 42 with stage 3 breast cancer, I knew I wanted to write a book about the journey. I knew the writing process would be cathartic for me, and I wanted the end result to inspire others tackling breast cancer or adversity of any kind.

One in eight women will develop an invasive form of breast cancer in their lifetime, so another goal I have for this book is to bring more awareness to younger women. It’s so important to do your monthly breast exams and to make that appointment for your first mammogram when you turn 40.

Many of you may have followed me on my CaringBridge site for the weeks following my diagnosis. I mused about my double mastectomy, the strength and courage I was given from family and friends, shaving my head, and a few other milestones.

The next few paragraphs are from my first journal entries, moments after I received the dreaded breast cancer diagnosis.


There was still no fighting the tears and the ugly cry that had taken over me, so I called my husband Adlai, and I heard those famous words, we’ll get through this together. Another wave of sadness hit me. One deeper than anything I have ever felt. I haven’t been giving our relationship the time it deserved; instead I have been working full-time and picking up freelance writing jobs to grow my byline. My weekends were filled with writing assignments while my week nights were filled with teaching fitness classes or preparing for 5k and 10k races. I made my husband entertain himself. I felt like a terrible wife. Now, I was a terrible wife with cancer and a pity party was already in progress.

What would I say on my deathbed? I would tell him to find someone else, to remember me, but find someone else to love. I would tell him to find someone who will share a hunting experience with him, someone who loves to ride in boats that go really fast, someone who is a better wife than me.

I sobbed the entire way home. I felt like there was no hope for a new life after cancer even though my doctor was positive about my prognosis. My doctor drank from the glass that was half full, while I was drinking pulp at the bottom of a glass.


I hope you enjoyed this passage from The Journey of My Jugs. Be on the lookout for future posts that include more excerpts from my book. If you want to read more, please check out my CaringBridge site for longer passages.

The Place I Call Home

Last week, I offered a look inside of How It All Started for me as a writer. I wanted to give you a few writing samples that helped me obtain my first freelance writing assignment for Rochester Women Magazine.

This piece was written after a long, unhappy road in Corporate America. I was about to leave for South Korea to teach English hoping I would find what I was looking for. I spent a few weeks at home with my family prior to leaving the country. I wrote this one for my dad. Popps if you’re reading this, I love you. (note: I kept my last name under the name it was when I wrote this piece)

The Place I Call Home

By Nicole L. Heidbreder

It was mid-May of my 30th year, and I was still searching. My bare feet skimmed across the wooden planks with my father following one step behind me.  I felt the dried pollen and twigs snap under my feet and wondered if my dad felt the same prickly feeling beneath his bare feet.  We crept across the deck on the back of my parent’s house, the deck that had been feverishly nailed together, plank by plank, by my industrious father.  We stood together on the left side of the deck peering over its sturdy wooden rails.

The night was cool, but the air felt like a heavy woolen blanket resting on my shoulders.  A soft breeze swept the sweet and refreshing scent of lilac up from the back yard.  The moon hung low in the sky sending a mysterious glow into the night. I heard the double click of the yellow Lumilight flashlight. Light catapulted into the darkness.

The flashlight beam was as bright as an old lighthouse guiding ships into the harbor. It lurked around the perimeter of the yard and froze on a pair of peculiar, neon orange beads floating in the night. In a low hoarse whisper, my dad asked me if I could see the raccoon at the edge of woods.  His voice reminded me of the narrator on the hunting shows he watched on TV. The stalker who sat for hours without making a sound, waiting for his prey to come into the cross hairs of his scope, silent, just long enough to surprise the innocent victim. Then, in one piercing blast, the animal crumpled to the ground and expelled one last breath. I could almost feel the tension of a shotgun blast until I realized I was still standing next to my dad watching these particular critters who were now members of our family.  These small furry creatures were unafraid. They knew they weren’t in danger.

In the illuminated path of the bright Lumilight beam, I saw a momma coon hovering over a piece of bread.  She nibbled with her long slender nose and ripped the crust of the wheat bread away like a small, persnickety child unwilling to eat the entire peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She nibbled at the bread uninterested in the Hollywood spotlight that made her the star of our backyard.

My dad shifted the beam. He scanned the edge of the woods that framed the yard and I watched the floodlight illuminate the lush foliage and reveal two more beady eyes. A few feet to the right, two pairs of eyes floated just above the ground; another momma coon and two babies sat feasting on our leftover dinner. I realized how blind I had been, searching for a place to call home. What I thought I wanted was no longer what I needed.

I had been away, tackling life on my own for almost eight years, and although this was still my home, and would always be my home, in a sense, it really wasn’t my home at all anymore.  I had been living in several different cities, trying to settle into a peaceful environment that made me feel as safe as this place.  Now, I was standing in that haven alongside my father with my family inside. They were supporting me in yet another bold move into the unknown. I realized I was seeking to find this very place, but still looking in the wrong direction. I was about to make a decision that I knew was the wrong one, but I didn’t know what else to do.

The double-click of the flashlight brought me back to the present time. I was beneath the night sky and the distant glow from the moon.  The coons rested peacefully somewhere in the darkness as my father and I crept across the deck and back into the warmth of the home he had provided for my family, and for me. I knew I would continue to search, a relentless search, for a place I could call home.


And now, for my daily Haiku

I took this picture this past weekend on my hike to Chimney Rock.

A glimpse of Chimney Rock in Whitewater State Park.

A glimpse of Chimney Rock in Whitewater State Park.

Day 3: Haiku Challenge

Shadowy retreat;
guarded from sun, rain, snow, but
no place to call home.

Happy Wednesday!

Have you ever forced yourself to make a bad decision in your life because you didn’t know what to do next?


Creative Minds

Happy Friday! I would say finally, but the week went by fast and we have a three day weekend coming up. Woo Hoo! I see lots of writing and reading time in my future! Maybe a few pictures too.

A couple of weeks ago, I received my assignment from the editor of Experience Rochester. This is my third year with this publication and I always love the assignments. In the past, I have written about SEMVA art gallery and the Farmers Market.

This year is different, I am not writing an article per se, but I am collecting fun facts about two creative people from Rochester to compile into a summary. Wednesday, I had the pleasure of interviewing a young woman who had a small part in the movie The Wolf of Wallstreet that starred Leonardo DiCaprio. I spoke to Emily Tremaine and collected information about some of the roles she has played in, where she went to school and various other fun facts for the ‘Creative Minds’ summary in Experience Rochester.

Then, yesterday, I interviewed someone who works at the Mayo Clinic as a glass blower. He makes scientific glassware that is used for testing human tissues and many other things. Not only does he create scientific glassware, but he also creates blown glass Christmas ornaments and small decorative bottles. The only problem…I forgot my camera yesterday. Well, actually, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my camera. I wasn’t hired to take the pictures (which usually doesn’t stop me), I was hired to interview and compile information. I am kicking myself now. I was able to watch him in action. He did a couple of demonstrations for me and I left the interview with an original piece of blown glass. The whole experience was amazing!! I’ll post this piece in January when the magazine is released.

What’s scheduled for September?


I have an article coming out in Rochester Women called Pairing Women with Wine.

I have another piece coming out in The Wagazine, it’s called Happy Hounds.

Flash Fiction

I plan to post a flash fiction writing prompt once a week along with a 750ish word flash fiction piece. The first piece I will post is based on Tuesday’s writing prompt.

Haiku Challenge

I am also going to take the “Haiku challenge.” I have seen a few websites that have daily Haiku challenges and even contests. I am doing one that is slightly different, I will be taking several pictures throughout the month of September. Then, each day, I will create a Haiku to go along with an image and post it.

Wine and Canvas

In the month of August, I taught my my first wine and canvas event. It was very successful! We had ladies asking when the next event would be taking place. So, Denise and I scheduled the next Wine & Canvas event for September 19th! Stay tuned, I’ll give a few sneak peeks as I prepare for the next event.

Dessert Wine with the Girls

On the 13th, I’m meeting with several Rochester Women writers, editors, photographers and other staff members for another wine tasting event. This month it’s dessert wine. I am very excited for this event because I love sweet wines and ports.


I have four or five more pieces to edit and post. I am sharing these particular essays because I submitted these to an editor to land my first writing gig.

September Reading Material

The only book I have on the list right now is Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. I am sure this list will grow to at least one more.

How is your September shaping up? 


How it All Started

After I took my first memoir writing course in 2004, in St. Louis, Missouri, I began taking the thoughts from my journal and creating finished pieces. Those first few attempts at writing about my life landed me my first freelance position for Rochester Women Magazine back in 2011—yep, it took seven years to finally get published.

I decided to dig into the vault and share some of these stories with you. Before I give you a peek into my first few pieces (note: the last name has not been changed to my married name because I wrote it before I was married), I wanted to share words of wisdom from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. The following quote is actually by Flannery O’Connor, but it’s taken from Lamott’s book (one of my favorites) Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life.

“Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.”

~Anne Lamott

Embarking on Independence

By Nicole L. Heidbreder

I rolled over and peered through the morning haze plastered across my eyes. The glaring red light of my cheap digital alarm clock read 7:28 a.m. I laid there watching its numbers change a full two minutes until it read 7:30 a.m. I forced myself out of bed knowing I had a long day ahead of me. A new chapter was about to begin. I was scared senseless, but somehow had manifested enough faith in myself to move my life to Denver, Colorado.

My bedroom door stuck to the frame and then flew open when I tugged harder. The faint smell of blueberry muffins drifted throughout my childhood home.  In her cheeriest voice my mother sang out, “Rise and shine, sleepy head!” as if I were still her little girl tucked safely in my warm, cozy bed.  Her loving and familiar voice produced a golf ball sized knot in my throat.  I knew this would be the last time my mother would sing those words to the person I was leaving behind.

I entered the kitchen holding a pillow by one corner. My parents’ bright faces made the lump in my throat expand. My father had a flashlight, a blanket, and a gallon of water laid out on the kitchen table for my upcoming road trip. I set my pillow next to the items. I guessed that was what fathers were supposed to do under these circumstances…equip their child with the necessities for entering the big, bad world.

My mom asked arbitrary questions about my trip; questions we both knew had been answered. Her words sliced through me like a steak knife. “Do you have enough gas in the car? Do you have gas money? Are your friends ready for you to arrive tonight? Do you have their phone numbers? Do you have the number for Uncle Bob and Aunt Pam in Topeka,” she queried. I grew more aloof with each question. I wanted her to stop talking. Her voice tugged the tears out of my eyes. Unwelcome tears, tears that I worried might make her or my dad feel I was incapable of handling this life changing event.

I poured coffee into my gigantic NYC mug and felt the tears trickle down my cheeks. I wiped them away and thought to myself, why is she asking me all of these questions when we covered it last night? And then, I realized she felt as miserable and conflicted as I did; excited for the new chapter in my life, but devastated that her best friend was leaving and moving hundreds of miles away from Missouri.

I choked down a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee. Then, I grabbed my thermos, my pillow, and lugged my suitcase to the car. Popps loaded up my trunk with his emergency provisions and my mother and I embraced and cried. I looked up and saw my father watching. He was shaking his head. Then, with Jell-O legs, I wobbled into my overstuffed blue Nissan Sentra and turned the key. Her engine purred confidently. I backed the car onto the quiet street, pausing to wave goodbye to my parents, and the chapter in life I would never get back.


 Looking back on this memoir, moving from Missouri to Colorado was a life changing event. I remember and honor that time in my life. So many lessons learned.


As a writer, how did you get your first break?